Honesty is worst policy at work

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PinochioJACQUES BRINON/AP/Press Association Images

Whatever you do at work: don't relax and be yourself. Revealing your true self to your employer could be detrimental to your career, according to research from the University of Greenwich.

So why is it so bad to open up to colleagues, and what is the alternative?

Lies at work

Dr Oliver Robinson, who led the research, assessed over 500 volunteers for their levels of 'authentic self expression' in a variety of settings. They discovered that individuals are most likely to 'be themselves' with partners, then friends and parents. They were far less likely to reveal their true personality at work.

They then delved into the effects of 'being yourself'. Those who were open with their partners were more satisfied with life and a better sense of well-being. However, this wasn't reflected in those who opened up at work. Robinson told AOL: "The traditional advice to 'be yourself' doesn't seem to apply at work. By a good margin people were the least honest at work and it didn't relate to well-being in the way it did in other contexts."


He found that only 34% of people didn't try to project false information to impress people at work, and only 3% didn't hide their feelings at work. He concluded: "Impression management is de Rigeur at work." In fact, while people tend to score 7 out of ten for honesty with their partner and 4.5 for honesty with friends they scored just 3.5 at work.

Is this so bad?

In the final analysis, it comes down to degrees of openness. Careers advisers tend to tell you to be yourself in a job interview or a work environment, but they are coming from the angle that you can't fake an entirely different personality or project false passions and skills over the long term.

However, there are times when clearly there are other considerations beyond being true to yourself, when it pays to keep quiet and play the long game. Robinson says: "Clearly if you're building a web of lies at work it's not good, but most people use a degree of self-editing to hide opinions that may be detrimental to making a good impression. Many consider it essential if they are going to keep their job."

Five honesty traps

Five questions when honesty may not be the best policy in formulating your answer:
1. What do you think of me as a boss?
2. Whose fault was it?
3. Do you enjoy working here?
4. How are you progressing with the piece of work I gave you over the Christmas holidays?
5. Can you stay late and finish that?

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