A questionnaire study of more than 500 gay, lesbian and bisexual employees across the U.S. has found that "fears about disclosing a gay identity at work had an overwhelmingly negative relationship with their career and workplace experiences and with their psychological well-being."
Researchers Belle Rose Ragins and Romila Singh of the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee and John M. Cornwell of Rice University, said that the findings were both striking and disturbing. "These findings were both striking and disturbing; those who reported more fear of the negative consequences of full disclosure had less positive job and career attitudes, received fewer promotions, and reported more physical stress-related symptoms than those who reported less fear," they said.
For those working in what they perceived as a non-supportive environment, the costs of non-disclosure were significant. "Those who feared more negative consequences to disclosure reported less job satisfaction, organizational commitment, satisfaction with opportunities for promotion, career commitment, and organization-based self-esteem and greater turnover intentions than those who feared less negative consequences," the researchers said.
"Those who feared more negative consequences reported more (job) role ambiguity, more (job) role conflict, and less workplace participation than those who feared less negative consequences, "LGB employees who feared more negative consequences also reported greater psychological strain than those who feared less negative consequences," they added.
Robert-Jay Green, executive director of the Rockway Institute, a national centre for LGBT research and public policy affiliated with Alliant International University said that psychological strain was described as stress-related symptoms experienced on the job, work-related depression, and work-related irritation.
"These findings fit with other research showing that more accepting work environments are associated with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employees being healthier and more productive. The research also provides some additional facts concerning the need for public policies protecting against job discrimination," he said. "Employees who are not afraid of being fired or held back from promotion because of their same-sex orientations are psychologically freer to put their full creative energies into work. This, in turn, saves employers' time and money. It a win-win for all concerned," he added.
The research team concluded that deciding whether to come-out was an exceptionally difficult career challenge facing lesbian/gay employees that typically go unnoticed by employers.
The study is published in The Journal of Applied Psychology.