Authenticity? Research Shows That it Pays to be Full of It

Two Face, a Batman villain and physical embodiment of split authenticity

Two Face, a Batman villain and physical embodiment of split authenticity | Warner Bros.

Nothing is more insufferable than a “yes” man — those men or women who are so transparently inauthentic and full of crap that nobody, save their boss or mentor, takes them seriously. But if you watch these people closely, it seems that their lack of authenticity does pay off for them. If you toe the line, you get rewarded, in many cases. For a lot of people, this brings about an internal struggle regarding authenticity.

You don’t want to be a sell-out or act like someone that you’re not, but you also don’t want to let the brown-nosers and “yes” men take all the spoils when it comes down to it. This push and pull — between the seemingly rewarding path of being inauthentic and its inverse, authenticity — that’s enough to make you want to pull your hair out.

So, is there any scientific evidence or data at all to make you think that one path is better than the other? As it turns out, there actually is. But if you’re a fan of authenticity, you’re not going to like it.

According to a post from the World Economic Forum, social scientists and psychologists have studied authenticity for some time, particularly when it comes to the workplace, having given surveys to tens of thousands of people to gauge just how authentic they are. And when they dig into the resulting data, researchers found that inauthenticity does, indeed, pay.

Analyses show that authentic people are less likely to get raises or promotions, and get lower scores on performance review assessments. In other words, being authentic has a cost.

Importance of authenticity

A handshake between colleagues

A handshake between colleagues | iStock

So, why is it important to be authentic? Clearly, for some people, it’s not. But if you are unwilling or unable to express your true feelings over the course of months or years, at one job or another, eventually the dam is going to break. It’s not easy to keep everything bottled up inside, simply gritting your teeth and bearing any and every ounce of flak your bosses and co-workers throw at you.

If you let that ride out long enough, you’re going to become a miserable, stressed-out mess. And that’s going to not only impact how efficient and effective you are at doing your job in terms of productivity, but it’s also going to have some serious effects on your physical and mental health.

On the other hand, if you are able to live and work in a more authentic and true way, you’ll relieve yourself of that pressure. That’s not to say that everything will be rosy and go your way, but living with a sense of authenticity can be extremely liberating.

Just think of how the character of Pam Beesly changed over several seasons of the The Office. Or how Ron Livingston’s character in Office Space was able to find happiness by simply being more authentic and true to himself. These are fictional examples, of course, but are representations of how authenticity can turn a miserable situation into a tolerable one.

Becoming a “yes” man?

Andy Bernard, professional "yes man" on 'The Office'

Andy Bernard, professional “yes man” on The Office | NBC

At the end of the day, however, you’re going to have to decide how you want to employ authenticity in your own life and career. As the data has shown, being authentic can actually hurt you. Brown-nosers and “yes” men do get an edge when it comes to promotions and raises (though not always), and if you plan to stick to your guns and convictions at all times, it may backfire on you.

Perhaps the best strategy, if authenticity is important to you, is to pick and choose your battles wisely. We’re all going to find ourselves in situations in which we disagree with management or our co-workers — but taking a principled stand each and every time isn’t going to get you anywhere. Constantly picking fights, or butting in with opinions about trivial or unimportant things is probably going to actively turn others against you. That’s not what you want.

So, as with many other areas in life, stay true to yourself. But be sure to pick your battles. If you feel a decision or issue at work is gnawing at your soul, then let your authenticity sing forth. But if your co-worker screwed up your lunch order, and getting in their face about it is likely to do more harm than good? Maybe let it slide and forgive them.

Follow Sam on Facebook and Twitter @SliceOfGinger

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