What Are Employees Hiding
Everyone knows establishing trust between a boss and his or her employees is one of the cornerstones of company success and productivity – but what about the conversations that never really feel comfortable? Constructive feedback, personal problems at home, and even health concerns may feel like bridges you never want to cross with the person you have to report to.
But what happens when those uncomfortable moments turn into little white lies, or even worse, deliberate deception?
To learn more, we polled 1,000 employed Americans to learn what they’ve kept hidden from their bosses. From the days they’ve called out “sick” to their sexual orientation, we found out what employees are holding back and what they’re willing to offer up. Curious what your employees – or even co-workers – could be hiding? Read on to learn more.
Little White Lies
More than 16% of Americans polled have hidden an attraction to their boss, and over 11% have kept sexual intercourse in the workplace a secret. Luckily, those who have engaged in workplace sexual intercourse have not been caught, since this action can often lead to immediate termination. Additionally, 19% of employees used legal or illicit substances during work hours, and their employers had no idea. While many companies conduct drug tests and have drug policies in place, only 18 states currently have drug testing laws.
Other popular dishonest (or confidential) details included whether employees had ever cried at work, fallen asleep on the clock, or withheld their voting preferences from their bosses. While it may be possible to have productive political conversations at work, talking politics with your boss can be tricky to navigate, leading more than 1 in 4 Americans to hide their leanings rather than brave the debate.
Over half of women surveyed admitted to hiding crying at work, while only 13% of men hid the same fact. Research has shown that while professional gender bias may occasionally be unconscious, women are more likely to have their successes contributed to luck rather than their effort or skills and to be more often judged for their emotions over their male co-workers. Women are also less likely to be promoted to leadership positions, meaning women polled were more likely responding with a male boss in mind while participating in our study.
Men surveyed were more concerned about hiding facts related to their workplace conduct rather than emotional or personal matters. Sleeping on the clock, their social media browsing history, and substance use on company time were their most prevalent secrets.
Secrecy Among the Staff
While some employees chose to keep secrets about their behavior or improper activities, others decided to hide some deeply personal confessions rather than open up to the men and women they worked for.
Except for political affiliation, women polled were more likely than men to maintain a sense of secrecy when it came to their sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and health concerns. While physical health issues were a bigger source of privacy than mental health concerns for both men and women, they can each create barriers in the workplace. Studies have shown people with health concerns often fear professional retaliation and stigma – particularly in the face of mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety. Keeping health concerns a secret doesn’t just impact employees, either. Research suggests untreated mental illness could be costing American employers $100 billion a year.
The perception of similar stigmas can significantly impact the way employees talk about and share their sexual orientation with their bosses. While 63% of women and 48% of men said they either were or, at some point, had concealed the truth of their sexuality, this concern exclusively affected gay and bisexual Americans rather than those in straight relationships. Fear for job security or professional advancement can be a roadblock to open dialogue today, but building safe environments for employees to feel comfortable sharing can help build trusting working relationships and even increase productivity on the job.
In some cases, professional industry might be connected to the secrets Americans willingly keep from their employers. The number of American men and women working multiple jobs rose by 2% from just one year before to roughly 7.6 million people in 2017.
For some, underemployment can make finding additional working opportunities necessary for financial stability. Obscuring secondary employment was also highest among Americans working in the arts and entertainment industry, while 1 in 5 government and public administration employees withheld information about stealing from their companies at least once in their careers.
Hiding the Truth
Despite laws designed to protect employees against age discrimination, long-term unemployment is higher among Americans over 50 who may fear being replaced with a younger (and less expensive) alternative. According to our survey, Americans who’d spent more years in the workforce were more likely to hide secrets from their bosses like having sex at work and abusing an expense account.
When it came to more emotional concerns (including doctors’ appointments and picking up a part-time job), parents were more likely to conceal the truth from their employers than those without children. While less than 25% of non-parents said they didn’t want their bosses to know they’d cried on the clock before, more than 1 in 3 parents said the same.
There are plenty of things you shouldn’t feel guilty about at work. Taking time off when you really need it, giving someone critical feedback on a bad idea, and even occasionally reporting a co-worker (or boss) to HR can all be facts of professional life. On the other hand, Americans surveyed told us which secrets made them feel the most embarrassed at work, and some could be considered more reprehensible than others.
More than 59% of people who admitted they either had or were currently stealing from their employers said they at least felt guilty about their actions. Similarly, employees who abused their expense accounts or had established fake kids or family members were also more likely to carry remorse for their decisions than some other misgivings.
Of course, not all secrets involve nefarious behaviors, and Americans who’d become pregnant while employed and kept it a secret (at least for some time) were more likely to feel guilty than employees with a criminal past, fake doctors’ appointments, or even people who’d fallen asleep on the job. For women, especially, pregnancy may leave them feeling as if their careers are in jeopardy and, in some cases, lackluster maternity and paternity leave solutions can be cause for concern for women and men across the country.
The State of Suppression
Research has shown that more than half of all Americans who are LGBTQ choose to hide their sexual orientation at work. While over 4 in 5 heterosexual employees from the same study said their co-workers that are LGBTQ shouldn’t have to conceal themselves, more than half also admitted they’d feel uncomfortable if they heard a co-worker who was LGBTQ talking about their social life on the job. Perhaps for those same reasons, 1 in 5 workers in America today identifying as LGBTQ look for an accepting environment when choosing where to work, and some have even left jobs for not accepting their sexual identity.
As we learned, 71% of men and women polled who identified as gay or bisexual in Southern states including Texas, Florida, and Georgia said they hid their sexual orientation from their bosses, and more than half of people from the Midwest said the same.
Keeping Politics Private
Sexual orientation isn’t the only personal aspect Americans admitted to withholding from their employers. In Western states like California, Oregon, and Washington, 26% of Republicans kept their political affiliation a secret, and 37% of Democrats living in the South said the same.
While studies have shown people in minority groups are more likely to mask personal elements of their private lives from the people they work with, keeping up appearances or hiding who you are can be mentally exhausting. Concealing your identity can make building relationships at work more difficult and even affect company morale. Experts suggest the workplace cultures that encourage employees to camouflage important aspects of their personality are rooted in the behaviors exhibited by managers of those companies.
Everything You Need to Know
Considering how many hours each week you spend at the office (or even just thinking about work), it’s no surprise research continues to link job satisfaction with our physical and mental health. If you have a tenuous relationship with your boss, it might not just be bad for office morale or productivity – it can lead to an increased risk of heart disease.
At Simply Hired, we believe in a job search tailored to help millions of people across the country find great jobs where they can love what they do day in and day out. More than find local opportunities in the most popular industries, we’ll help you compare salaries by job title and location to make sure you get the best offer possible. Search millions of jobs with one click or post your company’s open positions today. Visit us at SimplyHired.com to learn more.
We collected 1,000 responses from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Forty-six percent of our participants were female, and 54% were male. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 73 with a mean of 34 and a standard deviation of 9.96. Only participants who lived in the U.S. and were employed qualified to take the survey and were included in the analysis. We weighted the data to the 2016 U.S. census for age and gender.
No statistical testing was performed, so the claims listed above are based on means alone. As such, this content is purely exploratory, and future research should approach this topic in a more rigorous way.
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