Women in a meeting or interview

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Walking into an office as one of the few conservatives or liberals in the workplace can be intimidating, to say the least. Politics nowadays are anything but harmonious, and polarization continues to escalate. Now, researchers from The Ohio State University report workers whose values and beliefs (political, or otherwise) don’t align with the majority of employees in their organization tend to feel less respected on the job, usually resulting in less overall work engagement. Moreover, co-workers tend to notice this lack of engagement.

“It is a real issue that organizations face,” says Tracy Dumas, lead author of the study and an associate professor of management and human resources at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, in a university release. “Organizations know that it is valuable to have employees with different perspectives. But if those with different perspectives feel they aren’t respected and so aren’t fully participating in their jobs, organizations aren’t fully reaping the benefits of their unique perspectives.”

Importantly, researchers did uncover a way for “value minorities” to feel more a part of their organizations. The key is disclosing personal information about themselves to colleagues that had nothing to do with the topics or values about which they disagreed.

Researchers defined “value minorities” as workers whose core beliefs involving politics, religion, or other important areas of life clash with the majority of their co-workers. To be clear, Prof. Dumas stresses that this project examined values, not just opinions. While values can influence opinions, values are much harder to change because they tend to be embedded in an individual’s sense of self.

Casual office meeting

To reach these conclusions, the research team conducted a series of experiments involving various cohorts; full-time adult employees in an online setting, a student project group that worked together over a semester, and undergraduate students in a lab setting. All of those experiments produced similar results.

The study involving full-time workers encompassed a total of 389 employees and was conducted online. Participants were given a workplace scenario to read in which they imagined themselves working closely with colleagues of the same rank in a workgroup. Some participants were told that their own values clashed with their co-workers regarding issues like communal responsibility, individual liberty, and safety and security. Other workers were told their values were quite similar.

To analyze the importance of self-disclosure, certain participants were also told they often conversed with co-workers about more casual, non-work topics like weekend plans, including spending time with a friend, trying a new restaurant in town, and talking about their favorite menu items. Others were told they rarely ever talked about such personal topics with co-workers and usually only stuck to professional topics. Both cohorts were told they did not discuss their personal values.

Next, everyone reported on whether they felt their colleagues would respect them on a scale of one (strongly disagree) to seven (strongly agree). After that, the volunteers were told about an important group meeting on the horizon in which they would be discussing how to secure a new and important client. Participants rated how much they thought they would be engaged in the meeting using statements like “I would exert my full effort” and “My mind would be focused while completing work in my group.”

The results suggest the importance of self-disclosure in helping value minorities perform better in the workplace, researchers say. Participants in the minority who were told that they shared information about their personal life (such as weekend plans) predicted they would feel more engaged than other value minorities placed in the non-disclosure condition.

All in all, the study indicates self-disclosure helped increase engagement among value minorities by increasing the respect they anticipated receiving from their colleagues.

people high fiving at work
(Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash)

Another experiment involving 277 undergraduate students working in real-life teams surveyed three times over the course of a seven-week period during one semester produced similar findings. The students were surveyed on their values, and how much they felt their values clashed with their teammates. Volunteers were also asked about how much respect they felt from others on their teams and how much they talked about themselves. All of the results from the lab experiment were also found in this real-life work group. A key aspect was how team members rated how engaged each person was during their team project.

“We found that others on the team noticed that people whose values clashed with the majority didn’t engage as much in the work of the group,” Prof. Dumas explains. “But that negative effect was lessened if the value minorities talked about themselves in the group.”

Study authors believe the essential ingredient in all of these experiments was people talking about themselves in the workplace – not about the areas in which they disagree, but about their everyday life experiences.

“What happens is that when people talk about themselves, they feel more respected – and they feel invested in the success of the group, they feel engaged,” Prof. Dumas adds.

According to Prof. Dumas, self-disclosure helps because it “humanizes” value minorities to the group. It’s natural for anyone to feel uncomfortable being a part of a workgroup that doesn’t share their values, but if they can find something they do feel comfortable sharing with the group, it can foster a connection.

“When you talk about your family or the movies you like or what you did this week, it shows you’re a whole person, you’re not just defined by the difficult areas where you disagree,” Prof. Dumas continues. “Even if you don’t agree with others on your favorite movies, or what restaurants you like, that’s not a difficult conversation to have.”

Even better, using self-disclosure to help value minorities feel more respected and engaged in the workplace doesn’t require any managerial intervention at all.

“If you’re a value minority, you’re not at the mercy of your manager to make things better. Self-disclosure is a step that you can take to mitigate the negative effects of feeling that you’re in the minority,” Prof. Dumas concludes.

Of course, the study also stresses the importance of organizations creating a work environment in which people feel comfortable disclosing personal information in the first place.

The study is published in the journal Organization Science.

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About John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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1 Comment

  1. PJ London says:

    I tried that “what I did on my holiday.” guff with my colleagues and they called the police.
    Fortunately they only found three of the bodies.
    I should be back at work in 20 years.