Study: People More Comfortable With Out Co-Workers Than Closeted Ones
New research supports the notion that people who don’t hide their sexual orientation are not only more pleasant to be around, but also perform more effectively in the workplace by improving teamwork.
University of California-Los Angeles’ Anderson School of Management released a study conducted among undergraduates to coincide with the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell on Sept. 20. But the research has ramifications well beyond gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.
Activists say the research will serve as ammunition in aiding passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which has languished in Congress since its initial introduction in 1994. The study helps put to rest a major argument against repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell -- that it would harm unit cohesion in the military.
That’s because policies that introduce uncertainty into social interactions, such as the ban on gay service members serving openly, may negatively affect rather than protect team performance. Those in the military could perform better if they don’t need to wonder about their teammates’ sexual orientation, according to the UCLA researchers.
During the six-month study, the first of its kind, a research team tested a group of 50 undergraduate men. Each was paired with a gay man who either disclosed or concealed his orientation.
Separate studies measured cognitive and sensory-motor skills in performing math problems and in playing a Nintendo Wii shooting game.
Results: 1/3 Better With Openly Gay Co-Worker
The results showed that the participants paired with openly gay partners performed on average 32 percent better in solving math problems and 20 percent better on the Nintendo game compared to participants paired with closeted gay partners.
Previous research showed that ambiguity in interactions may hurt performance, since people need to be able to predict behaviors and attitudes with team partners to facilitate social interaction, according to UCLA.
The researchers reported that disclosure of sexual orientation by a gay partner reduces ambiguity and makes the interaction less psychologically demanding.
Release of the research coincided with the report of an anonymous online survey conducted by OutServe, the association of LGBT military members. Most (67 percent) of the more than 500 active-duty respondents anticipated no problems with the end of the ban on serving openly.
"Lots of people at work know a friend of mine is gay and there have been no negative reactions toward him," one reported. "As for another friend in a combat unit, the whole unit knew he was gay and no one cared."
The UCLA study broke new ground, according to those who conducted it: Margaret Shih, associate professor of human resources and organizational behavior, and doctoral candidates Benjamin Everly and Geoffrey Ho.
While adding to research on personal interaction was the academic reason for the study, "the more practical motivation had to do with the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy," Everly said in an interview.
"There actually hasn’t been any experimental work to show performance is affected when someone with whom you are working discloses their sexual orientation," he added.
"The results of our studies are relevant for any organization in which individuals may not feel comfortable disclosing their sexual orientation because our results suggest that it is better if members disclose their sexual orientation," according to Everly. "The performance of their colleagues also might improve."
He’s working on follow-up studies that "will attempt to figure out why the effect that we found exists."