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Secrecy at Work: A Growing Phenomenon

Carrie Steckl earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a Minor in Gerontology from Indiana University – Bloomington in 2001. She has spent over ...Read More

Have you ever kept something from your employer because you thought it might impact your job in some way? Unfortunately, many employees feel that their work environment is not supportive enough for them to go to their employer when there’s a problem of either a personal or professional nature. Instead, they keep these issues secret, which can slowly fester until resentment, lack of motivation, or low morale begin to take over.

These secrets can fall under any of the dimensions of wellness that I write about in this blog. For instance:

  • Physical – Perhaps you’ve been diagnosed with an illness that will impact your productivity, but you’re afraid to tell your employer out of fear that you will be let go. Or perhaps you’ve developed a disability that requires accommodations, but you fear you will be seen as difficult if you ask for them.
  • Emotional – Are you seeing a mental health provider on a regular basis? This might require you to miss an hour of work each week, but you’re afraid that your employer stigmatizes mental health issues and won’t be cooperative.
  • Social – Maybe you’re experiencing a serious conflict with a co-worker or even your boss, but you don’t want to be seen as the complainer if you’re the one who speaks up about it.
  • Spiritual – Do your religious practices require you to worship at times that conflict with work? You might worry about discrimination if you ask for this kind of flexibility.
  • Intellectual – Perhaps you don’t feel challenged in your current position, but you’re nervous about being shut down if you ask for a promotion or a change in responsibilities.
  • Vocational – Maybe you’ve realized that your current field of work is not a good fit for you and you’re seeking new employment or even a new career. How do you spend the time necessary to make such a change without tipping off your employer?
  • Environmental – Oftentimes, personal circumstances interfere with work schedules and responsibilities. Caring for an older parent, childcare issues, or a ridiculous commute can all make work more stressful. Yet, we are reluctant to discuss these issues with our employer because we fear we will sound wimpy or not committed to our jobs.

If any of these secrets resonate with you, please know that I’m not suggesting that you become an open book to your employer. Sometimes a work culture is simply not supportive of these kinds of issues, and it might not be in your best interest to try to share your concerns.

However, I do encourage you to take a good look at the issues you are hiding and evaluate whether it could actually help to approach your employer about them. Here are some questions to ask:

  • What am I afraid of? Being told “no”? Being seen as a difficult employee? Getting fired?
  • Is my fear justified? Have I seen co-workers try to address these issues with hazardous consequences? Or am I basing my fear on experiences with other employers or false assumptions?
  • What could improve by talking to my employer? What could worsen? Do the potential benefits outweigh the possible problems?
  • Are there ways to address the issue without having to talk to my employer? Have I explored outside resources to help me with this challenge?

After considering these questions, you can determine whether it makes sense to approach your employer about your concerns. It’s a matter of deciding whether the risk involved is worth the potential upside of creating a better work situation, which could theoretically improve your wellbeing by leaps and bounds. Only you can make that decision, but I urge you to make it thoughtfully and carefully.

Keep Reading By Author Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.
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