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Your Professional Personality May be Hurting Your Health

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Your office environment directly influences your office personality—a quiet office normally molds quiet employees, while a social company means high energy and constant chatter in the room. But what happens if your office personality doesn’t fit your actual personality? (As for the people in your office that don't fit your personality, here's Your Guide to the Worst People in Every Office.)

Sanna Balsari-Palsule, a Ph.D. candidate in social psychology at the University of Cambridge, set out to answer just that. She gave employees at a marketing firm a personality test and survey about their life at work. When she compared these results with their performance reviews, Balsari-Palsule found that a disconnect between one’s natural demeanor and office personality took a serious toll on his or her mental health.

When naturally talkative people had to be quiet and alone for long periods of time—like sitting at a desk, inputting data into a computer—they were less satisfied with their job and more stressed than chatterboxes whose environment allowed them to babble freely. Similarly, introverts suffered when they tried to be social and interactive (although not quite as much as extroverted employees.) (See 10 Ways to Be Happier at Work Without Changing Jobs.)

Plus, we know self-control is like a muscle—so the more you exercise it throughout the day in order to mold yourself into Employee of the Month, the less strength you have to avoid dessert or drag your butt to the gym.

This is true beyond the workplace too. The natural inclination to alter your personality in order to advance your situation—be it career, marriage, friendships—is called "free traits," and, while it sounds like a smart tactic, employing it at the office may actually be harming your mental health (this: skyrocketing stress levels and eventual burnout). (How Bad Are Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for Mental Health?Previous researchfrom Brian Little, who coined the term and who is collaborating with Balsari-Palsule, found that faking it can mess with the functioning of your autonomic nervous system, which regulates your heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, even sexual arousal.

And Balsari-Palsule thinks this extends beyond just introversion and extroversion, applying to the other “big five” personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism). That means forcing yourself to be someone else in order to be a better employee, friend, or wife, could actually be hurting you.

Luckily, since you can’t really control what behavior is acceptable at your office, there’s an easy way to offset the damage. Introverts and extroverts both need a restorative period in their day, meaning time to revert back to their true self. Balsari-Palsule observed that extroverts who found ways to be social throughout the day—like going to lunch with a colleague—felt less emotionally exhausted and stressed from nine to five, just like introverts who savor their alone time. (At your wit's end with work? Why Burnout Should be Taken Seriously.)

Fake it 'til you make it may seem like a great motto—especially if you don't feel like you're in the right gig—but it won’t be so helpful if you burn out before you get there.

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