Thought Experiment

Following David’s post below I skimmed the HBR blog and came across this post. It makes sense. If you work in a mid-to-large sized company in a major US city and are gay there is probably no downside to being open about your sexual preferences. There may even be advantages because you become a member of a privileged minority, and everything in life is easier if you don’t feel you have to hide something important about yourself from people you spend a lot of time with.

But what about coming out of the closet for other kinds of personal preferences than sexual ones? The post gives the hypothetical example of someone who is obsessed with World of Warcraft. All well and good for that guy on your IT or junior marketing staff, but for senior managers? Would your company celebrate that weirdness? Note that Zappos hedges by stating they aren’t looking for “crazy or extreme” weirdness, where crazy and extreme are undefined. Probably this means that only fashionable, politically correct weirdness gets a pass. Gun enthusiasts, Tea Party activists, people who blog about men’s rights… In corporate America some people are probably wise to stay in the closet.

10 thoughts on “Thought Experiment”

  1. At a management class I attended once, we had as a guest speaker a psych professor who talked about Jungian personality types and the MTBI. He emphasized the important of **hiring people whose perception/thought process is different from your own**, because if you’re all too similar, you’re going to have the same blind spots and happily march off the cliff together.

    This kind of diversity, though, seems to be especially difficult to implement in practice.

  2. The gun issue, definitely, should be kept in the closet. I work with insurers, and you might be surprised how intensely the industry promotes anti-workplace violence prep. Come out as a gun owner, and you’d get tagged as a potential major liability.

    Heck, some of the people I trained with never discuss their martial arts training at work; as one fellow put it, “I don’t want to be ‘That Scary Black Guy’ in the office. That’s just not good for my career.”

    (Now, how they go about explain away coming into work with black eyes or other visible injuries, I don’t know.)

  3. General rule of thumb: don’t mix work with the rest of your life. Whatever your passions are in life (cars, guns, sex, whatever) don’t bring that to work at all.

  4. Southern Man:

    Of course. However, if public recognition of your private passion serves your employer’s business purposes it might make sense for your employer to boast about its tolerance. For everybody else David Foster’s point applies.

  5. David – I read that at Intel their culture is to encourage “active” discussion – even yelling – to hammer out ideas.

  6. I’m of the opinion that keeping one’s personal life away from the work life is absolutely essential. I noticed early on – by the time that I was a junior NCO/supervisor – that if said personal life was … non-standard, a spectacular mess, or just wildly untrammelled, then your co-workers or supervisors tended to judge your work life by the personal. Unfair? Probably, but not much in life is strictly fair. It was better to just keep your personal life (to include your dating life and your personal family dramas) far, far from the work sphere. Now and again, though – revealing hobbies might be OK, especially if those have some utility in the work life. It’s a matter of discretion: if the hobby was something potentially useful to the professional sphere, like computer programming, or martial arts, gourmet cooking, auto mechanics … OK to reveal at work. On the other hand, something like compeditive pole dancing was probably best kept private.

  7. “…**hiring people whose perception/thought process is different from your own**, ”

    It would make sense to hire successful dyslexics from that point of view as they are hardwired to think outside the box. Richard Branson for instance is a highly successful dyslexic.

  8. “Now and again, though – revealing hobbies might be OK, especially if those have some utility in the work life. It’s a matter of discretion:”

    In 1981, I nearly won the Transpacific race from LA to Honolulu. I had never mentioned sailing with patients and, in fact, did not have any interaction with the two areas of my life. After I got back from Hawaii, a patient came in one day with an entire scrapbook she had kept of all the newspaper clippings about the race. That was in the days when the LA Times covered sailing as a sport. It was quite a collection. I had never mentioned sailing to her.

    Sailing is not martial arts or guns but it always seemed like an economic issue, sort of like Ann Romney and dressage.

  9. The “fairness” issue is true. Judging people by the objective standards of the job rather than your own moral standards (as a supervisor, co-worker or subordinate) would seem the ideal.

    On the other hand, messy personal lives tend to drain co-workers, lead to more erratic treatment of subordinates, and really screw up an enterprise if the boss’s private life is too messy. Not considering that sometimes ignores osmething big. (The drama queen is every boss’s, co-worker’s, etc. nightmare, though sometimes with people like that if their private life is full of enough chaos then work becomes their oasis – and you need to beware when their personal life is okay.) If someone is attracted to guys who beat them up – well, that isn’t a great sign.

Comments are closed.