Threats of Discrimination May Lead Employees to Behave Badly

When employees cannot be authentic at work, well-being and job satisfaction are likely to decrease. This is especially so for those who possess stigmatized identities, such as mental illness. In the current study, researchers (Follmer et al., 2022) propose that when employees anticipate discrimination, it can make them believe that they cannot be authentic at work. This can ultimately lead them to engage in counterproductive work behaviors (CWBs).


Across three time points, researchers (Follmer et al., 2022) surveyed 279 employees diagnosed with either depression, bipolar disorder, or both. Each time point occurred one month apart. At time 1, participants reported how much discrimination they expected to face, how central their mood disorders were to their sense of self, and how severe their symptoms were. At time 2, participants completed a measure of authenticity, such as reporting whether they were true to themselves in most work situations. Time 3 included a measure of counter-productive work behavior, such as drug consumption and rudeness.

Results indicated that the threat of discrimination can lead employees to feel as though they cannot be their authentic selves at work. In turn, this can lead to counter-productive work behavior. Importantly, these perceptions of inauthenticity were strongest for those who reported higher degrees of depressive and bipolar symptoms.


The authors encourage organizations to create supportive climates and encourage authentic self-expression. They can also work to reduce anticipated threats of discrimination for employees with stigmatized identities – such as those with mental illness. Finally, the authors suggest that organizations can battle stigma more directly by encouraging mental health awareness and encouraging their workers to seek professional help as needed.


Follmer, K. B., Geiger, M., Beatty, J. E., & Follmer, D. J. (2022). The consequences of not being me: Longitudinal Examination of the relations among anticipated discrimination, authenticity, and counterproductive work behaviors. Group & Organization Management, advance online publication.

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