STUDY: Openly Gay Employees Improve Their Coworkers’ Productivity

In June, we wrote about a study that found that if LGBT employees came out at work, they were much more likely to “flourish” and advance in their careers than those who stay closeted. A new UCLA study shows that the positive impact isn’t just on the out individual, but on that individual’s coworkers as well:

Although those in favor of policies such as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell argue that allowing gay individuals to serve openly hurts performance, the studies presented here find the opposite effect. Instead of harming performance, we find that individuals working with openly gay partners actually perform better on both cognitive and sensory motor tasks than individuals left to wonder about the sexual orientation of their partners. These results suggest not knowing the identity of one’s interaction partner may be more harmful to performance than knowing the identity — even a stigmatized identity — of one’s interaction partner.

It’s unclear the exact reason for the effect, but the researchers suspect that not knowing a person’s sexual orientation can be a mental distraction from the task at hand. They also point out that participants in the study had a relatively low level of anti-gay prejudice, so the results might not be the same in a less accepting climate.

Nevertheless, the study has important implications for issues such as the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the passage of non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The results contradict the idea that “imposing” non-discrimination rules are “bad for business,” unless of course conservatives wish to argue that higher productivity is also “bad for business.” If employees are not scared of being fired for their identities, everybody benefits.