Employee retention may be the most important function of human resources today. Gallup reported 28% of today’s workforce will interview for other jobs this year. A study of more than 1,000 adults across generations and industries in this country revealed lack of emotional safety will cause people to quit their jobs. Maintaining an environment where employees feel emotionally safe is a powerful method to retain employees. Feeling emotionally safe is feeling valued and accepted enough to express and challenge yourself.
On the contrary, people are inhibited in a toxic workplace with drama and infighting. The term, “hostile work environment” is often misused. It’s a legal term requiring the bad behavior to be related to a protected class. The environment can be toxic without breaking any laws.
The environment doesn’t need to rise to the level of illegal to be damaging. One factor that leads to negative working conditions is microaggressions. The term “microaggression” has been used since the 1970s to describe small casual verbal and behavioral indignities against people of color. More recently, the term encompasses intentional and unintentional slights against anyone, especially any socially marginalized group. The groups may include new hires and telecommuters.
Examples of microaggressions include not acknowledging someone in a group, forgetting to invite people to a meeting or leaving people off an email where their lack of information may have an impact on their performance. Microaggressions can have a serious effect on productivity; not just from being out of the loop, but from reluctance that results. Much of the time, this behavior is not intentional.
Our brains make quick judgments based on past experiences and background. This results in bias. We have to accept that everyone perceives the world differently. Sometimes we are unaware of our biases. Unconscious bias is displayed all day long in the form of microaggressions.
There is a lot of buzz about raising awareness of unconscious bias and more recently the news that awareness training doesn’t help matters. The most productive way to respond is to confront the microaggressor, according to Randall Peterson, organizational behavior and academic director at the Leadership Institute at London Business School. For instance, when someone talks over you, interrupt to let the person know you weren’t finished with your thought. If it continues, speak to the person privately to explain what’s happening with the intention that the person is not aware of their behavior and can change.
This is hard work. These are advanced communication skills. No wonder people start looking for a kinder place to work. People are looking for self-worth in their work. They want to feel as though they are contributing. Microaggressions diminish both.
Employers who want to retain their employees should develop measurable standards of inclusion and civility. Do’s and don’ts might include do have a thoughtful roster of attendees at meetings; don’t allow cell phones in meetings. Find out what microaggressions occur in your workplace by talking about it and let employees help develop the list of do’s and don’ts. Every workplace can benefit from a little more kindness.