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Addressing Workplace Microaggressions: A How-To Guide

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Understanding microaggression in the workplace and its impact

There are 3 types of microaggressions:

  1. Microattacks are when someone directly and intentionally attacks another person because of their personality. This could mean someone saying mean things, using offensive words, making jokes, or even threatening them. It could also be following someone around a store, which is a type of behavioral microattack.
  2. Microinsults are sneaky, mean messages about where someone is coming from. They usually don't happen intentionally, but rather because of biases that we aren't aware of. For example, if a person says, "You speak English so well," it suggests that they did not expect to be good at it because it is not their native language. Or when someone says, "You don't really belong here, do you?", it makes the person feel like they don't belong.
  3. Microputdowns are small words that inadvertently dismiss how someone feels or what they've been through just because of who they are. It's like not taking their experiences seriously or assuming something about them based on stereotypes. For example, if someone says, "You're making too much of a fuss" or "It's not a big deal."

How microaggressions in the workplace affect mental

Microaggressions can affect people's mental health. They can make a person feel anxious and depressed. They can lead to low self-esteem and trigger feelings of anger, frustration and isolation. They can manifest themselves in physical symptoms such as headaches, fatigue and sleep problems.

Microaggressions in the workplace make underrepresented workers feel unwelcome and uncomfortable. They prevent her from doing her best.

A SurveyMonkey survey found that 26% of Americans have definitely experienced a microaggression in the workplace, while 36% have witnessed one. And nearly a quarter of disgruntled workers would leave their jobs because of these issues.

45% of workers surveyed said unprofessional behavior was the most common form of microaggression they experienced in their workplace. 29% have heard derogatory comments about co-workers or been described as "well-spoken" (9% of black workers versus 2% of white workers are disproportionately upset by these comments). 28% said their opinion was taken over by someone else (47% of women said they were upset about it, compared to 37% of men).

Additionally, 67% of respondents believe aggressors should apologize, and 47% believe managers should talk to their employees about possible microaggressions.

How to combat microaggressions in the workplace?

Here are some ways HR can help address microaggressions in the workplace:

Establishing a reporting and investigation system encourages affected employees to Talk about microaggressions and hold offending people accountable for their actions:

  • Have employees report microaggressions through online forms, confidential phone calls, or conversations with HR. Make it easy to use and available in different languages to meet everyone's needs.

Offer anonymous reporting options so hesitant employees can come forward and identify themselves.

  • Outline a clearly defined investigation process. Clearly define the procedures, time frame and possible outcomes. Your employees should be able to read and reference your policies in the employee handbook, intranet, and newsletter.
  • Train your human resources managers on how to conduct a fair and impartial investigation. In complex cases, you can also bring in external investigators.
    Conduct a thorough investigation.
  • Collect evidence from the reporting employee through interviews, witness statements, and documentation. Be fair by encouraging the accused to present their side of the matter.
  • Make sure employees understand the consequences of microaggressions. This helps them understand how their behavior affects others and what they need to do. The goal is to change their behavior, not just punish them.
  • During the investigation, keep both parties informed of progress and results.

Conduct training on microaggression in the workplace

HR should provide a microaggression training program so employees learn how to recognize and respond to microaggressions when they occur:

Survey your employees and review incident reports to find out what your organization needs. Then, provide training that focuses on the microaggressions that occur in your company.

Reach out to diversity specialists and DEI training providers to develop comprehensive training relevant to your organization.

Decide what the training will do: raise awareness of microaggressions, show how they affect people, find ways to stop them, or learn how to better deal with them.

When designing the content of your training, you should cover some essential content:

  • Explanation and examples of different types of microaggressions (verbal, nonverbal)
  • Understanding the damaging effects of microaggressions on individuals, teams, and the overall work environment
  • How to recognize microaggressions in the workplace, including everyday interactions and subtle behaviors
  • How to intervene safely and effectively when witnessing microaggressions so that everyone is accountable

Strategies for those affected and bystanders to address microaggressions directly, responsibly and respectfully

  • Choose a training style that fits your budget and your employees' learning habits. You can offer in-person workshops, online courses, or a mix of both. You can also play through scenarios, study cases, and have group discussions to get everyone involved and applying what they've learned.
  • Invite guest speakers and external consultants to bring different perspectives and make your training more credible.
  • Reinforce learning by providing internal and external resources for support, training, and incident reporting.

Monitor and evaluate your actions

Implementation should be followed by monitoring and evaluation to ensure that the policies remain relevant and workable:

  • Organize employee surveys and focus groups to learn their insights and experiences with company policies on microaggressions.
  • During exit interviews, ask departing employees for feedback on how the company handles microaggressions.
  • Review reports of microaggressions to identify trends, patterns, and areas where policies can be adjusted. Analyze investigations to assess whether they were conducted fairly, effectively and in a timely manner.
  • Track how microaggression policies are being implemented across the organization to determine if something is wrong or there are discrepancies.
  • Measure the impact of microaggression training on employee knowledge and attitudes. Has the occurrence of microaggressions decreased as a result of the training?
  • Use the information you learn from interviews, surveys, reports and training to change your policies. Make them clearer, cover more things, and work better. Improve your training to close any gaps or improve things.
  • Communicate regular updates and improvements to your microaggression policies to inform and engage employees.
  • Consider hiring outside experts to review your microaggression rules. You can compare your actions with those of other companies to make sure you're doing everything right and troubleshoot any problems.

Building and integrative culture

Senior leaders should lead by example to create a thriving, inclusive culture by modeling inclusive behavior, speaking out against microaggressions, and holding themselves accountable.

Supplement your microaggression training with another type of training, such as:

  • Active listening - train your employees in active listening so that they learn to empathize, understand and respect others.
  • Bystander Intervention - teach your employees how to safely and effectively intervene when they witness microaggressions
  • Inclusive Language - Training employees to use inclusive language and communication practices to create a more respectful and welcoming environment
  • Unconscious Bias - Microaggressions are influenced by unconscious biases. Therefore, it makes sense to provide this training that addresses different types of bias, prejudice and stereotypes. In this way, employees discover their biases and find ways to change them.

Additionally, encourage open and respectful conversations about microaggressions through facilitated dialogues, workshops, and focus groups.

  • Create employee resource groups (ERGs) that provide a safe space for employees to socialize, share experiences, and advocate for their communities.
  • Make sure your hiring and promotion practices are inclusive. This means you need to ensure that the people you hire and promote represent the diverse groups in your community.
  • Organize events and activities that celebrate diversity and promote appreciation for different faiths and cultures.
  • Give recognition and rewards to employees who behave inclusively. This shows what behaviors are good and encourages everyone else to do the same.
  • Offer diversity and inclusion resources, such as: Articles, books and websites.

Combatting microaggressions in the workplace requires proactive measures like reporting systems and comprehensive training. IceHrm offers solutions to help create a more inclusive and respectful work environment.

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