Workplace Biases that Can Hinder Relationships with Your Employees

The word blindsided brings up feelings that are unpleasant at best. Definitions range from catch someone unprepared, to surprise someone usually with harmful results, to an unexpected attack or hit. Synonyms for the word blindsided include bushwhack, catch unaware, hit unexpectedly, sucker-punch. Just reading those words can send chills up your spine. It’s completely unpleasant whether it happens at work or elsewhere. The crazy thing about being blindsided is that there are times we contribute to it happening to us. Sounds unbelievable! It can be true though. Our biasescan play a role in us being blindsided.

Consider how busy you are. Harvard Business Review reported on an analysis of Gallup data that showed 80% of Americans say they “never had enough time.” Social scientists have coined the phrase “time poverty.” When faced with the absence of enough time, our brains connect us to similar situations we have experienced to expedite deciding what action to take now. This is where biases can enter the picture and cause us to be blindsided later if the decision we make causes an unintended consequence.

Biases are known as different words such as thinking traps and predispositions. It is important to be aware of workplace biases like the ones listed below. As you read through these, be open with yourself on whether or not there is even a degree of these surfacing in your decisions.

Proximity Bias ·       The old saying “out of sight, out of mind” describes this bias.

·       People in positions of power can treat workers more favorably when they are physically situated closer to them and seen more often.

·       Forty-two percent of supervisors surveyed said they sometimes forget about remote workers when assigning tasks.

Attribution Bias ·       The tendency to explain someone’s behavior based on their character rather than situational influences.

·       For example, what are your thoughts about someone who is often late arriving to work? Undisciplined? Is that a fair assumption?

Appearance Bias ·       Think about pictures of your parents and grandparents when they were your age. Any differences in how they dressed? In hairstyles? In body language when communicating? In jewelry and body art?

·       Five generations are in the workplace.

·       Traditionalists: 2% (1925-1945)

·       Baby Boomers: 25% (1946-1964)

·       Generation X: 33% (1965-1980)

·       Generation Y: 35% (1981-2000)

·       Generation Z: 5% (2001-2020)

·       Do appearance differences influence how you assess a person’s capabilities?

Consider the unpleasant impact these biases can have on the employee experience. Even though biases are often at work without our conscious awareness, they can create feelings of unfairness, confusion and detachment in employees. Positive Psychology gives us insight into the power of emotions. “American psychologist Dr. Robert Plutchik proposed that there are eight primary emotions that serve as the foundation for all others: joy, sadness, acceptance, disgust, fear, anger, surprise, and anticipation. Once the emotion is identified, the body moves into action.”

When our brains perceive a threat, the fight or flight mode is triggered. Imagine the adverse effect feelings such as sadness, fear, and anger can produce in the workplace. When biases are involved in decision making, unintentional outcomes can happen. When we are later informed of those undesired outcomes, we can feel blindsided.  Our biases were probably at work.

How can managers deter being influenced by biases?  What tool can be used to keep biases at bay and create a more authentic and fair work environment? In a word “measures.” Rely on the objectivity of facts and data. Increase your awareness of biases and how they may influence your actions and emotions. Below are suggestions to up your objectivity.

  • Reflect on decisions made in the last week. Were any of the biases listed above involved?
  • Consciously rotate through all of your team members to make assignments rather than relying on the same members you most often see.
  • Define strengths and motivations of team members to make assignments that align with the person best suited.
  • Seek out feedback from others on your decisions periodically. Ask them about the objectivity of the decision.
  • Use your abilities to be a critical thinker by asking questions about facts and risks so you can make informed decisions.
  • Keep a pulse on the employee experience. Ask employees to give you feedback on a regular basis.

Biases will always exist. We just need to choose not to use them.