Identifying and Navigating Microaggressions at Work

The subtleties of workplace behaviour are often overlooked. Whether it’s an unintentionally offensive remark or a faint display of hostility, we may inadvertently undermine a colleague’s identity. Despite appearing trivial, these actions, classified as microaggressions at work, can potentially inflict significant emotional harm on our colleagues.

In this article, we will define microaggressions, categorise their types, and offer examples. We will also discuss methods for identifying them in the workplace and strategies for addressing them immediately. Finally, we will outline how employers can tackle cases of microaggressions in the workplace in the long term.

If you have experienced this discrimination at work and want advice on how to proceed, contact Redmans Solicitors now. We are employment law specialists and could advise on your possible next steps following a quick consultation. 

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What are Microaggressions at Work?

Sometimes, often without realising, individuals say or do something that indirectly discriminates against others due to specific identifying characteristics. Such conduct constitutes microaggressions at work and could include a colleague’s sex, religious belief or ethnic origin. Though these actions are typically subtle and unintentional, they can still cause distress to the individuals they are directed towards.

Examining the various types of experiences a colleague might encounter, three distinct forms emerge. Firstly, if an individual engages in discriminatory behaviour, possibly without offensive intent, they would have carried out a microassault. Yet, they would have committed a microinsult if they displayed rudeness or insensitivity towards someone’s identity or heritage. However, should they have undermined the experiences of a marginalised group, their conduct would fall under “microinvalidation”.

To gain a deeper insight into each type, below are some microaggression examples:

  • A Microassault might manifest when someone tells a racist joke, is confronted about its offensive nature, and dismisses it by stating, “It was just a joke”
  • Microinsults may occur if someone tells their colleague they “aren’t like others” from a specific group, including their ethnic origin
  • A Microinvalidation could develop if someone rejects that a colleague has been discriminated against or claims racism doesn’t exist

Empowering Employers: Recognising Workplace Microaggressions

Addressing microaggressions at work requires employers to be able to identify indicative signs. Understanding what constitutes microaggressions and recognising various types helps pinpoint instances of such behaviour.

Verbal microaggression examples could be signalled by hostile or dismissive language and backhanded compliments. Similar behavioural misconduct may be evident if workers are excluded from workplace activities, ignored or interrupted during meetings.

Yet worker behaviour isn’t the only way microaggressions in the workplace can manifest. They could also be present in deficiencies in leadership representation and shortcomings in providing equitable opportunities for all workers. As such, employers must be able to identify both the environmental and behavioural factors to tackle microaggressions at work.

Microaggression Management: Assertive Strategies for Instant Impact

The response someone chooses in the moments following a microaggression can significantly shape the outcome of the interaction. This is especially true when the perpetrating individual doesn’t realise the damage their actions have caused.

Because of this, it’s crucial to stay calm in instances of microaggressions at work. Once ready, the individual should politely but assertively call out how the behaviour affected them. Here, it’s good to use “I” and only criticise the behaviour, not the individual who said it.

Once the conversation has been initiated, explaining why the behaviour is unacceptable is essential. Highlighting how it prolongs stereotypes and opposes inclusivity could be helpful. Simultaneously, providing empathy and awareness by asking about the intentions behind their actions could foster constructive dialogue.

After the conversation, it’s vital to outline acceptable behaviour and suggest resources for further learning. This helps ensure understanding and prevents future instances of microaggressions in the workplace.

Tackling Microaggressions at Work Professionally

While understanding how to address microaggressions at the moment is valuable, employers should ultimately aim to eradicate them. To achieve this, employers must first consider creating a comprehensive policy.

This should highlight what microaggressions are, prohibit such behaviour, and outline the disciplinary procedures for misconduct. By doing so, workers will understand the employer’s stance, and managers will know how to deal with policy breaches.

To further discourage microaggressive behaviour among workers, employers should provide training. This will enhance the workforce’s understanding of the repercussions of microaggressions at work and equip them with strategies to prevent such behaviour.

Additionally, employers should introduce confidential reporting mechanisms within the policy mentioned above to ensure the behaviour doesn’t go unnoticed. They should also implement effective investigatory measures to ensure reported misconduct is handled efficiently.

Finally, employers must establish support channels to assist those impacted by microaggressions at work. However, fostering a workplace culture that prioritises inclusivity is essential to guarantee optimal support.

Suppose you have faced microaggressions in the workplace or any form of discrimination, including victimisation or harassment, contact Redmans Solicitors today. We are specialists in the employment law sector and can discuss your circumstances before advising you on your possible next steps.

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