Unconscious behaviours that could be harmful to your employees

Our Associate Wellbeing Coach, Christopher Hulme, offers advice on identifying harmful unconscious behaviours.

You’d hope by now most people are actively aware of what discrimination looks like in the workplace. A 2018 survey from Stonewall showed that almost one in five LGBT staff (18%) have been the target of negative comments or conduct from work colleagues in the last year because they’re LGBT. More than a third of LGBT staff (35%) have hidden that they are LGBT at work for fear of discrimination.

Unfortunately, statistics would go further to prove instances of physical discrimination still occur, with one in ten BAME LGBT+ employees reporting being physically attacked by customers/colleagues. According to the Stonewall 2018 Work in Britain report, one out of every eight trans people has been physically attacked for being trans.

These statistics desperately need highlighting and addressing, but discrimination isn’t necessarily ringfenced by physical acts of harassment.

Hidden bias and unconscious behaviours can be damaging and destructive, especially when faced over long periods of time. Identifying harmful behaviours and fixing them is crucial for businesses and organisations looking to cultivate a positive workplace environment.

Have a read through some examples of these types of behaviour:

Gendered language

Languages evolve as we evolve. Using non-gendered language signals a greater understanding of the lived experiences of individuals existing outside of the gender binary and can be hugely supportive to many in the LGBT+ community. Examples include addressing large groups as ‘folx’, ‘people’, ‘fellow humans’ (because who doesn’t love a bit of whimsy) or ‘distinguished guests’ if you’re in need of a more formal approach. Or just, you know, ‘everyone’. If a person tells you their preferred pronouns, please use them. If you make a mistake, apologise and keep it moving. It takes practise when adopting new language styles, but it gets easier when you see the wonderful impact it can have when done right.

Broad stroke character assumptions

It seems an odd distinction to make, but an important one, nevertheless. The LGBT+ community is just that – a community. Not a club. People need to understand that we don’t all meet for Scrabble every Thursday. We don’t have a club house. We don’t all have the same interests, tastes, values or outlooks. We’re heterogeneous by nature; made up of countless experiences and identities. Many of those identities are reflected in TV and film. Remember, these characters are often amplified for likeability and drama. If all you know of the LGBT+ community is what you’ve seen on telly, there’s more work to be done, and making generalisations about marginalised groups based on second-hand references isn’t helping anyone.

Body language – interaction with people physically and remotely

Whether in person or talking remotely through video chat, body language makes a massive difference to how the world views us and how our words and actions are received. Granted it’s a little more difficult with so many of us working remotely these days, but you can still pay attention to body language and show respect for whomever you communicate with. Make eye contact (look at the camera), face the screen and minimise distractions around you. Ask yourself the question – do I currently look like I’m engaged in this conversation?

Tone conscious in email

It can all go so wrong so quickly. The amount of times friends have sent me screenshots of emails with the Jonathan Van Ness ‘can you believe?!’ gif is unreal. Most turn out to be storm in a teacup, or nothing at all. But tone of voice matters. It matters even more when it’s written in black and white typeface. I appreciate some organisations have strict guidelines on email communication style but it’s worth viewing content through the lens of workplace-discrimination. Would you say that in person? And if so, would you have altered the tone of your delivery to account for a possible adverse reaction? With such a decrease in face-to-face interaction (thanks COVID) it’s important to pay attention to the tone of the language in your emails.

Can we help to educate your employees on the importance of recognising unconscious harmful behaviours?

The We Are Wellbeing team would love to hear from you.

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