The Impact of Microaggressions on Health and Job Satisfaction

Blog post Chinasa Elue, Ph.D., Guest BloggerSREB-State Doctoral Scholars Program Graduate
An occasional series from the Doctoral Scholars Program on postsecondary topics

Dr. Chinasa Elue The multiple pandemics of 2020 have systematically forced us to engage in critical conversations around race, injustice and the pervasive nature of inequalities across all sectors of society. As these dialogues have unfolded, several organizations have stepped forward with statements decrying racism and social injustice on their websites and social media outlets. It is no surprise that several of these proclamations have been met with intense scrutiny as employees, specifically marginalized ones, tell a different tale of what is going on behind the scenes of organizations that are strong in recruitment but poor in retention and inclusion. This speaks to the part microaggressions play in employees’ job satisfaction and health outcomes.

Have you ever walked into a meeting dressed for business and people mistook you for the janitor? Have you ever given a groundbreaking presentation only to have your colleagues comment on how articulate you are or how well you speak English? If you answered no, you are gaining insight into common examples of the daily microaggressions minority professionals experience in the workplace based on their race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality. These experiences prove false many leaders’ claims that diversity and inclusion are woven into the fabric of their organization.

In order for organizations to foster more inclusive spaces for all professionals to thrive and grow, there has to be an intentional effort to confront bias and discriminatory behaviors head-on.

Microaggressions are the daily verbal, nonverbal and environmental slights, snubs or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate a derogatory message toward a person or group based on the dimensions of their identity. The insidious nature of microaggressions can sabotage careers and contribute to employees leaving their field.

When employees don’t feel seen or valued, they are less likely to contribute to the organization in ways that make full use of their talents and intellectual prowess. Unfortunately, the impact does not stop there. Consistent, unaddressed microaggressions can lead to low job satisfaction, imposter syndrome and other physical and mental health issues. Traumatic stress symptoms, depression and even suicidal ideations can result. In order for organizations to foster more inclusive spaces for all professionals to thrive and grow, there must be an intentional effort to confront bias and discriminatory behaviors head-on.

For organizations looking to take on this charge, I offer a few suggestions:

  1. Addressing issues around diversity should not be a focal point for leaders only. All employees need to be actively engaged in conversations about how to deal with microaggressions, bias and exclusionary practices in the workplace. Leaders should be wary, though, of asking the employee(s) experiencing microaggressions to conduct diversity, equity and inclusion training for the rest of the organization. 
  2. Organizations looking to promote more inclusive workplaces should look into trainings that promote practices and policies that respect the idiosyncratic differences all employees bring with them to the workplace. Trainings in how to engage in difficult conversations about dismantling systematic racism and injustice can pave the way for all employees to feel welcome to show up as their truest selves. 
  3. Lastly, organizations need to grapple with this question: Will you be inclusive for a moment or for a lifetime? Dialogues around  dismantling discriminatory practices and addressing microaggressions must be ongoing; they cannot occur only when it is trendy.

For our workplaces to truly be transformative, accountability is key. Organizations should strive to create workspaces free of the repeated microaggressions and other biased practices that rob minority professionals of the chance to experience job satisfaction, optimize their health and increase productivity.

References

Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) (2019). Being black in corporate America. Retrieved from https://www.talentinnovation.org/_private/assets/BeingBlack-KeyFindings-CTI.pdf

Sue, D. W. (2010). Microaggressions in everyday life: Race, gender, and sexual orientation. John Wiley & Sons.

Torres, L. & Taknint, J.T. (2015). Ethnic microaggressions, traumatic stress symptoms, and Latino depression: A moderated mediational model. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 62(3):393-401. doi:10.1037/cou0000077