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How discrimination harms workplace productivity?

Discrimination and its effects on workplace harmony and job satisfaction

EEOC has formed laws against discrimination. However, it is still far from being over from American workplaces. The fear of law works to an extent but it does not always provide the inspiration to act.  Fear several times fuels more discrimination. So, discrimination instead of getting over, remains there and works at a different level, becomes less evident but still has its effect. Law has worked to some extent. One cannot say that anti-discrimination laws are completely ineffective.  They have helped the workers and protected them from the level of harassment which was once common, but to end discrimination, law might have to work for decades.  It has also given them a mechanism to express their frustration and speak up against prejudice. However, leaders and managers must feel inspired to act or discrimination and prejudice will spoil workplace environment. 

The companies which are working in this direction will provide the others with the right inspiration. Discrimination is always painful. Sometimes, it is evident and sometimes it is not evident at the surface. If you are feeling excluded at your workplace you know you are being ostracised. At the workplace it can be particularly painful. The problem is that the organisations where such discrimination prevails, it hurts worker morale, the culture and the environment. Overall, the result is a loss of productivity and image. It is why the larger organizations globally have adopted strict non-discrimination policies. It is not something to do because of legal pressure, companies must adopt such policies of their own motivation.  There are several direct losses that result from discrimination and need to be identified.

Discrimination has a psychological impact. It hurts the employees that are being discriminated against psychologically and can result in depression and anxiety. In this way, it adds to their work stress and reduces employee morale and job satisfaction. Discrimination can kill productivity by reducing focus and increasing conflicts. It distracts people from their jobs, makes them feel inferior and gives rise to complex situations not favorable to employees or company. Conflict and friction are certain to reduce productivity by affecting performance. To improve performance, you need collaboration and less chances of conflicts. Discrimination always fuels the opposite. It fuels a feeling of rejection. Those being discriminated against feel rejected and therefore incapable of thinking and moving ahead. Ignoring the ills of discrimination can result in bigger problems for any organization.

Discrimination can give rise to awkward situations. If the level of discrimination rises, it spoils the work environment. The level of politics inside the company grows. Other problems too follow.  The supervisors are burdened with complaints and do not know whether to think in the favor of the company and its business interests or about human resource issues and ethics. The answer lies in company culture. Companies must focus upon creating a culture that fosters cooperation and brotherhood.  Culture can be considered as the foundation or the basic step if you are trying to create an environment of non-discrimination. Better environment means better reputation and higher efficiency plus reduced costs. Companies where discrimination is common generally have to incur high HR costs because of the relatively higher turnover rates. 

This has also been proved by research. Discrimination is not a problem limited to the developed countries. It is also there in the developing nations. It might be less rampant in the nations where labor laws are stronger but the effects of discrimination are the same everywhere. Anywhere it results in a loss of motivation and productivity whether it is China, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam or US.  A large number of companies globally are dealing with this problem.  Having strict non-discrimination policies helps, however having a discrimination free environment requires more than just policy making. It requires a culture and attitude of collaboration, inclusion and diversity.

Discrimination mostly affects the minority groups. It is generally the females, blacks, the disabled, the obese and other minority groups who frequently become the target. At the receiving end, there is mostly a disabled, a woman, a person of color or an under performer. Different language and appearance must not make someone an object of discrimination. A workplace where people respect others’ ethnicity and language feels like a heaven. Companies like Starbucks have solved this problem by taking the issue seriously. They have formed strict anti-discrimination policies and do not encourage any kind of discrimination at the workplace. People behave with respect towards each other and the customers. However, this is not the case everywhere. The work pressure is particularly high at the technological companies, but it must not become an excuse to let people have every kind of freedom.

 Recently, an ex-Uber employee posted an article anonymously on Medium regarding the kind of harassment she faced at her workplace. Call it discrimination, bullying, workplace harassment or whatever it is not something that rhymes with innovation which Uber is known for. Productivity must not come at the cost of employees’ job satisfaction. Amy (fictitious name) who anonymously posted this review mentioned such several instances without naming anyone in particular where she had faced discrimination and harassment. Her supervisors’ jokes would often grow lewd and sexually suggestive. Sexual discrimination and harassment are not unrelated. Amy’s contribution often went unappreciated and whenever she tried to complain to HR, she would receive a flat response from the HR team that they will consider her complaint but her supervisors were more important to the company than her. Amy is not the only woman having faced discrimination and harassment. There are many who have faced it and remained silent.  

Amy’s case shows that discrimination is not over at American workplaces. What law has done and what it will do matters but what matters more is what the companies are doing. It is not only the law’s responsibility. Companies themselves must feel responsible for every employee and his/her happiness and satisfaction. Managers and leaders must themselves adhere to the policies and bear the right attitude so the employees can follow. If the managers feel free to make lewd remarks against their subordinates, they are letting other employees have a reason to do the same. After all, the contagion of evil spreads faster and prevention is always better than cure. Discrimination will always result in more discrimination and then loss of public image as in the case of Uber. Many people deleted Uber’s App immediately after they read Amy’s post and expressed their dissatisfaction at Uber’s treatment of its employee.  So, the bottom line is that what is wrong is wrong and what is right is right. Discrimination is utterly wrong and rather than just fearing EEOC’s whip, the companies must focus on creating policies that can effectively eliminate it from the workplace. Employees must have a reason to include others and collaborate and work in harmony. Leaders too must not stop inspiring by their inclusive actions.

Employers must value employees’ satisfaction and morale. It means a lot to the company. Satisfied employees stay longer and they are able to perform better. An environment free of  discrimination ensures that the workplace is free from bad feelings and conflicts. If employees’ respect each other, the level of collaboration remains high inside the organization. Discrimination affects collaboration and harmony giving rise to conflicts that cannot just affect but kill workers’ morale. Ask the workers who have born the burnt of discrimination. Now, there are several bases of discrimination. It is not just the people of color who have to bear it at their workplace, even the white women are forced to tolerate it from time to time. Moreover, there is always a fear of retaliation from the employer. This is why several of such cases are not reported until the employee has resigned from the company.

You can imagine why several workers who have faced such trauma at their workplace have no option but to seek help for their psychological well being. Discrimination can be traumatic not only for the employees but also for a company’s reputation. When such cases  become common, popular reaction is not in the favor of the company but always in the favor of the victim. Employers must understand it that discrimination causes psychological damage to the employees but the damage can be deeper and more permanent to the company’s reputation and brand image.  Thus, discrimination gives rise to several problems and does not affect just one or two workers and their job satisfaction but the entire system.  Organizations must not act like a closed system where people sit inside offices and where no one will question their accountability. Law and society will always ask how responsibly they are handling their employees. Companies like Starbucks have proved that by having a culture of non discrimination, they can maximize their workers’ job satisfaction.  Others need to follow.


I am an Uber Survivor by Amy Vertino on Medium.

Race discrimination in the workplace. Isis H. Settles, NiCole T. Buchanan, & Stevie C. Y. Yap . Michigan State University.