Four Signs of Potential Workplace Bias


Workplace bias, intentional or not, can contribute to low employee morale and productivity. With the changing demographics of the available workforce, employers who embrace diversity and work to eradicate a culture where certain demographic groups are given preferential treatment are more likely to sustain a thriving business. Sometimes, company leaders may be too close to the situation to recognize bias, or the behavior is far too common and seen as the norm. Four signs indicative of potential workplace bias include acts of favoritism and exclusions, unchecked harassment, low morale and high job turnover.

Favoritism and Exclusions

  • Favoritism and exclusions can show up in many ways in the workplace. It can show up in hiring decisions, employee discipline, sharing of information and employee salaries. Signs that favoritism and exclusionary practices exist include unequal pay scales based on gender, limited promotions for women with children, hiring practices that exclude job candidates over the age of 40 or using performance evaluations with subjective criteria that favor certain types of employees over others. These actions may be inadvertent, but a thorough review of practices is in order.

Just Kidding

  • Another sign of workplace bias is the unchecked harassment of employees by peers or even supervisors. Even though it is unlawful to create a hostile workplace through harassing behaviors, many still employees face unfair treatment on the job. Examples of harassing behaviors include continued and repeated forms of inappropriate racist or sexist jokes, rude remarks or mocking religious beliefs. When such behaviors are tagged as harmless kidding, harassing behavior perpetuates and escalates, creating a culture of open harassment or discriminatory practices.

Employee Morale

  • While low morale can be attributed to many different issues, one indicator that it is of a biased nature is the demographics of the affected employees. For example, many companies take advantage of employee climate surveys to assess morale issues. The survey instrument can be developed to group responses by age, gender and several other factors. If a high percentage of female respondents pinpoint low morale, then it is worth exploring and identifying discriminatory practices that affect female employees. An example would be passing women over for promotions or plum assignments because they have young children.

Mass Exodus

  • There’s a saying that employees don’t leave bad companies, just bad bosses. If that’s true, then high turnover may indicate a company culture that’s steeped in bad bosses. One way to get to the bottom of a mass exodus is to conduct exit interviews and press for real reasons for leaving. While many employees will take the high road and say nothing derogatory, it’s worth pressing for honest answers. If you find that employees from a certain racial or ethnic group have a disproportionately high number of negative things to say about management, you might have a problem with bias in the workplace.

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