|The not so small “small stuff”
It’s been said that “the small stuff won’t kill you, but death by a thousand cuts is no way to live.”
In the workplace, we call the “small stuff” micro-inequities – subtle, fleeting behaviors that diminish another person.
What a Micro-inequity Looks Like
Small slights are harder to recognize than blatant prejudice. So it’s helpful to know some common examples:
- Interrupting or cutting off a colleague
- Checking a smartphone during a presentation or conversation
- Assuming tasks will be assigned by gender (such as note taking during meetings)
- Overlooking a person during group introductions
- Calling someone a nickname they didn’t create or share
- Saying, “What she’s really trying to say is . . . “
- Sighing and eye rolling
Why Putting A Stop To Micro-inequities Matters
Point one out and someone might respond, “I didn’t mean it like that,” or “You’re being overly sensitive.”
But the focus should be on productivity, not sensitivity. Working Mother points out how small affronts “can take their toll on an employee’s self-esteem and work performance.” As one woman told the magazine, “It erodes your morale and puts you on the defensive.”
In a March 2019 post, the Iowa State University professional development blog commented that “the results of micro-inequities are not trivial. . . [they] can lead to low productivity and turnover.”
What can be done
Working Mother recommends that companies train employees to recognize the hidden biases that lead to micro-inequities. One easy way companies can counter micro-inequities is to encourage what MIT’s Mary Rowe describes as micro-affirmations: subtle messages that let employees know they’re doing well and are expected to succeed.
For the rest of this month make it a point to do micro-affirmations whenever you can.
- Thank a teammate for her good attitude in the face of a challenging client.
- Offer to carry someone’s bag when their hands are full.
- Compliment someone just because.
- Commend someone for a job well done…in the moment
“Such consistent, appropriate affirmation can spread from one person to another, potentially raising morale and productivity,” Mary Rowe says.