4 Ways to Lose Top Performers – Part 3 – Microinequities in the Workplace

Using micro-inequities to minimize team effectiveness

Thirdly, the manager created a culture which did not seem inclusive to all members of the group. They allowed the proliferation of micro-inequities within their organization. Micro-inequities are small slights often subconscious with over time cause people to feel devalued, unimportant and invisible. They are verbal and no-verbal cues which cause a person to feel excluded. The word was coined by Mary Rowe, an ombudsman from MIT who noticed that women and minorities felt they were experiencing subtle forms of discrimination that made them feel walled out and not included in their classes.

A manager practicing micro-inequities may exhibit some of the following:

  • Not acknowledging contributions or ideas of some of his team members
  • Routinely sends out memos without copying them
  • Conducts a meeting before the meeting where some are not invited
  • Poor eye contact and poor listening skills
  • Speaking in a condescending tone
  • Introduce some people with more detail then when they introduce others

People who feel invisible or taken for granted may fail to contribute their best and this has may reduce their level of engagement. The company suffers when they retreat and even more when they quit. The manager is sometimes the prime offender and the most surprised when people have complaints, especially those strong enough to leave the organization.

The Administrative Assistants at a large chemical company were in an uproar. Their company was generous in reimbursing them for college tuition costs. Many of them received their undergraduate and advanced degrees; however they could not be promoted. When they raised their hands ion meetings they were discounted and their ideas were not taken seriously unless they were presented by someone else. One individual was told she would never be taken seriously unless she left the organization and worked two years in another company in a non secretarial role.

Women and minorities are a group rich with many examples of being overlooked when trying to interact or fit in within their company. Nancy posted for numerous assignments but rarely was given an interview. She told stories of being under-utilized and passed over for assignments. She allegedly asked for feedback, but never received any. These micro-inequities had her on the verge of termination. She spoke with other individuals applying for the same jobs and they received feedback on how to prepare for the next interview and areas where they needed to improve. She considered resigning, but the job market was tight in her city. 

Use of favoritism and fast tracking

The fourth area of favoritism or preferential treatment can be a pariah to a team. When team members feel they cannot compete due to factors beyond their control, they may not give their maximum output. When special people are on a fast track, receiving the choice assignments and excessive recognition, it can undermine team spirit and morale. Additionally, you may create a sense of entitlement in the person which may cause difficulties with retaining them when the ego can no longer be fed.

One HR manager told me about an individual who was in HR every 6 months inquiring about a promotion and available open or soon to be open positions. Every nine months like clockwork she was promoted. She was an extremely talented person, but she needed to stay in some of the roles longer to get a greater appreciation for the nuances of the jobs. She was on the fast track and impatient. She read her own press and believed her own clippings. The string of promotions was consistent. Her management constantly looked for promotions rather than challenging assignments or lateral moves. After a brief stint of multiple promotions she hit a promotional barrier. She was livid. She had been conditioned to expect rapid upward mobility. When her career stalled, she quit. They played a part in creating this talented person, who had not stayed long enough in any role to develop the credibility, content, depth and perspective necessary to be of maximum value to the company.

I have not mentioned the collateral damage caused by favoritism without merit as it relates to diminished input, reduced morale, lower productivity and resignations. Those who are not viewed in the inner circle, but are loyal contributors will tire of promotional opportunities going to the latest ingénue or Young Turk. The current economic climate has prevented some people from resigning, but when the economy improves they may exercise their right to find employment in another corporation.

Organizations should be mindful of the ways that managers may inadvertently cause unwanted turnover. Leadership training, coaching, mentoring and supervision can ensure that they retain the best employees and not create a climate for reduced productivity and lower engagement.

Copyright © 2009 Orlando Ceaser

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