Does it sometimes seem as if everyone is walking on eggshells in the workplace today, either ready to take offense immediately or worried about giving offense? Actually, focusing on offense isn't the best way create an inclusive workplace. Trying to eliminate offense, as it turns out, does little when it comes to fighting workplace inequity. Focusing on positive change is actually far more effective.
What Is "Offense"?
Offense occurs when someone considers another person's language or actions to be insulting in some way. The problem with focusing on offense in the workplace is that people can feel offended about anything. Certainly, some offenses work against having an inclusive workplace, as when an employee uses ethnic slurs to describe customers or co-workers. However, employees may also feel offended if someone moved their lunch to a new spot in the breakroom refrigerator.
Focus on Inclusivity Rather Than Offense
It's easy for managers to become paralyzed out of a fear of offending anyone. This paralysis can be highly detrimental to productivity as well as to workplace culture. To avoid this atmosphere of extreme tentativeness, instead of keeping your eyes open for offense, focus on creating an inclusive workplace. Rather than drawing attention to people's opinions or emotions, make it a point to encourage excellence in every way — projects, customer service and employee interaction.
A key to an inclusive workplace is the creation of an environment in which no one is disadvantaged because of their backgrounds, their habits or their beliefs. Look at the big picture in your workplace: Does everyone have the same opportunity for promotion and advancement? Are people being paid fairly and equally for equivalent work? Are assignments handed out fairly, without certain groups receiving an advantage? Does everyone have the opportunity to contribute their own ideas and skills in an equitable manner?
Steps You Can Take to Create an Inclusive Workplace
An inclusive workplace doesn't just happen. You need to take proactive steps to encourage workplace diversity. Hiring managers, in particular, can lead the way by choosing a diverse list of candidates for every key position and offering bonuses to anyone within the company who brings in qualified diverse candidates.
In addition, look for workplace processes and assumptions that disadvantage certain groups. What habits have you fallen into in your workplace that prevent all employees from performing with excellence or that minimize the voices of certain groups?
When someone in your company announces that he's offended by another employee's words or actions, look beyond the hurt feelings or sense of disrespect. Rather than seeking to eliminate offense, which just leaves employees unsure of what they can say or do, focus on creating an inclusive workplace. When all your employees feel heard and included, they are less likely to give or take offense.
Photo courtesy of Lester Public Library at Flickr.com