Mental Health Problems and the Workplace

October is Mental Health Month. Recently there has been bigger mindfulness of the impact of mental health problems on individuals and the workplace. The economic impact is realized through direct treatment costs to the health care system as well as indirect costs, such as reduced or lost productivity due to absenteeism.

Mental health problems account for about half of employee absences due to illness each year in Canada for example, 3.5 days lost per employee per year are due to mental health problems. It is estimated that mental illness results in 35 million lost workdays each year in Canada.’

Employees living with mental health problems may feel and behave out of character at home and work. There may be feelings of things not quite right, yet they are unable to pinpoint the problem. Their co-workers, supervisors and family members may start to notice a change in mood and behaviour.

 

 Signs that indicate an employee or colleague may have a mental health problem are:

·      Regular late arrivals or often absent

·      Lack of teamwork or an over-all disinterest in working with co-workers

·      Lower output

·      Increased mishaps or safety problems

·      Numerous complaints of exhaustion or unexplained pains

·      Difficulty focusing, not being decisive or forgetting things

·      Making apologies for missed deadlines or poor work

·      Decreased attention or involvement in one’s work

·      Working excessive overtime over a prolonged period

·      Expressions of outlandish or grand ideas

·      Displays of irritation or pointing the finger at others

 

It is important to highlight that people behaving in these ways may be just having a bad day or week or dealing with a difficult situation in their personal life that may be temporary. A pattern that continues for a more extended period, however, may point to an underlying mental health problem.

 

Stress is a consistent part of life and work, and it can be positive or negative. Unwarranted hurtful stress through life events, including workplace issues, can contribute to mental health problems. Work itself can be expected to generate a certain level of stress associated with meeting deadlines and expectations, the need to feel valued and the loss of control over one’s time.

 

There are many causes of workplace stress. One key to effective stress management is maintaining awareness of the potential stressors and readiness to address them before they become problematic. Some of the most critical sources of work-related stress are listed below.

·    Poor communication

·    Incongruity in work demands, individual ability and amount of control over working practices

·    Work overload and work underload

·    Shift work and/or night work

·    Segregation, isolation and/or unstructured support for home workers

·    Short-term contracts

·    Role conflict, uncertainty and changing roles

·    The uneven weight assigned by management to consultation, support and control

·    Lack of training for managers in communication and people skills

·    Idleness

·    Uncomfortable physical workspace

·    Introduction of new technology, if not planned and gradual

·    The culture of presenteeism, in which an employee feels the need to be seen working at all times

·    Work-life imbalance

·    Home-based stresses that support or feed off of work-based stresses

 

Managing workplace stress can include training for employees to raise awareness about the causes and effects of stress, as well as to learn skills for coping with stress at work and in their personal lives.

 

Research has shown that some job stressors are worse than others, such as jobs that continuously involve imposed deadlines over an extended period and give individuals little control over the day-to-day organization of their work (high demand/low control). These jobs can lead to more than double the rate of heart and cardiovascular problems. As well as significantly higher rates of anxiety, depression and fell of being undermined. High demand/low control jobs also lead to substantially higher alcohol, prescription and over-the-counter drug use, and a significantly higher susceptibility to infectious diseases.’

 

Jobs that require high physical or mental effort but offer little in the way of compensation, status, financial gain or career enhancement (high effort/low reward) also affect employee stress levels. These jobs are associated with triple the rate of cardiovascular problems and significantly higher rates of depression, anxiety and conflict-related problems

 

The health of workers does not have to be compromised by stress. Changes to the workplace can make for a more mentally healthy workplace, especially when employees feel adequately rewarded and have greater control of their work.

 

Mental health problems can seriously affect someone’s ability to work. If left untreated and the mental health problem worsens, the employee may need to stop working altogether.

 

On the other hand, employees may try to continue to work knowing that they are not performing to their usual standards. If mental health problems are acknowledged early, and proper treatment is obtained, most people can quickly return to their regular performance at work, and much unhappiness and suffering can be avoided.

 

Monika B. Jensen Ph.D
TEL: 905-683-9953

WEBSITE: www.aviarygroup.ca
PRINCIPAL
FAX: 905-683-9912

 

 

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Municipal Elections – Does My Vote Matter?

Municipal Elections – Does My Vote Matter?

The simple answer is yes, your vote does matter. (But that doesn’t make for a very interesting blog, now does it?)

A great advantage about municipal politics is that it’s easier to get to know the candidates on a more personal level than candidates at the provincial or federal level. Outside of major cities, many candidates will be someone you went to high school with or they’re related to a friend of yours, or they’re a local business owner of your favourite shop. For those candidates you are not familiar with, many municipalities “All Candidates’ Meetings”, that provide meet & greet opportunities throughout the campaign. These sessions typically encourage questions and comments. Local media outlets usually profile candidates and their platforms so you can gain a better understanding of who they are and what they stand for. Check your municipalities website, your local newspaper, cable channel and social media.

Candidates generally have an established platform or mandate on which they’ll be campaigning. While you might agree with their thoughts and ideas about that platform, keep in mind that they’ll still be voting on your behalf for any items that come up at council meetings. Be sure that their morals, values, and goals for the future of your municipality are clearly in line with your own. Remember, just because you agree with their platform doesn’t always mean that they share your views on current or potential affairs that will need to be decided upon.

Who you vote on to council will have a direct influence on your municipality, your daily life, your business and your city or town’s long-term goals and strategic plan.

Here are 5 great reasons for you to learn about your local candidates and get out there and vote in the municipal election.

 

  1. Each potential candidate brings something unique to the table. Everyone has particular ideas about how things should be done. They have personal causes they support or want to see come to fruition. Even their motivation to vote a certain way on issues can be something you fully agree with or the reason you’ll never check off their name on the ballot.
  2. Your local government is responsible for affecting much of the health and safety of your daily life. Some of these important issues are: Public transit, keeping streets clean and maintained, local police and fire, community water systems
  3. Municipal decisions include long-term planning for your town/city. Some considerations are: Neighbourhood planning, major road work, sewer systems, annual festivals/events, tourist attractions
  4. Social issues are often dealt with at the municipal level: Where to place shelters to help the homeless, how to keep drugs off the street, how to make the downtown core safe, affordable housing
  5. Local government loves community enrichment projects: Parks, waterfront enhancement, recreation centres, libraries, arts, culture

 

Having your voice heard in the municipal selection process is important. Your vote plays an integral part in shaping your community. I encourage you to get involved in your local politics this year. Get to know the candidates and vote. Who knows, maybe politics will become something you’re passionate about and we’ll even see your name on the ballots four years from now.

 

muniSERV is Canada’s leading online solution for helping municipalities and professionals connect.  We help municipalities save time and money searching for the consultants & CAOs they need while offering professionals the opportunity to showcase their profile and services to get found and grow their business.

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The answers municipal governments have been looking for?

Municipal governments are facing multiple, growing, and overlapping challenges. Yet, there are tools available to address these challenges that are not being used to their full potential. Market-based policies such as well-designed user fees can help reduce traffic, cut water use, and improve solid waste management, while generating revenue that can be used to fill financial gaps.

These challenges include:

  • Municipal infrastructure is aging and faces a growing investment gap;
  • Municipalities have limited ability to raise revenues. Only so much can be raised from property taxes. They also often face constraints on debt financing; and
  • To attract people and investment, livability is key: cities must provide job and recreational opportunities, ensure affordability, make it easy to move people and products, and protect clean air and water.

Continue reading

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Top 4 Considerations to Save Money When Improving Citizen Services

By checking your own internal bias you stand a better chance of Finding the best solution

We all want to better our citizens’ services but, when pursuing this goal, what can we do to ensure we are spending the right amount of money on the right plan?  The only way is to look at your citizens, your goals and what you currently have to achieve the right balance between spend and results.

Here are four areas you should consider to make sure you are getting the most for your money.

1.       Understand first. 

·         When creating any plan, the first action should be to understand the needs and wants of your target.  Not all people will have the same issues as you. The only way to know is to ask your citizens, listen intently and believe them. This is particularly true when you think you have solved certain issues already.

·         In modern agile technology development, the practice is to rely on the” voice of the customer”. This is to ensure when the product is complete it meets the needs expressed by the potential buyer.  The same is true in finding the best solution for your citizens.

·         Remind yourself that you are not the citizen. Assume that you do not really know anything about your citizens’ needs. This way you will not try to prove your bias right or dismiss some expressed citizen needs as “not important” or “already solved”.

2.       Look at what you have today.

·         Look at the processes you have today that are at the heart of any of the issues identified by your citizens (e.g. a citizen is not notified when an issue is fixed – perhaps because a work order is lost after a job is completed so there is no record of it being closed).  Ask yourself what vehicles, tools, and processes you are using to meet your “citizen service goals”.

·         Are you using your website to get information out?  Do you have posters in community gathering spaces? Do you have a section every week in the local paper? Do you have a CiRM or a spreadsheet to track issues?  Do you have a written policy that helps all staff to address citizen issues quickly?  Do any of these create or solve the issue expressed by your citizens? These types of questions are key to success.

 

3.       List all potential solutions.

·         Improving citizen services may not require buying new hardware or software and spending a bundle on installation and configuration.  A successful solution, regardless of how great it is, may very well need to be coupled with bettering an internal process. Or maybe it is a simple matter of increasing the awareness of your website or creating posters to inform citizens about how you do things and why.  It might also be possible to improve services by repurposing technologies that you already have in hand (e.g. using your CRM in a unique way or changing access permissions so more people can answer the questions posed by citizens).

·         Listing solutions should not be an excuse to try to make current software do things it was not meant to do. Look at the process you want to have first then find the solution that best fits it.

·         Do not be afraid to look at human resource factors.  Maybe the answer is to better train staff in citizen resolution or conflict management (customer service skills). Maybe you need to ensure that all staff members know your policies and how they should be implemented.

4.       Consider technology solutions by task, not product name.

·         List your “service goals” and rate the importance of each of one. The best way is to break down your list into the following columns: “must have”, “good to have” and “nice to have”.

·         If you think that technology might solve some of the issues, list only the “service goals” you want your software to address, i.e. not what features or what brand will be the best solution.

·         Remember the technology may not need to be citizen facing to increase satisfaction. It might just enable an improvement in your processes to offer better, faster and more reliable citizen services.

If you consider these four areas, you will likely find a solution with that best fits your budget, and that will have the largest impact on your citizens.  By checking your own internal bias, you stand a better chance of making sure the right process, tracking and communication methods (internal or external) are part of your change, and the costs may well be less than you thought.

At AccessE11 we understand that paper systems and endless email chains are not productive when it comes to citizen services and support. There are too many opportunities for an issue to fall through the cracks, or for delays in responses to issues.

We promote instilling processes that make sense and that are easy to adopt so that everyone in the municipality can become a citizen support expert.  Please visit us at www.accesse11.com to find out more.

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Compliance and Preparedness

After Fernie: Ensuring Compliance and Preparedness

On August 29th WorkSafeBC released a 74-page report on their investigation into the tragic deaths of three men following an ammonia leak at an arena facility in Fernie last year.

According to the report: “Poor communication and inconsistent attention to internal auditing, inspections, incident investigation and emergency practice drills allowed for the development of hazardous workplace conditions.”

The report cites multiple Occupational Health and Safety Regulation failures by Fernie, as well as Workers Compensation Act failures by both the city and the service contractor. Fernie received the majority of the violations, including:

  • emergency response procedures that were inadequate or not followed—including failures to train workers and conduct drills
  • failure to perform hazard assessments and inspections of equipment to prevent unsafe working conditions
  • failure to develop and implement an exposure control plan for ammonia

You can read the full report here.

The Fernie deaths are all the more tragic because they were avoidable. Armed with the knowledge of what caused this incident, it is critical to ensure that a similar event does not happen in the future.

Unfortunately, in our professional capacity we have found that numerous ammonia facilities have inadequate emergency response procedures, infrequently reviewed or conducted emergency drills and a significant lack of exposure training and preparedness. In the majority of these cases, management falsely believed they were compliant because they had passed a technical standards inspection and had a document or two on file for emergency response. The Ontario Recreation Facilities Association (ORFA) conducted a webinar on March 29th, 2018 and reported findings consistent with our own: ammonia facility management that failed to keep emergency plans current and practiced, and a lack of competency for unattended refrigeration equipment operators—including being underprepared to deal with a significant ammonia leak.

This false sense of compliance and preparedness most often occurs because management either doesn’t know the right questions to ask, or isn’t sure what a good safety and emergency program should consist of. The situation is made worse when facility managers do not qualify or review service contractors’ programs or methods and/or rely on EMS or fire services to cover emergency protocols, which is not necessarily in accordance with legislative requirements.

Between 2015 and 2018 in North America there have been at least 23 incidents of ammonia releases, including 8 fatalities.

Anyone responsible for the safety of others around ammonia is strongly encouraged to seek professional assistance in the development of their programs and procedures. This begins with responding to the following questions:

  1. How have you fully ensured the safety of all workers and the public in your ammonia facilities?
  2. How are you ensuring that your service contractors have an ammonia program that is complete and compliant for emergency, maintenance and exposure control, and able to integrate with your facilities requirements?
  3. How thorough is your exposure control plan?
  4. How can you verify that your staff, contractors and operators are all competent in following the programs and procedures you have in place and are able to carry out an emergency response to a minor or major leak?

After the WorkSafeBC report on the Fernie incident, ignorance is not a valid excuse for noncompliance when it comes to ammonia safety. A lack of certainty or inability to thoroughly answer any of the above questions can indicate a significant risk to the occupants and users of your facility.

At Barantas, we have been building comprehensive and robust health and safety and emergency response programs since 2002. We go to great lengths to help ammonia facility managers, municipality directors and contractors appreciate what reasonable preparedness can look like.

A professionally performed audit is the only true confirmation of compliance and preparedness.  Let us work with you to ensure you are taking every reasonable precaution to protect those who rely on you to keep them safe while inside your facility. By booking a professional audit today you are taking the first step in preventing an incident tomorrow.

Barantas Inc. – Is a full service provider for all your health & safety needs.  See our profile

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9 Essentials to Honing Your Leading Edge and Boosting Team/Culture Performance

Many leaders feel they can’t do much to change behaviors and culture. But overwhelming research shows that’s not true. Leaders have a major impact on “the way we do things around here.” A team or organization’s culture ripples out from its members and leaders. The single biggest key to transforming a team or organization’s culture starts with its leaders defining and developing their behaviors.

Teams and department/divisions with exceptionally strong leaders build thriving peak performance local cultures even if the bigger culture they’re part of, and leader they report to, are weak. Organizational culture exists simultaneously and independently at three levels: the unit/team, department/division, and entire organization, and those micro or main cultures can be enriched at any level.

Nine elements especially stand out from this latest review of best leadership and team/culture development practices:

  1. Lead, Follow, or Wallow – highly effective leaders make critical choices to proactively change, grow, and develop rather than being changed
  2. Strong Leadership Cuts Through the Management Maze – team/organization performance is dramatically improved when good managers learn how to become great leaders
  3. Yield of Dreams – highly effective leaders tap into this infinite and renewable energy source
  4. The Heart Part – courageous conversations, two-way communications, and openness, come from, and expand, trust
  5. Coach Diem – outstanding leaders seize key coaching moments to up everyone’s game
  6. Making Teams Work – too often managers build a “scream team.” Extraordinary leaders build dream teams by boosting collaboration, cooperation, and coordination
  7. Three Core Questions Defining Your Team or Organization’s Culture – too many vision/mission/values statements are lifeless gibberish and generate a high “snicker factor”
  8. Hitting the Shift Key – the best leaders and teams act on their understanding that their culture ripples out from what they do, not what they say
  9. Setting the Culture Compass – failing to map a route through the many swamps and sinkholes of team and culture change are why 70% of these efforts die out

Rate yourself on this checklist. How’s your leadership? How’s your leadership team?

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Practical Ways Leaders Can Model Culture Change

A department, division, or organization’s culture ripples out from its leadership team. A team that wants to change “them” needs to start with a deep look in the mirror to change “us.” Organizational behavior reflects leadership team behavior. This is much like an old parenting adage, “children are natural mimics; they act like their parents despite attempts to teach them good manners.”

In their 10-year global study of leadership and culture development (published in their book Beyond Performance: How Great Organizations Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage), Scott Keller and Colin Price report, “programs in which leaders model the desired changes are four times more likely to be successful. In an organizational context, the key elements of role modeling are transformation among senior leaders, symbolic acts, and developing a cadre of ‘influence leaders.’”

Here are just a few ways leadership teams can model the behavior they want to see rippling throughout their culture:

  • Bring customers, customer advocates (salespeople are excellent ones) and front line service deliverers to key planning and operational sessions.
  • Put on an apron or pick up the phone and serve customers without being introduced as top leaders. You’ll be sending important signals. And might even learn something.
  • Serve your producers and servers. Continually ask them what the leadership team can do to help them provide higher levels of service/quality. Hold managers accountable for serving their teams.
  • Overlook weaknesses unless they’re clearly causing problems and must be addressed. Develop and nurture strengths that align with the individual’s passions and what the organization needs from him or her.
  • Celebrate, honor, cheer, applaud, reinforce, laud, praise, extol, and otherwise reinforce all behaviors that exemplify your core values and desired culture.
  • Ensure leaders are first in line for leadership and key skill development. Model those skills in meetings, coaching activities, and team decision making and planning. And having senior leaders deliver those sessions to the next level of managers infuses the training with a whole new sense of priority.
  • Search out and destroy all executive status symbols, perks, or privileges that contribute to the “we/they” gap.
  • Agree on three or four Strategic Imperatives that will strengthen your culture. Establish cross-functional teams to lead those changes and set a rigorous follow through process with regular updates to the leadership team.
  • Get unfiltered and anonymous feedback on your leadership effectiveness with 360 assessments. Build personal and team development plans around that feedback that leverages strengths and addresses any “fatal flaws.” Involve others in your personal and team development process.
  • Hold regular meetings with team members in groups and individually to discuss your leadership and culture development progress.

The most effective communication is face to face. The most believable communication is behavior.

You can watch our recent Executive Team Building and Culture Development webinar for a deeper look.

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Coaching Matters: Are You a DIY Manager Choking Growth and Development?

Good managers often have strong technical expertise and analytical skills. They love to jump into the details and resolve tough problems. Effective leaders resist the quick-fix, I-can-do-it-better-myself temptation. He or she knows such do-it-yourself projects reinforce the upward delegation cycle (“Hey, boss. Here’s another one for you to solve”). This leads to him or her becoming ever busier while team members’ growth is stunted, and the organization slows down to the pace of the stressed-out manager.

The sad story of hard driving entrepreneurs or upwardly mobile and ambitious managers choking their organization’s growth is an all too familiar one. These entrepreneurs and managers become the barrier to the organization reaching its next level of growth. These managers don’t make the transition from running operations to building a team that runs operations. Their own stunted leadership growth prevents them from making the critical transition from driving and directing to coaching and developing.

Countless studies show leaders with highly developed coaching skills have a huge impact on their team or organization’s results. For example, less than 15% of employees with leaders rated in the bottom ten percent of coaching effectiveness rate their work environment as a place where people want to “go the extra mile.” However, when leaders are rated in the top ten percent of coaching effectiveness, “going the extra mile” leaps to nearly 50% — a threefold increase. A MetrixGlobal survey found that “business coaching produced a 788-per-cent return on investment and significant intangible benefits to the business.”

This month’s Harvard Business Review features an article on “The Best Leaders Are Great Teachers.” Management professor and author, Sydney Finkelstein, (his new book is Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Manage the Flow of Talent) reports,

“…the best leaders I studied were teachers through and through. They routinely spent time with employees, passing on technical skills, general tactics, business principles, and life lessons… and it had a remarkable impact: their teams and organizations were some of the highest-performing in their sectors.”

A manager sees people as they are. And they’re often a growth choke point. A leader sees people as they could be — and nurtures that potential through strong coaching and development.

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Implementation of an Enterprise-wide Common Street Address Database for the City of Hamilton

Problem

The City of Hamilton has many service delivery applications utilizing and storing resident addresses. For example, street addresses are solicited from the resident in a free form method and are never validated against a common address database.  Thus, the City has numerous instances of address databases that are not accurate or consistent, which are used on a daily basis to communicate to the residents. In many cases, these address databases are misused and often invalid addresses cause breakdown of communications.  This has led to embarrassment for the City, anger by the residents and in some cases legal action.

Challenge

The challenge is to establish a single authoritative address database which all service delivery applications can valid against.  Establishing which is most correct and then comparing others to get the best of breed is the greatest challenge.  Other challenges are the adoption of a single authoritative database, “clean up” existing databases and encourage application stewards to use the single authoritative database as truth.

Resolution

The City engaged a subject matter expert to help collect business requirements, design a solution and implement this solution. The technical solution consisted of a consolidated database model, application database cleanup, address maintenance tool, redlining tool for identifying address issues and a method to deliver addresses to other service delivery applications.

Also a sustainability model to ensure that addresses were maintained accurately and on a timely basis by identified stewards. The address model would ensure that new or updated addresses would be available to other service delivery applications.

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Strategies to Overcoming Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

Unconscious bias is hitting the news. From Bay Street to Main Street to Starbucks the impact of unspoken bias is real and harmful to the workplace. Bias stands in the way of making correct decisions in hiring and promoting. It also has a vital impact on your staff and the workplace in general. Let’s explore how we can become aware of our own bias and stop it in the workplace?

 

First, let’s define it. “Unconscious bias refers to a bias that we are unaware of, and which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences. (ECU: 2013 Unconscious bias in higher education) 

 

We all have a bias. The question is, do we identify it and then what do we do about it? In addressing one of the most crucial training issues facing the workplace today, unconscious bias, employers can assist in creating an inclusive, civil and respectful workplace. 

 

Research indicates that unconscious biases are prejudices we have, yet are uninformed of. They are “mental shortcuts based on social norms and stereotypes.” (Guynn, 2015). Biases can be based on skin colour, gender, age, height, weight, introversion versus extroversion, marital and parental status, disability status (for example, the use of a wheelchair or a cane), foreign accents, where someone went to college, and more (Wilkie, 2014). If you can name it, there is probably an unconscious bias for it.

 

Hence if we think we are unbiased, we may have unconscious adverse thoughts about people who are outside our own group. If we spend more time with people from other groups, we are less likely to feel prejudice against them.

 

This universal tendency toward unconscious bias exists because bias is rooted in our brain. Research shows that our brain has evolved to mentally put things together to make sense to us. The brain sorts all the information it is blasted with and labels that information with universal descriptions that it may rapidly access. When we categorize these labels as either good or bad, we tend to apply the rationale to the whole group. Many of the conclusions are taken from previous experiences and learnings.  

In an article, “The Real Effects of Unconscious Bias in the Workplace”, a few of the known unconscious biases that directly impact the workplace include:

  • Affinity bias is the tendency to warm up to people like ourselves.
  • Halo effect is the tendency to think everything about a person is good because you like that person.
  • Perception bias which is the inclination to form stereotypes and assumptions about specific groups that make it awkward to make an objective judgement about members of those groups. 
  • Confirmation bias is the openness for us to pursue evidence that sanctions our pre-existing beliefs or experiences. 
  • Group think is a bias which occurs when people attempt to fit into a specific crowd by mirroring others or holding back opinions and views. This results in individuals losing part of their characteristics and causes workplaces to miss out on originality and creativity.

Horace McCormick’s research found more than 150 identified unconscious biases, making the task of rooting them out and addressing them daunting. For many organizations, however, identifying as many as possible and eliminating them has become a high priority.  

 

You can address discrimination issues by increasing your awareness of your unconscious biases, and by developing strategies that make the most of the talents and abilities of your team members. 

Unconscious behaviour is not just individual; it influences organizational culture as well. This explains why so often our best attempts at creating corporate culture change with diversity efforts seem to fall frustratingly short; to not deliver on the promise they intended.

 

What you can do: 

  • Be aware consciously of your bias 
  • Focus more on the people, on their strengths
  • Increase Exposure to Biases
  • Make small changes 
  • Be pragmatic 
  • Challenge stereotypes and counter-stereotypical information 
  • Use context to explain a situation 
  • Change your perception and relationship with out-group members 
  • Be an active bystander 
  • Improve processes, policies & procedures  

Also, managers can play a crucial role in unearthing these hidden biases by declaring their intentions to be non-biased. They can also provide transparent performance appraisals that emphasis on the employee’s exceptional abilities and skills, and grow a stronger mindfulness of their own unconscious principles.

 

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