A study in the Personnel Psychology Journal is shining new light on the subtle interactions between and among different demographic groups in the workplace. Specifically, researchers are discovering how the clustering of employees along demographic “faultlines” can have a positive effect on workers’ emotional well-being when managed properly with an organization’s overall diversity goals.
The study began with a survey of more than 675 workers representing a variety of age, gender and ethnic groups from a cross-section of manufacturing, retail and service industries. The survey polled workers about different injustices that can occur in the workplace and how they react to and recover from those injustices. Interpersonal injustice (failing to treat individuals with dignity, respect and courtesy) was found to be the most psychologically damaging, more so even than distributive injustice (the unfair distribution of pay raises and bonuses).
When the survey questions turned to the coping techniques of workers, results showed that when a victim of injustice can seek the support and comfort of those who share a demographic trait, the psychological damage of the injustice can be diminished and the worker’s productivity can improve. For example, if an older male worker feels he is being mistreated because of his age, researchers found the victim can better cope and recover from the injustice by seeking the support of a “safe-harbor” of other older, male workers. Traditionally, the forming of this kind of demographic faultline has been feared by managers, but the study suggests there is potential good than can come from the association.
When one faultline group is paired with another for a project, it’s possible to harness both the creative power of diversity with the psychological coping and healing benefits of faultline groups. Managed properly, the researchers believe this method could further increase the productivity of everyone in a diverse workplace.
The researchers admit it is a very fine line to walk, but the potential for future study and exploration is promising. The Mental Health America (formerly the National Mental Health Association) estimates $193 billion is lost in American businesses every year because of worker distress. Any technique that can help alleviate that distress can have immediate tangible returns, as can strategies to prevent real or perceived injustices in the first place.
In addition to interpersonal and distributive injustice, the study also focused on procedural injustice (how decisions are made for workplace groups) and informational injustice (how company information and decisions are communicated to different individuals or groups).
Source: “Workplace Faultlines can Ease Psychological Distress Among Employees,” Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology, Inc.