Dealing With Adversity at Work

Dealing with adversity at work

Whether they know it or not, most people have faced adversity in the workplace at some point during their professional lives. Adversity can take many shapes and forms and doesn’t always present itself in the way one might think. It can be challenging to be a productive and focused employee, from difficult managers and discriminatory co-workers to health issues and personal hardships. What many people don’t realize, however, is that facing adversity head-on can actually be a career-empowering experience. 

By standing up to and dealing with issues of adversity in the workplace, you can emerge stronger, smarter, and even more motivated than ever before. Suppose you are dealing with a challenge that’s affecting your professional life. In that case, you may benefit from our free guide about how to confront and overcome adversity in the workplace.

How to Identify Prejudice and Discrimination in the Workplace

Unfortunately, the workplace is a common environment for negative attitudes and mistreatment of people, whether the perpetrator’s motivation is gender, diverse backgrounds, or simply bad character. As if meeting your deadlines wasn’t hard enough, now you must deal with a manager who does not see you for the work you perform, but for your skin color or the religion you practice, or the way you choose to live your life. Discrimination and prejudice have no place in a work environment (or anywhere, for that matter). However, if you’ve been a working professional for more than a few years, chances are you’ve seen, heard, or experienced some sort of discrimination.  

Discrimination is the unfair or unjust treatment of individuals based on their race, religion, gender, age, or sexual orientation. This behavior usually stems from a prejudicial attitude toward a larger group of people to which an employee may belong. Discriminatory behavior or attitudes are all too common in the workplace, but they can be challenging to identify. Many victims of racial, sexual, or gender discrimination do not report inappropriate behavior simply because they question whether it even falls into the category of discrimination. 

Therefore, the first and perhaps most important thing to understand is the various types of discrimination to clearly identify it and then decide how to proceed. Here are some of the most common types of workplace discrimination. 

Favoritism and Bias

This type of discrimination may be subtle, but it is still unacceptable in the workplace. 

Managers and supervisors are responsible for treating all employees equally, especially those on the same level performing the same job. They cannot give certain employees preferential treatment based on their skin color, religion, gender, or ethnicity. For example, let’s say two employees both fail to arrive for their scheduled shifts. Their violations were equal, so their punishments should be the same.

A discriminatory approach to this situation would be if the manager let one employee off with a warning while issuing the other employee a write-up, simply because the two employees belong to different races. Mistreatment such as this runs rampant in the workplace; it is imperative for employees to identify and report it before it gets out of hand. 

Unfair Distribution Of Power or Duties

To meet a tight deadline or accomplish a challenging task, managers may assign specific duties to certain employees who are better fit for the job. For example, when putting together a presentation, a manager may assign the visual aid tasks to an individual with solid computer skills. 

In contrast, a colleague with a strong knack for the English language is tasked with stringing bullet points into sentences. Most would agree that this teamwork is necessary to get the job done well. However, there is a fine line between collaboration and the unfair allocation of job duties. Dumping a heavy workload on one employee while limiting the responsibilities of another becomes discriminatory when the grounds are based on race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

Similarly, frequently reserving essential projects or tasks for a group of employees belonging to the same race is discriminatory. These assignments must be based on merit. Withholding these opportunities from certain groups of people limits their ability to excel in the workplace and further promotes discriminatory behavior.  

Commonly Promoting Only One Group of People

Many workplaces reward productive employees with promotions. These promotions should be given to those who have excelled in a particular area of their job or have shown they can be a leader.  

However, because of the commonality of workplace discrimination, promotions are often distributed to only one group of people. For example, consider a group of new hires that consist of two women and three men. These employees begin work on the same day, perform the same duties, and each excels in their respected positions. 

Frequently, in a discriminatory workplace, the men may be given promotions while the women remain in their starting positions. This type of treatment is discriminating because the promotions are based on gender, not merit.  

It is against the law for companies and organizations to punish those for speaking out against discriminatory practices, so you should not be afraid to call it out when you see it.

Responding to Workplace Discrimination

Identifying workplace discrimination is challenging in itself, but determining the correct response can prove even more difficult. 

How do you respond to someone who is openly prejudiced? Should you speak up? Will you further escalate the situation? When faced with discrimination, the important thing to remember is that you are not at fault, and the discriminatory colleague, manager, or supervisor is entirely wrong. 

Fortunately, the law is on your side. Throughout the last several years, harsher consequences have been established to deter discriminatory practices from occurring in the workplace environment. By calling attention to prejudice, those who are called out for their discriminatory behavior will hopefully recognize the seriousness of their actions and put a stop to it. 

If you know how to respond to discrimination appropriately, you can usually de-escalate the situation and, in doing so, avoid reporting it, saving yourself from a long legal process. If it persists, however, the way you respond will come in handy. 

Record Everything

One of the first things your employer will request after you file a discrimination report is evidence. The company must be presented with solid proof of the discriminatory action, behavior, or attitude to proceed with the investigation. 

It can be a good idea to keep a notebook or journal handy to record the details of the discrimination you experience. Be sure to include the date of the offense, the time, location, perpetrator, and any witnesses who may be able to corroborate your story. The journal will act as a timeline of sorts if it has been an ongoing issue, detailing the continued harassment from an individual or group of people. Witnesses are essential; try talking with some colleagues who may have overheard the incident or saw the action take place. Witnesses will likely strengthen your case if you feel the need to file a formal complaint.

Speak Up

Most discrimination that takes place in the present era is subtle. It can take the shape of a tasteless joke, snide remark, or exclusion from group work. These individuals must nonetheless be called out for their actions. If not, they will continue practicing this discriminatory behavior until something worse happens. 

You should not be afraid to speak up and tell them that their actions or words are not welcomed. If you’re the butt of the joke or belong to the group of people that serve as the joke’s punchline, let them know you don’t think it’s funny. Most of the time, the jokester will hopefully become embarrassed and apologize, perhaps not even realizing what they said was hurtful. 

Proper responses to discrimination can be as simple as speaking up. You never know the power your voice holds until you try. Likewise, if you witness another co-worker being discriminated against, you have even more of a reason to speak up. There is power in numbers; joining hands with others against discrimination is one of the best way to ensure it disappears.

Participate in After-Work Excursions or Networking Events

Part of the reason discrimination persists in the workplace is often due to a lack of personal connection among colleagues. While there is some merit to the old saying, “keep your personal and work lives separate,” you can rarely avoid spending a lot of time with your co-workers. So, should you get to know them? 

Many discriminatory actions stem from ignorance. Someone who makes a negative comment about a stereotype may not be aware that a colleague is part of that group of people. By getting to know your co-workers, you can become more sympathetic and sensitive toward their struggles. It’s a win-win for all colleagues, as it can even help resolve some tension from previous acts of discrimination. 

Many corporations hold voluntary outings or team-building events designed to break down the “walls” between their employees and allow them to connect. Take advantage of as many of these as you can. You can build relationships with people of all backgrounds, which leads to a more accepting and open-minded workforce

Meaningful Adversity Training at Work

Training of any sort usually invokes the typical signs of those required to attend.  Adversity training is usually a mandatory program that all employees must receive. However, this kind of exposure is crucial and should not be taken lightly. Some companies may task their own employees with creating an adversity training program, while others outsource the training to a third-party corporation. 

Regardless of who delivers the information, the training can be a valuable means of preventing, exposing, and terminating discrimination and prejudice in the workplace. Participants should come in with an open mind and understand the seriousness of the topic at hand.

Topics to Cover

Adversity is a broad term. In general, it applies to any sort of challenge an employee might face at work or one that affects his or her productivity. Most adversity training programs incorporate several topics to cover the entirety of the definition. The length of the training program will depend on how many topics the instructors will cover. 

For example, some companies hold an hour-long meeting during the workday, while others require employees to stay after hours. However, most programs will cover the basics, including conflict management, teamwork, diversity, discrimination, and cooperation. Many work environments depend on the ability of the employees to work together to solve  problems. When conflicts arise, employees must know  how to resolve them before they affect the project or  task. 

Teamwork is essential to many job fields, and this cooperation becomes strained when individuals don’t know how to work with colleagues of diverse backgrounds. These conflicts can easily be avoided by a well-executed adversity training program.  

Program Activities

Part of the adversity training will likely require the group to perform activities of some kind. Lecturing to a group of employees who are already forced to attend might not be the best approach. 

Many adversity training programs include a set of activities or demonstrations to encourage attendees to get involved. Hands-on training is a much better way of ensuring employees take something from the program. For example, the program instructor might split the employees into random groups.These groups will likely consist of employees of all backgrounds, genders, religions, and sexual orientations. Each group must work together to solve a problem or achieve a result. While some may view this as juvenile or pointless, it can be a fun and interactive way to introduce people to new ideas or approaches. Someone in the group may use their background to suggest a different approach to solving the problem.This invites others to respect and reward the employee for their perceived differences. 

Take Adversity Training Seriously

You might feel like you are above adversity training, but that doesn’t give you the right to make light of the situation. Other attendees may find the program to be meaningful and important, which is how everyone in attendance should view it. Rude comments, whispers, or remarks are not appropriate during adversity training. 

These topics can be sensitive; chances are, someone in attendance has had a very real experience with discrimination or prejudice. Inappropriate behavior during the program is detrimental to the company’s efforts of ridding discrimination. This includes making jokes to other colleagues, providing sarcastic or sardonic commentary, and laughing at the comments or suggestions made by others. This kind of behavior is discriminatory in itself!

Practice the Knowledge Learned at Work

After receiving adversity training, employees should feel empowered to apply the knowledge they learned to their daily lives. Don’t let the information you’ve absorbed go to waste. When you head back to your desk or get back on the job, you can use the education you learned to make an effort to apply the knowledge to your real life.

By doing so, you can encourage positive workplace behavior and do much to terminate workplace discrimination. The program means nothing if the attendees do not take some knowledge away from it. Adversity training works best if each employee is dedicated to creating a safe and prejudice-free environment. 

How to Report Discrimination and Prejudice at Work

Any discriminatory action, comment, or behavior that offends or threatens an employee must be reported to the employer. Discrimination and prejudice in the workplace are unacceptable. Unfortunately, they are all-too-common practices in work environments of every kind.

These actions are illegal and violate the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s laws or EEOC for short. Employees who feel they are being discriminated against in the workplace should report the incident(s) to their employer and the EEOC.  

Follow the steps below to learn how to file a discrimination report.  

Research Your State’s Laws

In addition to federal laws, each state has its own anti-discrimination laws. These additional regulations may make specific discriminatory actions clearer. For example, while federal law is a bit blurry on the intricacies of sexual orientation discrimination, some states have enacted black-and-white laws against this kind of discrimination. Conducting your own research into your state’s discrimination policies will help you understand where you should file your report. You will also be better prepared when submitting evidence for your claim.  

Know Your Rights

You cannot be punished for reporting discriminatory behavior. Your employer has a legal obligation to investigate your claim and carry it out ethically. Companies cannot reprimand an employee for requesting a report be filed. This includes firing, demoting, or reducing the number of hours an employee works. Any harassment, including a decrease in pay or unfair allocation of job duties, toward an employee who has filed a discrimination complaint is illegal. 

Similarly, if you file a discrimination report against your employer citing the mistreatment of a group of people in which you are not involved, you cannot be punished. This law is in place to encourage employees to speak out against discrimination and ensure the mistreatment is put to a stop. 

Locate Your Company’s Grievance Procedures

Many corporations have specific procedures in place for filing complaints and reports.These procedures can typically be found in your contract or employee handbook. If you cannot locate the guidelines, your company’s human resources department may be able to provide you with a copy. 

The procedures outlined by the company may help expedite the filing process and ensure a speedy investigation. If you belong to a union, you may be required to follow the union’s grievance policy and inform them of the incident before submitting a formal complaint.

Consider Speaking With a Lawyer

Filing a report against the company as a whole or a specific supervisor can be difficult. While you are not required to have a lawyer, they can provide you with helpful advice for reporting the incident. Employment lawyers specialize in workplace discrimination and harassment. They can be a great support system to have when you’re ready to submit a formal complaint. Also, employment lawyers are knowledgeable about the anti-discrimination laws in your state.

Talk With Your Supervisor

Before going straight to the human resources department, try speaking with your direct supervisor or manager. They may be able to support you through the process and provide you with more information about the company’s grievance policies. 

Supervisors are typically responsible for preparing a grievance report for employees and submitting it to the human resources department. If the supervisor is the source of the problem, feel free to skip this step in the reporting process and go directly to the human resources department.

Complete All Grievance Forms

Most companies require employees to complete grievance forms during the reporting process. Employees will be prompted to describe the incident, including the date and time of the offense, parties involved, and proposed solution. Once completed, these forms should be filed with the company’s human resources department.

Only provide copies of these forms, as the originals will be needed to file a complaint with the EEOC. Human resources will likely propose a solution to the problem, as the department does not want to involve a federal agency. If you do not agree to proceed with the proposed solution, you may file a complaint with the EEOC. 

File a Complaint With the EEOC

Based on the characteristics of the discrimination that took place, you may be able to file a complaint with the EEOC. This complaint must be filed promptly; federal employees only have 45 days from the date of the incident to submit a report, while all others are restricted to 180 days. In some cases, this timeline may be extended. For example, non-federal employees who wish to report discrimination based on age have 300 days to do so. Filing deadlines may also be extended if a local or state law enforcement agency enforces a law that outlaws employment discrimination on the same basis. 

A discrimination charge can be filed online, in person at an EEOC or FEPA office, by phone, or by mail. You will likely be prompted to include a variation of the following information:

  • Your full name and contact information. 
  • Name and contact information of  the employer who you are filing against. 
  • Details of the event(s) or action(s) in question, including the date and time. 
  • Reasons why you think you were  the target of discrimination in this instance. 
  • Details of any repercussions you experienced as a result of the discriminatory action(s), if any.   
  • Your signature.

Upon receiving your complaint, the EEOC will review it and determine whether you have cause for further remedial action. 

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