How To Combat Bias With Recognition Giving

Is it possible that some of us, as supervisors, managers, or even as employees, are unknowingly biased in our approach to giving people recognition?

This leads to the whole issue of fairness. Fairness often comes up whenever people do not feel appreciated and valued for their contributions at work.

According to The Corporate Leavers Survey conducted in the United States by the Level Playing Field Institute, more than 2 million professionals and managers voluntarily leave their jobs each year due to perceived unfairness. This produces a turnover cost for U.S. employers of $64 billion annually.

Yet there are times we are not even aware we are biased.

What can you do to make sure all of your employees are not letting bias get in the way of acknowledging the great things going on at your company? How can you stop any perceived biases with recognition giving when you see it?

Understanding Bias and Its Impact on Recognition

The way we were brought up, where we lived, the socio-economic status of our family, the education we received, how we were treated growing up and even right now, all affect how we see the world and view the people we work with.

This worldview lens is based on your total life experience. It creates an unconscious bias or “hidden bias”. You are most likely unaware of it when it crops up.

Nevertheless, you and I will judge and evaluate people and the situations we’re involved in based on our background, culture, and personal experiences.

It happens automatically and is mostly outside of your control. Something from your life triggers in your brain to make quick judgments and assess people and your environment. Initially, this is a protective patterning against danger.

But an unconscious bias crosses the line, however, whenever a person judges others based on personal characteristics they cannot change, which could be seen as discriminatory in nature.

For example, unconscious bias could lead to discrimination in the hiring process should you hire against internal beliefs, such as:

  • Men make better leaders and managers
  • Women are more likely to get pregnant and take leave
  • Asians have greater technical expertise
  • People who wear eyeglasses are always smarter

With giving recognition an unconscious bias might lead people to only recognize or reward people who:

  • Make an outstanding accomplishment that is publicly known
  • Are in roles that produce financial results or significant performance outcomes
  • Always seem to be the “star” performers
  • Come from one particular gender

Such bias leads to unfair recognition practices and causes employees to question their value and worth. If they work behind the scenes, even helping star performers with their accomplishments, they will soon lessen their high level of performance. Lack of appreciation and recognition can influence employees to leave your company.

Job roles that do not produce significant performance results are just as essential to the successful running of a company. Everyone deserves to be respected, valued, and appreciated for all they do at work.

Overcoming Bias to Give Equitable Recognition

I think it is important to realize that each of us will have biases of one kind or another that will be hard to completely eliminate. That is why I suggest that you work to overcome versus get rid of the biases that exist in individuals, and collectively as an organization.

While the following ideas are specific towards employee recognition, the principles behind them are universal towards all diversity and inclusion needs.

1. Ensure you have ways for employees to communicate their concerns. Create a hotline, email contact method, or forum page, on your recognition website so employees can share the positive recognition experiences, and any concerns they might have about recognition giving or the lack of it.

2. Get everyone involved in providing ongoing feedback. Actively solicit employee input on recognition practices, through surveys if acceptable, and through open forum meetings, focus groups, or one-one sessions if need be.

3. Take a look at your leadership development curriculum. Organize management meetings to discuss management, leadership, and performance issues and address bias awareness in all these areas, including fairness in giving recognition. Make sure their learning curriculum addresses unconscious bias in performance management, recruiting, and succession planning.

4. It’s always the little things that count with recognition. Invite everyone to adopt and practice doing small and positive, affirmative actions for one another. These are the simple, polite, generous, caring acts of kindness that everyone can easily to do to show respect, concern, and validation of one another.

5. Teach people how to give Real Recognition® the right way. Provide education and learning on how to verbalize, write, show, and express your appreciation and recognition to people. Often the ignorance of how to do recognition well inhibits people from recognizing others.

If you have employee groups that feel that other staff are recognized better and more frequently than another, don’t minimize or ignore this red flag.

It is time to address the unconscious bias, and sometimes even conscious bias, that limits recognition giving.

Reflective Question: In what ways have you seen unconscious bias negatively affect recognition giving?

Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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