For many people, a return to the physical office will be a welcome relief; whether you live in a smaller home to be closer to work, or you’re just tired of walking to work in your pyjamas. If you’ve been supporting young children you’re probably relieved that back-to-school plans are on track. For many of us, the pandemic has required that we perform an incredible new balancing act, and working from home is getting old.
While all of this is true, it is also true that many people are quietly dreading a return to the workplace. In some cases, this dread is linked to a long and arduous commute. This kind of dread is understandable and easy to talk about. In this blog, however, I want to focus on the racial dread that countless employees are quietly experiencing because of inadequate inclusion at work.
I have spoken to Black, Muslim, and other racialized people who have acknowledged that while working from home over the past 18 months or so, they have been very productive and felt happier. They prefer working from home because they no longer need to deal with modern racism, including microaggressions, and inadequate inclusion.
It’s only by being away from the workplace that they’ve experienced, in a visceral way, how different it feels to rarely experience low-key exclusion, microaggressions, and a general feeling of not being fully welcomed or valued. In the pre-pandemic past, most racialized people simply went about the business of doing their work as well as they possibly could. Often, they would also be consciously or unconsciously doing things that allowed them to get along with others within the workplace by covering up aspects of themselves that they knew were not welcome. It’s only after months of not having to do that hidden labour that they recognize how wonderful it feels. As the planning starts for a return to work, they’re understandably feeling uncomfortable with the prospect of having to deal with all of that again.
What I’m saying here is not purely anecdotal. Future Forum in the US is reporting results of their study that found only 3% of Black knowledge workers want to return to full-time, co-located work — versus 21% of white knowledge workers who said they are eager to return to the workplace.
Clearly, many people demonstrated that they could be trusted to remain productive while working remotely during the pandemic. When those same people are racialized, especially Black, Indigenous, or Muslim and they tell you they need to continue to work remotely, I encourage employers to believe them. It is likely that they do not really want to have a conversation where they need to explain what has been happening to them at work in plain sight, with very little relief or support.
Anti-Black racism has been identified as a public health crisis by the cities of Toronto and Ottawa. I am now starting to hear of mental health professionals writing letters for their clients to present to their employers to support their requests to continue to work from home until the workplace evolves to a point that it does not cause them psychological harm. Essentially, this amounts to workplace accommodation. While I agree that this is an excellent short-term measure, I don’t want to see a future workplace where all the BIPOC employees and potentially the other members of underrepresented groups are invisible because they rarely or never attend the office. There are potential consequences for the career development of people who work in remote or hybrid arrangements. It’s also such a bad look for employers.
· The Diversity Partnership: Why Returning to Normal isn’t Exciting for Many Black Employees
· Women, people of color happier working from home (Axios, Feb. 2022)
Are you ready to go beyond writing a Diversity Statement, setting up a Diversity and Inclusion Committee, or offering some basic training to your workforce? Are you an employee who is seeking a more inclusive workplace? Dr. Helen’s training in Work and Business Psychology (officially known as Industrial and Organizational (I/O) Psychology) means she is a genuine expert in evaluating work-related behaviours. She uses those skills to help hiring managers tell the difference between people who say the right things during interviews and people who actually deliver on the job. Plus, she knows how to do it inclusively.
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