During this time of huge change and uncertainty, employers can protect their employees’ wellbeing by recognising diversity, valuing it and adapting accordingly.
Good quality jobs are characterised by helping workers feel they are being treated fairly and having zero tolerance of discrimination.
Employees who feel they are being unfairly treated, or discriminated against, are likely to have lower life satisfaction, as well as poorer physical and mental health. Data from 2015 finds the prevalence of anxiety in UK workers who reported that they rarely or never are treated fairly, is twice that of workers who always or often are treated fairly. The impact of perceived discrimination on anxiety levels is greater for younger individuals and females. Employees may also be sensitive to the fair treatment of their coworkers, even if they themselves are not experiencing unfairness.
According to the 6th European Working Conditions Survey, in the UK, discrimination based on nationality (2.6%) is the most prevalent form, followed by discrimination based on race, ethnic background or colour (2.4%), age (2.2%) and sex (2%). Migrants – particularly people born in the EU – are also less likely to be members of trade unions, making them more vulnerable to unfair employer practices.
People’s experience of unfair treatment in the workplace takes many different forms and can come from co-workers, managers or customers. It can be experienced as threats, bullying, aggression or other abusive behaviours and can also include differences in pay, contractual arrangements, job content, opportunities and involvement in decision making processes.
What’s new now?
The pandemic has highlighted existing inequalities between workers in the UK, for example frontline care workers in the UK are often underpaid and in more precarious work contracts.
The unequal changes to our working lives as a result of the pandemic may give rise to new forms of discrimination as people are perceived and treated differently by employers due to one - or a combination - of the following factors.
Older age: Older workers are at increased risk of becoming ill from Covid-19 or may lack the digital skills to adapt to home working.
- Younger age: Younger workers who have recently left education and recently entered, or are about to enter, the labour market may be the first to be at risk of redundancy.
- Pre-existing health conditions: Workers required to shield due to Covid risks may be at risk of discrimination in sectors where they are unable to work from home and so cannot return to work alongside other employees.
- Black, Asian and/or minority ethnicity: racism and discrimination may have contributed to disproportionately high death rates from Covid-19 within these groups. Public Health England points out the need for culturally competent occupational risk assessment tools that can be employed in a variety of occupational settings.
Housing quality: Workers who struggle to find appropriate space and facilities for home working, including fast and reliable internet access to stay connected.
Childcare responsibilities: With many children still unable to return to school, workers with children have to manage working alongside homeschooling and childcare. This is more likely to affect women, with mothers more likely than fathers to spend their work hours simultaneously trying to care for children.
Good quality jobs can enhance a sense of inclusion and fairness
- There is robust evidence that a sense of control can act as a mediator between perceived discrimination and positive and negative affect.
Social support from managers or supervisors, co-workers and unions can play an important role in counteracting the negative effects of unfair treatment at work.
Having disciplinary and grievance procedures in place is also a feasible way in which employers can address issues of fairness in the workplace.
Simple shared activities (e.g. workshops, internal mentoring programmes, action planning groups based around specific issues or social events) are known for improving job satisfaction, but they work best when they are regular and inclusive. Team-level wellbeing also drives improvements in performance.
Evidence also shows that life satisfaction of groups who are at greater risk of inequalities or marginalisation from economic or social inclusion may benefit from inclusive job-related learning.
What can you do?
Find out where people may be experiencing discrimination and unfairness. A review of organisational inequality can be used to understand what is happening within your organisation. You can use our snapshot survey for a start, and analyse the results by different personal characteristics and different wellbeing outcomes to see where some groups may be at more risk than others.
Improve the quality of work for all employees and foster an inclusive organisational culture: Taking seriously and tackling incidences of bullying and harassment is important, alongside, encouraging work-related shared activities (e.g. workshops or cross team projects) that are inclusive is a simple action that can improve workplace social relationships and wellbeing, and can also take place virtually.
Understand who is and isn’t affected by wellbeing interventions. Improving the wellbeing of one group of workers, may trigger perceptions of unfair treatment amongst those who are not covered by the practice or those who are not granted the same options. A thorough evaluation of the intervention and its impacts on different groups will help to address this.