Study Finds Bias in the Workplace Results in Lower Productivity for Everyone

A new study from researchers at Oklahoma State University and the University of South Carolina has found discrimination in the workplace negatively affects productivity for everyone, regardless of if they are disadvantaged or advantaged by it.

For their study, the research team recruited 1,200 participants to engage in several hypothetical workplace settings where they made decisions on their productivity output. Participants were told their managers would award a bonus to whoever was the most productive in their given assignment.

The authors of the study told participants there were two types of workers: blue and red. All participants were told they were part of the blue group. One third were told their manager had a bias against blue, one third were told their manager favored blue, and the final third were not given any information regarding their manager’s bias. The results found that the workers who knew their manager held a bias, either for or against them, were less productive than participants who were unaware of any type of bias. The participants who were told their manager held a bias against them showed the lowest levels of productivity.

In a second phase of the study, the authors asked a sample of managerial employees to review the work of two groups of participants from the first analysis: one that had been discriminated against and one that benefited from a favorable bias. The group that benefited from a manager’s bias had a higher productivity output. The participating managers were not aware that the differences in productivity were due to discrimination. The managers were found to favor the advantaged group, stating they would prefer to work with, promote, and give bonuses to them over the disadvantaged group.

The authors believe their findings point towards a need to conduct similar research using specific examples of bias, rather than a hypothetical simulated environment. Future research could provided nuanced insight into how discrimination, such as gender and racial bias, affects workplace productivity.

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