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Microaggression in the Workplace: Examples and How to Handle It?

Pranamika Rajesh
10 Apr 2024
14 min read
Microaggression in the Workplace: Examples and How to Handle It?

Microaggression in the Workplace: Examples and How to Handle It?

What is microaggression in the workplace?

Microaggressions are minor, often unintended behaviors or statements that imply that someone is less important or disliked because of their sexual orientation, gender, age, race, or other distinguishing characteristic. They are like small paper cuts that hurt but are hardly noticeable.

Microaggressions, while seemingly insignificant, can have a significant impact on people's mental health, self-esteem, and overall well-being. And when they occur at work, let’s say they have the power to create an environment that affects everyone. To foster a positive and supportive work environment, it is critical to understand microaggressions and how they affect people.

So, why are we talking about it? Simply because understanding the consequences of microaggressions is critical for creating open and positive workplaces, and these behaviors occur more frequently than one may expect. According to surveys, 36% of employees have experienced microaggressions in the workplace. The idea is that by focusing on this often-overlooked facet of workplace interactions, we can start a discourse and raise awareness about microaggressions.

What is the most common type of microaggression in the workplace?

Microaggression in the workplace manifests in multiple forms, including verbal, nonverbal, and environmental. It might be a compliment that stings a little, a disgusted expression, or the tone someone uses. It can be as small as circumstances in which the workplace only offers cuisine from one religion or when all of the leaders’ pictures are of men since they might send a message of exclusion.

Some typical examples of microaggressions in the workplace include:

Racial Microaggressions: Microaggressions against people of color are actions or words that make someone appear less significant or valued because of their color or ethnicity. According to Harvard Business Review research, black workers are far less likely to feel secure returning to work in person, potentially due to microaggressions.

Gender Microaggressions: Gender-based microaggressions are those that target a person because of how they identify or present their gender. This includes comments about someone's appearance, assumptions about their talents or duties, or exclusion from decision-making processes because of their gender.

LGBTQ+ Microaggressions: Microaggressions against LGBTQ+ individuals might take the form of insults, jokes, or exclusionary conduct. This involves misgendering, denying or discarding identities, and making assumptions about relationships or preferences.

Age-related microaggressions: Age-related microaggressions are those that target someone based on their age or group. Some instances include having preconceived notions about someone's professional abilities, being impolite to senior employees, and making judgments about someone based on age.

Ableist Microaggressions: People with disabilities or diseases are frequently the subject of microaggressions in the workplace, which are comments or acts that dismiss or mock their circumstances. Examples include using ableist terminology, presuming differing degrees of competence, and failing to be accommodating.

By learning about their damaging consequences and their various forms, organizations, and individuals can take proactive steps to address and prevent their occurrence. This involves raising awareness, fostering open dialogue, and establishing standards that promote respect, justice, and inclusion for all employees.

Impact of Microaggressions on Individuals and Organizations:

It is crucial that you recognize that ignorance, rather than hatred, typically triggers microaggressions. However, they can have serious consequences for the people they target, including making them feel alienated, reducing their self-esteem, and creating emotional distress. According to surveys, a microaggression would irritate seven out of ten employees, and half would consider leaving their jobs.

A microaggression is a small, damaging hit that you may not even notice. Some people may feel invalidated because of it as if their identities or experiences are meaningless. Imagine always being on guard, unsure whether the next remark or action will be another microaggression. Without a doubt, it is challenging. The person on the receiving end may eventually become more stressed, anxious, and depressed as a result.

But that's not the end of it. Microaggression in the workplace can have a negative impact on a person's professional life. Think about it- how will you feel motivated or engaged if you’re constantly worried about microaggressions? As a result, your job satisfaction takes a hit, and your morale tanks. Continuous criticism or exclusion makes it difficult to perform at your best.

Let’s not ignore the broader implications for businesses. Microaggression in the workplace, if not addressed, can chip away at attempts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. When this occurs, employees begin to believe that their opinions are unimportant and that they do not belong. This will likely result in higher employee turnover, difficulty attracting top talent, and a tarnished workplace reputation.

Furthermore, we must address potential legal concerns. Microaggressions that occur on a regular basis may make the workplace environment hostile, which violates anti-discrimination laws. As a result, businesses may face costly litigation and reputational damage.

So yeah, microaggressions might seem small, but they can have a significant impact. That’s why, businesses should strive to create an environment in which all employees feel respected, valued, and included.

How to handle microaggression in the workplace?

Developing awareness is key. Microaggressions can be sneaky, often disguised as innocent comments or actions. But if you know what to watch out for, you can spot them when they happen. Body language, tone of voice, and the circumstances of the discussion are all subtle cues to pay attention to. If something feels off or uncomfortable, it might be a microaggression.

Recognizing microaggressions, on the other hand, takes more than just knowing what they look like; it also demands speaking up when you see them. This is when bystander intervention can help. Empowering employees to recognize and address microaggressions when they occur can make a big difference. Creating a work culture where everyone feels responsible for reporting prejudice and standing up for their colleagues is one aspect of this. So, how can one encourage bystander intervention?

1. Encouraging open dialogue and understanding:

Set up workshops, lectures, or team conversations to initiate a conversation about microaggression in the workplace. Teach your employees about the many forms of microaggressions and their impact on individuals and the business as a whole.

2. Microaggression training in the workplace

Microaggression training in the workplace is essential. It should include topics such as how to recognize them, how to respond, and the need for intervention. Give your staff guidelines, handouts, or online workshops to help them learn the information and skills they need to manage microaggressions effectively.

3. Making individuals more accountable:

Ensure that everyone on your team understands what they must do to promote workplace respect and diversity. Encourage employees to speak out when they witness microaggressions, and emphasize the importance of helping teammates and upholding the organization's values.

It's not enough to simply call out microaggressions when they occur; you also need to support those who have suffered from them. Listen to them, empathize with them, and offer assistance if necessary. We can all work together to make the workplace a place where everyone feels valued, respected, and accepted.

Strategies for Preventing Microaggressions

We must take proactive measures to prevent microaggressions, such as microaggression training in the workplace, establishing clear policies, supporting inclusivity, and promoting allyship in the workplace. Let us explore each strategy:

1. Educating employees: Providing extensive training and seminars on diversity, justice, and inclusion is critical for increasing awareness and knowledge of microaggressions. These exercises should cover topics such as recognizing implicit biases, understanding privilege, and promoting cultural sensitivity.

Giving employees the knowledge and skills they need to identify and deal with microaggressions may help businesses establish a more welcoming and respectful workplace environment.

2. Establishing Clear Policies and Procedures: Establish and communicate policies clearly stating that organizations will not accept racism, sexism, ageism, sexual orientation, disability, and other protected characteristics.

Ensuring that employees understand the consequences of engaging in microaggressions reinforces accountability and reinforces a culture of respect and equality.

3. Making the workplace more inclusive: In order to make the workplace more welcoming, employees must be able to communicate freely, understand one another, and accept one another. Companies should encourage employees to discuss diversity and inclusion in an open and positive manner, as well as provide opportunities for employees to share their views and experiences.

Companies can reduce the occurrence of microaggressions by creating a welcoming and safe environment that values everyone's perspective and makes employees feel like they belong.

4. Encourage Allyship: Make the workplace welcoming so employees stand up for one another and report discrimination and minor insults. Companies can encourage employees to band together, provide tools and training on how to be effective allies, and recognize and celebrate acts of allyship within the workplace.

By fostering a culture of allyship, organizations can create a strong support network that empowers individuals to address microaggressions and promote equity and inclusion for all.

Take this Microaggressions quiz to check and deepen your knowledge about microaggression in the workplace!


To sum up, handling and stopping microaggressions at work is very important for creating an environment of tolerance and acceptance. These actions, which may not seem important, can have a big impact on people's health and the work setting as a whole. Businesses can make the workplace safe, supportive, and a place where everyone feels valuable and accepted by putting an emphasis on education, knowledge, and proactive measures.

Furthermore, it is important to understand that microaggressions happen more often than people think, and they affect people from all walks of life. It's clear that these actions need to be stopped before they happen.

Organizations can make it less possible for microaggressions to happen and make sure they are dealt with quickly when they do by doing things like teaching employees about diversity and inclusion, setting clear rules, encouraging open communication, and encouraging people to be allies.

Also, it's important to know that microaggressions can have big effects on people, such as making them feel alone, lowering their self-esteem, and causing them to feel more stressed. These effects hurt people, but they can also hurt the spirit and productivity of an entire company.

In conclusion, both people and organizations need to work together to stop microaggressions. We can create workplaces where everyone feels valuable, accepted, and able to achieve by promoting a culture of respect, empathy, and inclusion. Only by creating such workplaces, we can fight injustice and support equality.

Pranamika Rajesh

A trilingual literature graduate from University of Delhi doing an MBA at IIM Bodh Gaya, Pranamika is a dynamic professional with a passion for storytelling and content creation. Backed by a strong academic foundation and a diverse range of experiences, her journey in the realm of media and entertainment has equipped her with the skills to excel in scriptwriting, content creation, and digital marketing.