If your boss is on your back these days, don’t automatically blame him or her.…
DeKalb, Ill. — Some argue political correctness in the workplace is a good thing. Others say it has a chilling effect on communication.
NIU researchers studied the issue, and here’s what they discovered: they’re both right.
The study specifically looked at two different types of policies promoting political correctness—those that focus on inclusiveness and those that address topics such as micro-aggressions, defined as comments or behaviors that express implicit rather than explicit prejudice.
Inclusiveness addresses behaviors viewed as racist or sexist, while micro-aggressions are more subtle.
Micro-aggressions could involve inadvertent or unconscious behaviors that could give offense, such as asking, “What country are you from?” or saying “America is a melting pot.” The latter, proponents of political correctness have argued, is like saying minorities have to assimilate to the dominant culture.
Controversy surrounding the issue of political correctness rarely distinguishes between the specific polices and the types of political correctness they address, said Professor David Henningsen, lead author for the study, “Exploring the Effects of Policies Promoting Political Correctness in the Workplace.”
Instead, proponents argue in general that political correctness promotes respect and tolerance, while critics maintain it can reduce creativity, he said.
“Really, at the end of the day, I think they’re arguing different things. They’re not on the same page,” Henningsen said.
Both professors of organizational and corporate communication, the professors based their research on a survey of a diverse group of 215 men and 205 women working full-time in the private sector for employers who issue handbooks governing workplace behavior.
In the study, inclusiveness centered around the belief that powerful groups should avoid behaviors that could give offense to powerless groups and participation of historically disadvantaged groups should be promoted.
Micro-aggressions, the study says, share similarities with concepts such as white privilege, toxic masculinity and cultural appropriation.
“Employees perceived that policies that promote political correctness increased creativity in organizations when they focused on inclusiveness,” Henningsen said. “In contrast, when political correctness policies addressed topics such as micro-aggressions they tended to diminish employee creativity.”
Basically, he said, the definition of political correctness in the workplace is ambiguous.
Does it mean promoting common courtesy and inclusiveness, not being racist or sexist? Or does it mean discouraging phrases some might consider offensive depending on interpretation?
Without a clear definition, it’s difficult to argue if political correctness is beneficial or harmful to productivity, Henningsen said. Instead, the results of the study indicate political correctness policies can be beneficial, depending on how political correctness is defined.
“Neither side is completely wrong. Neither side is completely right,” he said. “What you have to try to do is work toward best practices.”
The professors see the study as exploratory and perhaps a stimulus for further studies. Employers can tailor the findings to the needs of their employees, Henningsen said, perhaps focusing more on inclusiveness and avoiding policies aligned with concepts such as micro-aggressions.
“It helps organizations be smarter in what they want to do for training, rather than chase down what may be popular at the time,” he said.
Media Contact: Jami Kunzer
Northern Illinois University is a student-centered, nationally recognized public research university, with expertise that benefits its region and spans the globe in a wide variety of fields, including the sciences, humanities, arts, business, engineering, education, health and law. Through its main campus in DeKalb, Illinois, and education centers for students and working professionals in Chicago, Hoffman Estates, Naperville, Oregon and Rockford, NIU offers more than 100 areas of study while serving a diverse and international student body.