Stigma: a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person

Us humans, we are judgemental creatures. The human brain likes to take shortcuts, labelling or stereotyping people, can be one of them.

Essentially, “If you have a brain, you are biased”.

The challenge is, many of these biases are unconscious. Meaning we have no idea that we have them. Some of them come from direct experiences, others come from environmental circumstances.

The bigger challenge is 'our beliefs impact our behaviour!’. We referred to this in our recent Bouncer of the Brain blog. If you missed it, we introduced the notion of the 'Bouncer of the Brain’ aka the Reticular Activating System (RAS) and how its job is to determine which information it lets ‘into’ our brain and which information it keeps out to avoid information overload.

It filters the world through the parameters you give it, and your beliefs and biases shape those parameters. The Bouncer is on a mission, to prove you right. So it will let in the information that supports your view of yourself, others and the world around you. We explored how this can have limitations on our results.

Let’s consider how this might play out in our workplace.

Imagine this situation:
Team member puts in a claim of bullying at work against a senior leader.
Unhelpful biases or stigmas often attached to lodging a claim?

  • “They’re such a troublemaker”

  • “She is soft & needs to toughen up”

  • “He is dodgy and is always trying to rip off the system”

Remember, the bouncer of the brain will filter in all the evidence to prove them right (that they are in fact a troublemaker, soft and/or dodgy) and possibly filter out any evidence contrary to this.

  • Are there people who have ripped off the system in the past? YES

  • Are there employees undergoing a performance management process and claiming workplace bullying as a defence mechanism? POTENTIALLY

  • Does not mean all workers are like this? NO

Here’s the thing, whether we are right or wrong, is actually not the point.

The point is, does believe that all employees are troublemakers, soft or dodgy actually deliver the outcome we are looking for?

In this case, does it get our injured worker back to work quicker, happier and healthier?

Of course, the answer is NO!

In fact, what we know is that how we treat injured workers when they are off work, has a huge impact on their return to work motivation and capability.

So… If it ain’t going to lead to a positive outcome, there is another option:

Ask yourself or others this simple, perspective changing question:

  • What if, your team or colleague simply wants someone to show that they care?

  • What if, this was your best friend, your partner, your child? Would you think differently?

  • What if, you took your judgement hat off for a moment and replaced it with your curious one, would you think differently?

Whether they are right or wrong is not the point!

If it’s not helpful thinking, we need to be prepared to:

  • shift our thinking,

  • get curious; and

  • ask WHAT IF?

If we have any chance of SMASHING STIGMA in the workplace!

Until then, keep smiling,



BLYTHE ROWE & Her Life on Heels.

The founder and director of Human Incite, is widely recognised for her passion, energy and her ability to shake things up. Blythe is brilliant at revving-up productivity and performance in organisations. She is on a mission to rid our workplaces of toxic behaviours, build meaningful relationships, personally and professionally and create workplaces worth belonging. Her enthusiasm simply is infectious!