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How to Overcome the Top 10 Manager Biases at Work?

How to Overcome the Top 10 Manager Biases at Work?

Ever feel a gut instinct tugging at your decisions, even in the face of logic? Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman would nod knowingly. His research revealed the surprising truth: our brains are wired with mental shortcuts (heuristics) and biases that often trump cold, hard facts in our day-to-day lives. And guess what? These sneaky biases sneak right into the workplace, too. The problem? A manager riddled with biases can unknowingly hinder team performance. So, the million-dollar question is: how can we lead effectively when our own minds might be playing tricks on us?

Fear not! By understanding common managerial biases, we can shed light on these hidden forces and minimize their impact. This blog will be your guide, unpacking the different types of manager bias, equipping you with strategies to identify them, and ultimately, leading you to become a bias-busting leader who empowers your team to soar. Let’s dive in!

What are Manager Biases?

Everyone makes mistakes from time to time, but some mistakes are more costly than others. This holds especially for people who are in managerial or leadership positions. One of the most costly mistakes a manager can make is bias.

In its simplest form, a bias is a favor towards one set over another. It is usually not based on sound reasoning but on prejudices and personal preferences. Biases create a situation weighed towards one side. Although they generally carry a negative connotation, biases can be both positive and negative. They can be directed towards individuals, groups, methods, beliefs, or anything. Therefore, a bias can give you either an advantage or a disadvantage over others. However, for the organization, the presence of bias in managers is a challenge that needs to be dealt with.

Manager bias refers to the unconscious biases that managers hold about the people they manage or work with. These biases can have a significant impact on employee productivity and satisfaction. For example, some managers may stereotype employees as lazy or unproductive, leading to ineffective decision-making and a decline in team performance. The bias may become self-serving, the employees become disinterested, and their productivity falls as they are aware of their perceptions.

Overcoming bias is, therefore, essential. But before that, it is vital to know and understand the ten most common forms of bias managers hold. Once you know about them, it’s easier to recognize them and take corrective action. In the end, being aware of manager bias is the first step to overcoming it and achieving success in any field.

What are the Implications of Manager Biases?

As we understand, managers are pivotal to team operations. While assuming the managerial role, they also take up the position of an influencer. The bias held by a manager can thus affect the team’s environment, the flow of work, and most importantly – the employees. It is crucial to overcome bias as bias does not permit a rational thought process. Say, for instance, you are running a performance review for your team. However, you cannot conduct an honest analysis due to several biases. You might jump into it with the best intentions, yet the biases will unconsciously affect the process. This will impact your results, affecting your employees’ morale and, ultimately, your team’s productivity.

An important aspect is a bias against women and historically marginalized communities in the workplace. People from non-white ethnicities are often at the receiving end of racism and xenophobia, particularly evident during the hiring process. Similarly, individuals from these groups are often overlooked during bonuses and promotions.

Accordingly, to be successful, it is essential that you remain unbiased and objective. Manager bias negatively impacts employees, and the individual manager can also suffer. Some believe that becoming biased towards oneself ultimately harms one’s career prospects. The understanding here is that any decision made with a bias will not be as accurate or effective as those without it- raising doubts about the competence of the manager in question. As such, we should first begin by learning how to identify the presence of bias.

Learn more about biases playing out in decision-making scenarios: 10 Biases In Decision Making That Every Manager Should Know

What are some Signs of a Biased Manager?

It would be hard to figure out which parts of your behavior are rational and which are not. However, to be an effective manager, you can attempt to take notice of some things to identify their presence:

  • Reinforcement of stereotypes
  • Homogeneity in team and opinions
  • Continuous preference for some people, cutting off some people repeatedly
  • Unreasonable favoritism
  • Absence of individuals belonging to some groups
As a manager, it’s essential to know the different types of manager bias that can affect your team. Knowing what to look for will help you identify and overcome any challenges. Biological factors- gender, race, age, and sexual orientation- are some of the most common biases. Beyond that, biases are also based on your previous interactions with the person and your prospects. Overall, being aware of manager bias is essential to being a successful manager. By understanding the biases that exist in the workplace, you can better equip yourself to manage difficult conversations and tasks.

Manager biases

The Ten Most Common Manager Biases

Manager biases can have a significant impact on team performance. To overcome them, it’s essential to develop a management philosophy that values input from all team members and embraces change. The most common manager bias examples are:

Gender bias

Gender bias, in its simplest forms, manifests itself as a preference for men over other genders. This toxic behavior is prevalent in many places, especially in STEM industries, where women are conventionally seen as outsiders. Generally, men are assumed to be better managers than women, and several stereotypes are associated with women and individuals belonging to other genders. Primarily, they paint these groups as inept and privileged, who get jobs due to favor rather than merit. This behavior is harmful to the morale of these employees. Nonetheless, it exists and is visible in particular in hiring trends and pay gaps. Despite several policy interventions, the representation of non-cishet men remains abysmally low in several industries.

Example of Gender Bias at work: A manager consistently assigns administrative tasks to female employees while assigning leadership roles and complex projects to male employees, assuming that men are more suited for these roles.

Halo & Horn Effect

The horn and halo effects are over exaggerations of single traits of people. A perception is drawn and perpetuated based on one or a few incidents. The basis of this categorization is minimal information. The perception can either be positive, i.e., the halo. Consequently, you put people on a pedestal way above others. On the flip side, the horns effect stands for portraying people as inherently evil or wrong – the devil reincarnate. Under this, you put them down and prefer their exclusion constantly. By focusing too much on one trait, we draw a very reductive perception of the person.

Meanwhile, their whole personality remains unknown. Both these effects hold the potential to be highly destructive. As a manager, you must be careful in your behavior with people; otherwise, this can damage the carefully curated environment within the organization.

Example of Halo and Horn Effect at work: A manager who perceives an employee as highly skilled (halo) in a particular area may overlook their shortcomings in other areas (horn).

Spillover bias

The spillover bias clouds your judgment with too much information about the past. The impact of the past spills over to cover that of the present and future. This bias can have a significant impact during the hiring process. A single incident in the candidate’s life can hold the potential to make or break it for them. An education from a prestigious institution or a significant project can push them forward as the ideal candidate. But an apparent failure can ruin their chances too! A manager must consider everything instead of just the highlighted bits.

Example of spillover bias at work: An employee performs exceptionally well on a high-profile project, leading the manager to overestimate their abilities in unrelated projects.

Centrality bias

The centrality bias, statistically, stands for rating every item towards the center of the scale. This would look like giving average marks to every student in the class. Sure it will save you some time and effort, and many students will be happy – but at what cost? Consequently, in the absence of appropriate feedback, they will miss out on opportunities to improve themselves. The good-performing ones will not receive adequate recognition. This can put down the enthusiasm of employees towards their work. Effectively, the members and the organization must suffer in such a scenario. Therefore, as a manager, you must try to offer relevant and honest constructive feedback.

Example of centrality bias at work: A manager tends to rate all employees as average performers, even though some individuals clearly outperform others.

Recency bias

Recency bias operates on a similar principle. Under recency bias, you are prone to give undue importance to recent events. Meanwhile, past experiences do not get their due share of attention. This can quickly happen as it might be hard to keep note of incidents from a long time ago. Therefore, managers make decisions based on only the limited perspective offered by the most recent events and how the employees perform during them. Again, this leads to a half-baked decision that does not fulfill its proper purpose. Instead, it obfuscates the opportunities that would have risen from a pragmatic review.

Example of recency bias: A manager evaluates an employee’s performance based solely on their most recent work, ignoring their overall contributions throughout the year.

Proximity bias

The proximity bias leads managers and leaders toward differential treatment among team members. For instance, the person occupying the first desk is always seen working by the manager. But, the rest of the team sitting behind them is ignored and assumed to be lazy. Proximity bias plays out a lot more openly in hybrid and remote working situations. Team members working from the office are taken up for dialogues and assigned projects, while the remote working team members might miss out on these impromptu discussions and plans. Their physical absence could contribute to a bias against them due to the proximity effect.

Example of Proximity bias at work: A manager favors employees who sit near their office or workspace, giving them more attention and opportunities for growth.

Learn more about the focus areas of remote working to overcome this: Focus On These 5 Areas To Effectively Manage Remote Teams

Selective perception

Under the selective perception bias, the managers may pay attention to only the parts of information that interest them. As the name suggests, out of all the information presented to them, their perception remains focused selectively on a few parts of it. Consequently, managers may be prone to ignoring the achievements of their employees, which are beyond their area of interest. Or they might only give attention to the part of the efforts made and base their entire judgment on it. Selective perception bias helps in enforcing other biases as well. If a manager already holds a negative view of a particular person, they will readily receive damaging information about them.

Example of Selective Perception bias at work: A manager only notices mistakes made by a particular employee while overlooking similar mistakes made by others.

Idiosyncratic rater bias

The idiosyncratic rater bias happens due to strong selective and self-perception bias. This occurs when managers evaluate tasks, and their aptitude affects their judgment. When the task is something that they are proficient at, they end up having a view that it is easy to accomplish. Consequently, even tremendous efforts do not earn proportionate awards; instead, they get rated lower.

Conversely, when managers evaluate an unfamiliar activity, they tend to rate it towards the higher end of the scale. This bias in people who have to offer judgment is a menace to objective analysis and performance review. Subjectivity induced by personal eccentricities creeps in and disrupts the results.

Example of Idiosyncratic rater bias: A manager consistently rates all employees higher or lower than their colleagues due to their personal biases, rather than objective performance.

Contrast bias

The contrast bias occurs when a manager uses a relative assessment of performance. Generally, the manager should measure the performance of any employee against the standard set by the organization. However, in this case, the employees are compared with other employees. As a result, employees who are better than others get a boost, while employees who perform comparably but do not compare favorably with the other employees get penalized. This bias might favor lenient treatment of some and harsher punishment for others which can lead to injustice.

Example of contrast bias at work: A manager rates an employee’s performance more positively because they improved slightly compared to their previous performance, even though the improvement is still below average.

Attribution bias

Attribution bias usually means attributing a particular reason to a person’s activities, irrespective of the presence or absence of evidence. The actual reason might differ entirely from the attributed reason, usually based on stereotypes or personal preferences. Usually, the reasoning assumed paints the actor in a negative light. People are often quick to attribute positive or negative behaviors to specific individuals. This is especially true in cases where people have little first-hand knowledge of the situation. This is detrimental to the health of the internal environment of the organization.

Finally, managers need to learn continuously to identify any new biased thoughts or behaviors as soon as possible. In addition, it’s essential to provide training on how to deal with different situations so employees face future challenges with better preparation. So, next time you struggle with a bias, remember that there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do things – just the right way for the team and the individual in question.

Example of attribution bias at work: When an employee completes a project ahead of schedule, a manager attributes it to external factors like luck rather than the employee’s skill or effort.

Conclusion

Ditch the “it’s okay” mentality! Managerial bias is a sneaky roadblock to a thriving team. The good news? Awareness is the first step to overcoming it. By recognizing these biases and actively working to dismantle them, you can create a level playing field where everyone feels empowered to contribute their unique talents.

Imagine yourself as an orchestra conductor ‚Äď you need to hear every instrument clearly to create a harmonious symphony. In the same way, a bias-aware manager listens attentively to every team member, fostering a culture of inclusion and unleashing the collective genius of your team.

So, don’t settle for “okay.” Embrace the journey of becoming a bias-busting leader. By understanding these hidden forces and actively mitigating their impact, you’ll pave the way for a more successful, innovative, and productive team. Now go forth and conduct your team to greatness!

Use active listening to overcome biases and become a smart manager.

Download the free active listening toolkit to assess your listening skills and improve with the help of tips and samples.


FAQs

Why are managers biased?

Managers can be biased due to various factors, including upbringing, personal beliefs and experiences, cultural and societal norms, and unconscious biases. Additionally, power dynamics in the workplace can also contribute to bias, as managers may have preferences or make decisions based on their interests rather than what is best for the team or organization.

How to react to a biased manager?

If you encounter bias from your manager, try to gather evidence and document instances of bias. Seek support from colleagues, HR, or a supervisor. If addressing the issue directly with your manager, remain calm and objective, and explain how their behavior impacts you and the team. It’s essential to stand up for yourself and advocate for fair treatment, but always prioritize your safety and well-being.

How can manager avoid biases?

Managers can avoid biases by actively seeking out diverse perspectives and opinions, setting clear and objective performance criteria, providing equal opportunities and resources to all employees, addressing discriminatory language or behavior, and continuously educating themselves on unconscious biases and mitigating them. Regularly seeking employee feedback and fostering an inclusive work environment can also help prevent biases from taking root.

How to identify if your manager is biased or not?

Sometimes a manager becomes biased, which could create a toxic environment; some of the biases are: favoritism towards certain employees consistently ignoring or dismissing the opinions or contributions of certain employees discriminatory language or actions a lack of diversity and inclusion efforts It’s important to gather evidence and seek feedback from colleagues before making any conclusions.


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