Is Proximity Bias Making You Ignore Your Best Talent?
Redline Group, one of the UK’s most trusted Electronics and High Technology recruitment specialists, launch new research on “Proximity Bias: When You Take Care of Employees, They Take Care of You”, to assist businesses create a diverse and inclusive environment that is free of any conscious and unconscious biases.
As more companies embrace different work models, featuring a mix of remote, hybrid, and in-person, many decision makers, people managers, and HR leads need to be vigilant against the emerging form of discrimination and the challenges of proximity bias and the “visibility” concern for many employees.
Proximity bias can affect processes, judgements, and perceptions in the workplace, and various groups of people, including women, remote workers, and employees located in different time zones are all at risk of being impacted by proximity bias.
But What is Proximity Bias?
Proximity bias refers to a cognitive bias that occurs when individuals give undue importance or favouritism to individuals in close proximity to them. This can lead to biased decision-making and manifests as the tendency for people in positions of authority to show favouritism or give preferential treatment to employees who are closest to them physically.
How Does Proximity Bias Affect Your Employees?
There is no denying the impact of proximity bias in the workplace, especially between those working in-person and remote operatives, but also between women and men. According to studies, women rank being able to work remotely as one of the most important factors when looking for a new job, compared with men. Whilst seeking out remote roles, this means they are more likely to experience proximity bias.
With the increase in remote work, it can also be easy to assume that absent and ‘out of sight’ employees are less committed to the team when, in fact, they are simply working from elsewhere. Those who gain less face-to-face time with decision makers and managers could be overlooked for tasks, projects, and promotions because they do not interact with them as often as someone who is sitting next to them day in, and day out.
However, it is not just women and remote workers who can be affected by proximity bias, and it’s often present in other aspects of work. The hiring process can be affected by the recruiting manager’s preference for candidates who are geographically close to the workplace, similarly, proximity bias can disproportionately affect minority or underrepresented groups. If those making the decisions relate to individuals who share similar backgrounds or characteristics, they may unintentionally favour those who are more like them, leading to reduced opportunities for marginalised groups.
How to Avoid Proximity Bias?
As a leader and manager, there are actions that can be taken to combat Proximity Bias in the workplace, these include:
- Give Employees Equal Presence: Ensure that all employees have an equal presence in meetings, regardless of whether people are in person or remote.
- Adopt a ‘Remote-First’ Mindset: A remote-first mindset acknowledges that hard work does not have to be done in an office or specific geographical location.
- Educating Employees and Managers: Educate all employees and decision makers, raising awareness to cultivate fairer, more diverse work environments.
- Establish Clear and Objective Criteria: Implementing fair and objective performance evaluation criteria, including clear metrics that focus on outcomes and measurable results rather than basing decisions on physical presence, irrespective of location.
- Emphasise Data-Driven Decision Making: Encourage the use of data and metrics to support decision making processes. Shift the focus away from personal connections or subjective opinions to a more objective evaluation of performance.
- Diversify Decision Making: Strive for diversity in teams, in terms of gender, race, age, location and background.
- Give Employees Equal Presence: Ensure all employees have an equal presence in meetings, regardless of whether they are in person or remote.
- Encourage Diversity: Although not a legal requirement, have diversity and inclusivity policies in place – these are sometimes called 'equal opportunity' policies.
Hybrid and remote-friendly workplaces may struggle to eradicate proximity bias completely. But it is crucial we look at our own unconscious proximity bias as something to continuously work on because by allowing proximity to influence decisions, companies may miss out and ignore the best talent.
Whether it is someone missing a promotion because they work from home or decision makers unfairly assuming remote workers do not work as hard, proximity bias can have a huge impact on someone’s success, progression, and happiness at work.
Awareness, a will to change, and progressive improvement are goals we can truly aspire to if the right tools and processes are in place to prevent proximity bias and ensure inclusion.
Redline change lives every day, building world-class teams for technology companies. For more information on how we can help, contact us 01582 450054 or email info@RedlineGroup.com for a quick chat with our team.