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A thorn by any other name: the acceptability of terminology for subtle slights in UK workplaces

Iain Alexander Smith (School of Medicine, Mental Health and Neurosciences, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK)
Amanda Griffiths (School of Medicine, Mental Health and Neurosciences, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK)

Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management

ISSN: 1746-5648

Article publication date: 7 September 2023

Issue publication date: 7 November 2023

136

Abstract

Purpose

Employers are increasingly attempting to mitigate subtle but harmful forms of employee rudeness and slights. These include “microaggressions”, “everyday discrimination” and “workplace incivility”, among others. It is unclear which of these various terms is most acceptable for introducing the topic in the workplace. This paper explores human resources (HR) leaders' considerations about the terms and the organisational context that allow for successful implementation.

Design/methodology/approach

16 expert interviews were conducted with HR leaders from large organisations in the United Kingdom. Reflexive Thematic Analysis was used to explore interview transcripts.

Findings

HR leaders reflected on various terms for subtle slights, largely according to how understandable (coherent) and emotionally resonant (provocative) they appeared. They did not converge on any universally accepted term. Less abstract terms were regarded as most acceptable for a broad audience. There was a view that leaders, often representing dominant groups, would find provocative terms such as microaggressions less acceptable than under-represented groups; the latter would find their experiences of subtle slights validated by terms such as microaggressions. Participants suggested that understanding the need for change was a necessary precursor to participation in training. Compliance-based approaches were considered less helpful. Implications for the design of training initiatives are presented whereby several terms could be used and explained.

Originality/value

This is the first study to gather HR leaders' views on the acceptable terminology for subtle slights. Findings suggest employers may find value in adopting an implementation science approach to introducing diversity initiatives.

Keywords

Citation

Smith, I.A. and Griffiths, A. (2023), "A thorn by any other name: the acceptability of terminology for subtle slights in UK workplaces", Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management, Vol. 18 No. 4, pp. 310-325. https://doi.org/10.1108/QROM-08-2021-2193

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023, Emerald Publishing Limited

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