The Top Threat to Successful Employee Integration

Categories: Diversity & Inclusion, Global Mindset

There are many benefits to hiring a diverse workforce: new ideas and perspectives, greater creativity, and advanced customer understanding are just a few of the positive attributes diversified staffing can bring. However, hiring employees with varied backgrounds and skills does not automatically mean your company will reap benefits. Successfully integrating new, diverse staff members requires effort and awareness, particularly from existing staff members.

As human beings, we tend to gravitate toward those we can easily relate to and identify with. In fact, humans intrinsically categorize people into two social groups: ingroups (those like ourselves) and outgroups (those that differ from us)1. This tendency to favor members of one’s in-group is called “in-group bias” or “in-group favoritism”. It’s a way human beings shape and understand social identity.

Ingroup bias is motivated by familiarity and comfortability with one’s ingroup; it does not necessarily mean there are hostile feelings or dislike towards outgroups2. Ingroup bias tends to occur organically, without malice or forethought. It’s almost like an automatic reaction. However, overt hostility is not needed for there to be severe ramifications from this type of bias.

Subtle Workplace Discrimination

Ingroup bias can underlie subtle acts of discrimination, including the avoidance and exclusion of outgroups. It can be as subtle as taking preference to work with in groups, and as a result, excluding and avoiding outgroups. In the workplace, this can stifle creativity, innovation, and growth. It can leave new hires feeling excluded, isolated, and marginalized. Instead of working with new, diverse teammates on projects, existing staff members can quickly segregate new hires without even being conscious of it.

This type of behavior is particularly heightened during times of change, or when there is a perceived existential threat3. In a workplace setting, this could be a time of restructuring staff or undergoing an organizational merger. For example, a study conducted by van Leeuwen, van Knippenberg, and Ellemers found that two groups involved in an organizational merger had stronger ingroup bias towards their original workgroups, despite their companies merging into one large organization4.

Combating Ingroup Bias

The good news? Ingroup bias can be addressed and even prevented before it manifests as subtle prejudice or causes intergroup conflict. Bringing this sort of unconscious bias to employee’s attention and encouraging the idea of a larger ingroup identity between all staff members helps to break ingroup favoritism5.

Below are a few ways employees can start eliminating bias in the workplace:

  • Check for bias within yourself and others. Are your impressions and assumptions accurate, or are you relying on out-of-date information or stereotypes that may not fit the facts?
  • Seek feedback. Ask someone from a different culture or a different background what to expect, what is respected and valued, and how to look for and respond to behavioral cues.
  • Create opportunities to ask or to observe what motivates others. Reflect on the differences between key motivators for them and for yourself, and how to best address what motivates them.
  • Ask why. If a colleague asks or responds in a way that you did not expect, respectfully ask for more information about what they are thinking and why.

With the proper education and training, your staff can quickly become champions for an inclusive workplace that welcomes new team members and helps them integrate as members of the greater collective.

Our assessment, the Inclusive Behaviors Inventory, or the IBI, assesses an individual’s awareness of his or her personal biases and level of inclusivity. The survey brings attention to unconscious beliefs and behaviors and provides valuable, tailored feedback on how individuals can strengthen important skills of openness and inclusivity. The survey acts as a valuable preparation measure that can help integrate new hires by providing helpful tools for working across boundaries while giving existing employees new insight.



1 Brewer, M. B. (2007). The social psychology of intergroup relations: Social categorization, ingroup bias, and outgroup prejudice. In A. W. Kruglanski & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles (pp. 695-715). New York: Guilford Press.

2 Brewer, M. B. (1999). The psychology of prejudice: Ingroup love and outgroup hate? Journal of Social Issues, 55, 429–444. doi:10.1111/0022-4537.00126

3 Giannakakis, A. E. & Fritsche, I. (2010). Social identities, group norms, and threat: on the malleability of ingroup bias. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37(1), 82-93.

4 Van Leeuwen, E., van Knippenberg, D. & Ellemers, N. (2003). Continuing and changing group identities: the effects of merging on social identification and ingroup bias. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29(6), 679-690.

5 Gaertner, S. L., Dovidio, J. F., Anastasio, P. A., Bachman, B. A. & Rust, M. C. (1993). The common ingroup identity model: categorization and the reduction of intergroup bias. The European Review of Social Psychology, 4(1), 1-26.