Microaggressions @ Work

Interview with

Heather R. Younger, The Art of Caring Leadership

Also an interview with Ira S Wolfe, Success Performance Solutions about recruitment and retention during a Perfect Labor Storm.

Segment One – Heather R Younger

Heather R. Younger, the founder of Employee Fanatix, reveals tips on how to deal with microaggressions at work and how leadership can approach discrimination and bias in a more caring, understanding fashion.  This will, in turn, make the workplace a much more accepting and comfortable place for all involved.

Segment Two – Ira S Wolfe

Host Ira S Wolfe extends tips about retention and recruitment in the workforce.  He fills us in on some staggering, almost frightening, statistics that have been recently released. The American economy is headed toward a Perfect Labor Storm – a shortage of skilled labor that is desperately needed to make this country and its economy grow and lead.


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  • Death by 1,000 Cuts (7:19)
  • It’s Not About Perfection (9:28)
  • How We Show Up and Intend to Make People Feel (13:46)
  • Responsibility to Protect Our People From Microaggressions (15:36)
  • [It Can] Get to the Level of Discrimination. (16:40)
  • Express Compassionate Action (17:20)
  • Immediately Go to HR (18:40)
  • All That We Saw On Zoom… (22:22)
  • Do listening sessions (24:30)
  • Where Can We Find People? (35:29)
  • In a Word, It’s Panic (35:36)
  • Do You Start With Retention or Recruitment? (36:38)
  • Employee Engagement and Recruitment is Going to be a Problem for the Next Ten Years (41:08)
  • The Projection for 2030

NOTE: Quote times may be +/- 30-60 seconds different for the audio version.

Podcast Notes

Death by 1,000 Cuts (7:19)

Heather R. Younger, the founder of Employee Fanatix, discusses what is a microaggression: “an everyday slight, whether verbal or nonverbal, against a marginalized group whether intentional or not”.  Sometimes it’s shown through body language, tone, or words. She pointedly calls this “death by 1,000 cuts” and says that these small things add up to big problems if left unchecked.  These “cuts” can genuinely add up to stress and pain in the workplace.

It’s Not About Perfection (9:28)

Younger points out that we will never be perfect in our pursuit to NEVER have microaggressions in the workplace. But we can do better.  Paying attention to how people react to us when we say certain things can help us be more sensitive.  A person’s body language is a good indicator of how they respond to something you might have said or done that has made them feel uncomfortable or marginalized.  It’s a good idea when you notice someone reacting in such a way to step back and ask yourself, “did I just do or say something offensive?”  You may not believe you are offensive, but you very well could be.  She says, “it’s not about perfection – it’s about being aware of your environment and how you leave people feeling with your interactions.”

Ninety-five percent of dealing with microaggressions has to do with emotional intelligence.  She personally has dealt with issues with her family where they did not accept her or even really include her in family events because they disapproved of her parents’ interracial relationship.  She says that she has allowed that negativity to impact her positively.

It is About How We Intend to Show Up and How We Intend to Make People Feel (13:46)

Younger says, “it is about how we intend to show up and how we intend to make people feel.” How do we own things when we mess up, and how do we make good on it?  If you see that you have made an error with a microaggression, you don’t want to fatigue the person by asking them too many questions.  Again, she reiterates: you won’t get it right 100% of the time.

We Do Have a Responsibility to Protect Our People From Microaggressions (15:36)

Younger states that, “as a leader in the workplace, we do have a responsibility to protect our people from microaggressions (15:36).  It’s important to have difficult conversations with people who are making microaggressions. But it is also important to do it in the right way, offering a better way to handle it in the future.

[It Can] Get to the Level of Discrimination. (16:40)

If a team member continues with the microaggressions and it does not stop even after being warned, Younger warns it can “get to the level of discrimination.”  It’s important to address these microaggressions not only because it’s the right thing to do but to protect your organization too.  Sometimes the recipient of the microaggression does not want to make a big deal out of things, so the aggression continues. Other times, the microaggressor believes that too big a deal is being made out of something small. Both these reactions are unacceptable and must be addressed.

Express Compassionate Action (17:20)

Younger says that “as the leader…you don’t want to take on too much emotion ..[but] express compassionate action.”  When you point out to an employee that they have inflicted a microaggression, oftentimes they will be horrified and embarrassed. It was unintentional and they had no idea that they did anything wrong. The best thing a leader can do is help them see how to handle it next time if it comes up again.  It’s essential to go to the person who was the victim of the microaggression and let them know that you did take note of the incident, you spoke with the person, and let them know that you have taken appropriate action. That should be done whether or not the person on the receiving end of the microaggression asked for something to be done about it or not.

When It’s Time to Go to HR (18:40)

If the leader is the one making the microaggression, you should “immediately go to HR.”  If the leader has a good rapport with the employees, it will often be enough to let them know that they have caused a microaggression, usually fixing the issue.  If not, HR may need to take more aggressive action. Transparency is important. If the leader creates an environment where it’s ok to speak the truth and respond to the situation, it will help end microaggressions in the workplace.

All That We Saw On Zoom… (22:22)

When asked about what should be taken away as a positive from the pandemic, Younger says that “all that [what] we saw on zoom…is data and it should be used as qualitative feedback.” The things that we learned from the boss and employee interaction online should allow for more authentic relationships.  If people let these lessons go post-pandemic and go “back to normal,” people will quit and employers won’t fully understand why. 

Do listening sessions (24:30)

When asked about what companies are doing to make a safer workspace, Younger says, “those that are doing it well…are doing listening sessions” (24:30).  That helps to create a culture of teams. Those who are not listening are the ones who will have more people leave the company.  If you do these things with care, you can drive the culture of your business forward.  Wolfe suggests that the best way to determine what is best for the company is simply asking the employees. Today in the human-centric company, employees want to know how the company can add value to THEM. Younger says you can’t expect these massive shifts to occur automatically or overnight; it will take time. Fortunately, these problems are solvable but complex. There are no simple solutions, but behaviors can change.

Where Can We Find People? (35:29)

In this segment, host Ira Wolfe from Success Performance Solutions discusses some of the main issues that people are coming to him about concerning the shortage of skilled labor and how to find people to fill the open positions.  One of the main things they ask is, “where can we find people?” That question is not easily answered, as there simply are no skilled workers available to fill the job openings.

In a Word, It’s Panic (35:36)

Wolfe says. “what reaction am I getting from employers? In a word, it’s panic.”  The quit rates are at an all-time high, and every day more and more companies are offering more and bigger incentives to attract fresh talent. That offers even more opportunities for employees to quit, which simply causes that quit rate to grow. It is a vicious cycle.

Do You Start With Retention or Recruitment? (36:38)

The next question, “do you start with retention or recruitment?” is even more difficult to answer.  If you have an open position, you need to be better at recruiting.  But simultaneously, you can’t afford to lose your good employees.  Like a leaky boat, unless you plug the leaks, you’ll need to keep rowing and bailing faster at the same time. 

The statistics that have come out just since the week’s beginning are startling. One survey by Microsoft customers says that 40 percent of people in the workforce are currently considering leaving their jobs.  The American Healthcare Association and National Center for Assisted Living say that 94 percent of nursing home providers have a shortage of staff members in the last month. CNAs have 129% turnover, and some organizations are reporting 300% turnover.

 Places that have never offered bonuses before are changing their tune, offering substantial bonuses to attract employees. TSA is offering a $1,000 bonus.  The hospitality industry is also offering staggering bonuses for jobs like line cooks, where Wolfe has seen sign-on bonuses of $2,500 plus a pay rate of close to $20 per hour. 

The Gallup Poll reported that annual engagement dipped 20% globally, partly due to people working from home. But even when workplace culture was at its peak, employee engagement was only around 30 percent, meaning ⅔ of the workforce wasn’t engaged.  Disengaged workers were normal so going back to normal isn’t a good thing.

Employee Engagement and Recruitment is Going to be a Problem for the Next Ten Years (41:08)

Wolfe says that “employee engagement and recruitment is going to be a problem for the next TEN YEARS” (41:08).  That is both frightening and earth-shaking. Ed Gordon in The Gordon Report has been predicting this for years. Employers are just now beginning to wake up as the crisis is now lying at their doorstep.

The Projection for 2030 – For Anyone Who Thinks This is Just a Blip, You’re In for a Big Surprise (41:38)

Wolfe puts it a matter of factly when he says, “the projection for 2030 – for anyone who thinks this is just a blip, you’re in for a big surprise.”.  It is projected that out of 170 million jobs in 2030, 128 million will be skilled. Currently, it is 110 million. Of those 110 million, the level of skills needed to fill these jobs is going to increase too.  If we don’t change how we educate and train workers and do it quickly, the U.S. will have only 56 million skilled workers to fill the 128 million skilled jobs in 2030.

Somehow things have to change.  How do we include new graduates and current employees to fill those jobs?  Thirty million people will need to be upskilled through workforce development.  Collaborative ventures such as RETAINs connect business, community, and schools.  Some jobs will be automated. This will help solve the open jobs problem, but it will leave a lot of people without work. Millions of underskilled and unemployable workers then become a society problem. 

This is a complex problem, and it will take a village to solve it. Wolfe hopes Geeks, Geezers, and Googilization will be a part of that village.


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