Why Tolerance In The Workplace Means Smart Business

By Joanne Richard


Tolerance isn’t just a buzzword – it’s smart business.


Diversity in the workforce pays big dividends, according to research, driving innovation and powering productivity, profit and people performance.

International Tolerance Day is November 16 and it’s a time for embracing divergent viewpoints and respecting individual differences. We live in a deeply connected and global world and the best workplaces reflect that.


CEB research reports that in a workplace valuing a diversity of perspectives, performance improves by 12% and intent to stay by 20%.


A 2015 report by McKinsey & Company further shows diversity matters: “Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.” In addition, “companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.”


Workplaces have become more inclusive and tolerant in the past five decades, says Dr. David Yamada, internationally recognized authority on workplace bullying and employment discrimination. “More enlightened social attitudes and the messaging roles of employment discrimination laws have contributed to this progress.”


But recent divisive political antics may have set us back: “Survey data from the American Psychological Association indicate that the U.S. presidential election has had a negative effect on workplace conversations and that workers are divided by gender and generation, all to the detriment of overall productivity,” says Yamada, law professor and director of New Workplace Institute at Suffolk University Law School in Boston.


“The election of Donald Trump may well fuel greater workplace intolerance, especially in organizations where groups of people hold widely divergent views of politics and social and economic issues,” he adds.


We may not be in the U.S. but our workplaces are not immune: Divisive or intolerant leaders have terrible trickle-down effects on the everyday cultures of their workplaces everywhere. Incivility, ostracism, bullying, and harassment remain serious problems in less-than-wonderful workplaces, says Yamada. “Of course, external individual events may fuel intolerance in the workplace as well. These range from the seemingly trivial, such as sports rivalries, to the more serious, such as politics, religion, and major public events,” he says.


Bad behaviour takes its toll, including increased interpersonal conflicts, greater stress and anxiety, and drops in individual and organizational productivity, he adds.


Leadership expert Peter Economy, @bizzwriter, agrees: People who don’t feel welcome and comfortable in the workplace as a result of intolerance will be unhappier, less engaged, and less productive than those employees who feel welcome and comfortable in the workplace. “This eventually flows to the bottom line in the form of lower profits.”


Discrimination costs. Workers leave jobs each year because of unfair treatment and turnover is expensive. It costs between $75,000 and $211,000 to replace a departing executive making $100,000, according to and $5,000 to $10,000 to replace a departing hourly worker, reports americanprogress.org.


According to the experts, what breeds and feeds intolerance is ignorance and hostility toward perceived differences. “There is overt intolerance, such as not hiring someone because he is gay, or withholding promotions from women, and a more insidious kind of intolerance, where a culture that is not welcoming to all people of all backgrounds is condoned or tacitly encouraged by management,” says Economy, business author and leadership columnist on Inc.com.


The bottom line: Intolerance destroys people while tolerance builds them up. “People perform best in a work environment where people are not discriminated against, and where they are rewarded for their performance – not because they look like the boss,” says Economy.


If we create tolerant, welcoming, and inclusive workplaces, then higher morale and improved productivity are bound to follow. It’s a win for everyone.


Now it’s more important than ever to pay tribute to tolerance, and not just on November 16. We must examine our own shortcomings, prejudices and differences, and build bridges to civility and acceptance.


Yamada and Economy offer up these tips to further tolerance and inclusion in the workplace:

  • Let’s give each other some room to express our differences, to vent, and to have a bad day.
  • Play and work by the Golden Rule.
  • Contribute to building organizational cultures of acceptance and individual dignity.
  • Set an example for others to follow.
  • Management needs to counsel employees who display intolerance, and take appropriate action if the issue can’t be resolved.
  •  Create a welcoming, inclusive workplace where the contributions of everyone are valued.