Creating more positive, supportive pathways at work

One of my favorite podcasts, NPR Politics, has a segment called “Can’t let it go” where they discuss a story they can’t stop thinking about. For me this week, it’s the new Pixar short that’s been making the rounds, directed by Kristen Lester and produced by Gillian Libbert-Duncan. It depicts Purl, a vivacious ball of yarn, trying to fit in at a toxic, male-dominated office, aptly named B.R.O. Capital.

The video captures how small actions and moments can change a person’s—or ahem...ball of yarn’s experience—at work. Social psychologist Dolly Chugh describes these as “pathway behaviors.” Important emphasis has been placed on “gateways” such as hiring, promotions and salary decisions. Yet, ample evidence suggests that the more subtle behaviors along the pathway to opportunity are significantly influential. Chugh describes pathway behaviors as, “non-formalized, seemingly minor ways in which an individual’s chances for success are improved or worsened.”

Ample evidence suggests that the more subtle behaviors along the pathway to opportunity are significantly influential.

We saw the impact of pathway behaviors in our initial research for Empower Work. Nearly 95% of those we surveyed or interviewed had faced a tough work situation, more often along the pathway than the gateway. Half left their job as a result. And for those with less social capital, the impacts were much more negative. People left jobs with no next jobs lined up, took pay cuts, or left industries all together.

The Purl video highlights overt negative behaviors in a humorous way. And (spoiler alert!) that change is possible.

Small, positive actions can have significant impact along someone's path. And, important to note, shouldn’t be the responsibility of the person experiencing negative behaviors. (I would have preferred to see one of the "bros" intervening to stop the table-thromping, but that’s for another discussion…)

So what are some concrete examples of what these small, positive actions can be? A few examples:

  • Showing specific appreciation for work done and the impact it makes. For example, “When you did X, it made a huge different in Y ways on the Z project.”

  • Laying the groundwork for everyone to bring up their perspective in a meeting or offering channels post-meeting for those that may prefer to share insight afterwards. For example, in the meeting invite specifying questions for consideration for the meeting and ways to bring up feedback.

  • Asking someone to go for a walk or grab lunch who may not share the same background, time at the company, or team. A solid conversation opener to start, “tell me what inspired you to join your team.” Or more personal, “what most occupies your energy outside of the office?”

It’s showing up for people. And if you’re not sure how, particularly at tough moments—simply ask, “what would be most helpful for you right now?”

I can’t let go of the Purl video—for the chord it struck—and the power of intertwining (punny!) humor with critical change. What small actions would you add to this list? Or what work article or story about workplaces is still on your mind this week? Respond on the original post on LinkedIn or tag @EmpowerWork in a tweet!