What makes a happier, more inclusive workplace

May 30, 2023

Wiston Rodriguez looks at the unique challenges faced by LGBTQ workers.

Wiston Rodriguez
Wiston Rodriguez. (Photo credit: Shivani Shah)

Working his way through college as a waiter in busy New York City restaurants, Wiston Rodriguez couldn’t help but notice how his co-workers handled stress differently.

“Some people were more effective at coping and just getting into the groove of things,” while others would get irritable, he said. “It would bring out sides of people that you didn't often see. I thought it was just fascinating how people reacted to stress so differently.”

Years later, as a doctoral candidate in the Psychology Ph.D. program at the Graduate Center, Rodriguez studies stress and other aspects of life in the workplace. His focus is on the subfield of industrial organizational psychology, or IO, for short.

“It's the merging of business and psychology,” Rodriguez said. “In this field, we try to make the workplace better for employees. My research focuses on merging two areas of IO psychology, one of them being occupational health psychology, which is all about worker stress and employee well-being. The other side of it is diversity, equity, and inclusion. So, merging the two is what my dissertation is doing.”

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His dissertation zeroes in on LGBTQ employees and the unique challenges they face in the workplace. Rodriguez, awarded a Graduate Center dissertation fellowship earlier this year, said his thesis will center on “selective incivility.”

“Selective incivility is a theory that suggests that workplace mistreatment is not something that happens at random; targets are chosen because of the groups that they belong to,” Rodriguez said. Though not an intense form of workplace mistreatment, if left unchecked, selective incivility can eventually spiral into other behaviors such as bullying and abusive supervision, he said.

“There's been research that suggests that people of color and women are more likely to be targeted with workplace incivility because of their group affiliation,” said Rodriguez, who now works as a senior learning specialist at Ketchum, a global public relations firm. “But we also find that there's a double-jeopardy effect. For example, when you're a woman and a woman of color, when these identities intersect.”

But research on LGBTQ workers and selective incivility is sparse, he said. Rodriguez pointed to one study, published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2016, that suggested certain LGBTQ employees were more often the targets of this kind of mistreatment compared to other workers. Though, he adds, the study was limited by a lack of diversity among participants.

Yet, it’s clear that LGBTQ employees face a variety of challenges at work, said Rodriguez, “whether those are instances of harassment, or bullying, or instances where LGBTQ employees feel ostracized from their fellow co-workers.”

And they often have to decide whether or not to disclose their identities. “That's a decision that every LGBTQ employee has to deal with,” Rodriguez said, and the research shows mixed results on whether disclosure yields positive or negative outcomes.

“On one end, it’s been found to improve interpersonal relationships at work, because they’re being their true, authentic selves,” he said. “Sometimes that can create a closer bond between LGBTQ employees and their co-workers. But there's also research that supports it hurting interpersonal relationships at work, because of the stigma that's associated with their identity.”

In any case, studies have shown that selective incivility experienced at work can harm employees outside of the workplace, he said. “When you experience workplace incivility, it can lead to negative work ruminations, this persistent thinking about the event that happened, which could impact your sleep quality,” he explained. “When it impacts your sleep quality, it can have implications across the board.”

Rodriguez says he hopes his dissertation can help to fill in some of the gaps in existing research. “I’m looking to uncover the unique experiences of LGBTQ+ employees that make them more likely to experience selective incivility,” he said, while looking at how it might impact their health and well-being.

To create healthier workplaces — better for the physical, mental, and emotional health of employees — Rodriguez says leaders need to model the kind of behaviors they want to see and maintain open channels of communication so employees can report mistreatment.

“They also need to have a system of accountability in place,” he said. “If there are no consequences for behaviors that hurt others, it's just going to perpetuate, where eventually it becomes embedded in the culture of the organization.”

Published by the Office of Communications and Marketing