Organizational Wellness

How to Avoid Affinity Bias in the Workplace

Nov 24, 2023
Last Updated Feb 13, 2024

Have you ever felt a magnetic pull towards someone because they reminded you of, well, yourself? Or observed how much more natural it is to bond with people who have similar likes or experiences? 

You're not alone. This is called 'affinity bias.; While it might seem harmless in our day-to-day lives, its impact on the workplace can be huge.

Affinity bias can affect hiring decisions or stifle creativity at work. This invisible force can make workplaces less diverse and inclusive without us even realizing. Take a look at why affinity bias happens, its effects in recruitment processes and ways to combat this subtle but powerful force.

Diverse Recruitment

What Is Affinity Bias?

Affinity bias is a psychological tendency to favor people who are like us. It's not necessarily intentional, but it can sneak into our decisions and interactions in subtle ways.

We naturally gravitate towards those who share similar interests, experiences, or backgrounds as ours. This could be because they remind us of ourselves. But when unchecked, this inclination can lead to biased decision-making that disadvantages others.

In the workplace context for instance, managers may unknowingly lean towards candidates with shared characteristics during hiring processes. While it might feel comfortable and intuitive to connect with 'people like me', this behavior restricts diversity within teams.

Why Does Affinity Bias Occur?

The root cause of affinity bias lies in our brains' hardwiring for survival from ancient times. Back then we had to quickly identify friend from foe based on familiarity. The modern world doesn't require such extreme caution now, yet these ingrained instincts persist.

So, while affinity bias is a natural phenomenon, it's crucial that we recognize its presence. HR leaders have a responsibility to actively combat this bias to foster a world that values diversity and inclusion even more.

Affinity Bias in HR and Recruitment

In the world of HR and recruitment, affinity bias can influence hiring decisions heavily. 

Say you're interviewing contenders for an open role. Imagine you've got two applicants: one shares your love for hiking, while the other doesn’t share any of your hobbies. Who do you feel more drawn to? 

If you picked the first candidate because they enjoy outdoor activities just as much as you do — congratulations. You’ve experienced affinity bias firsthand.

Bias unchecked isn't just unfair. It’s bad business practice too. New ideas might get dismissed simply because they come from people who don’t fit into preconceived notions about what "fits". Imagine trying to solve a puzzle with pieces that are all exactly alike; it would be nearly impossible.

This is why the idea of “culture adds” is much more valuable than “culture fits”. While a culture add brings new characteristics and ideas to the workplace, a culture fit merely resembles existing staff. Kicking affinity bias out of the hiring processes makes room for diversity instead.

The Impact of Affinity Bias on Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity isn't just about fairness. It’s also about innovation and growth. Companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially according to McKinsey's research.

Affinity bias stifles diversity by making us blind to talent that doesn’t look or sound like us. If we're all clones in thought and background, where does fresh thinking come from? If affinity bias rules hiring decisions, then workplaces become echo chambers where only certain voices get heard—creating an environment far from inclusive. When employees feel like their ideas aren’t valued, morale and productivity take a drop: 37% of employees have cited recognition as the most important driver of great work.

How to Combat Affinity Bias

Here's some good news: there are practical strategies that HR teams and managers can use to dodge this sneaky saboteur of diversity.

  1. Acknowledge the Bias

The first step in combating affinity bias is acknowledging its existence. It's easy to unintentionally favor a candidate who loves the same TV show or supports the same sports team. Awareness is the key to change.

  1. Bias Awareness Training

Consider conducting bias awareness training for hiring managers. Equip them with the tools to recognize and manage their unconscious biases. These learning opportunities are invaluable for fostering unbiased decision-making.

  1. Structured Interviews

Structured interviews can combat affinity bias better than informal chats. Standardized questions to ensure that every candidate has an equal opportunity to showcase their skills. This levels the playing field and promotes fairness.

  1. Harness the Power of Data

One of your most potent weapons against affinity bias is data. Decision-making based on solid facts minimizes the influence of gut feelings or personal preferences. A few ideas to help you eliminate personal bias from the hiring process include:

  • Anonymize resumes: Remove names and other identifying information from resumes before review.
  • Assess with tests: Rely more heavily on assessment tests to objectively evaluate skills and qualifications.
  • Set diversity metrics: Establish metrics around diversity hiring goals to track progress and hold the organization accountable.

Tackling affinity bias might seem daunting, but armed with the right methods and tools, it becomes an exciting challenge rather than an insurmountable barrier. By implementing these strategies, HR teams and managers can create a workplace where talent and diversity thrive, free from the influence of unconscious biases.

Develop an Affinity for Diversity and Inclusion

The real beauty of combating affinity bias? When you make your workforce feel seen and valued, they thrive. And so does the company. Employees who feel safe are more likely to stay on board and perform better — boosting job satisfaction rates.

One  way to help every employee feels appreciated is to offer wellness programs that cater to the unique needs of your entire population. Inclusive wellness programs cater to a wide range of interests and abilities. When your team has access to benefits that fit their needs, it shows that the organization cares about them beyond the office walls.

Take action today! Talk to a Gympass wellbeing specialist to launch a wellbeing program that helps everyone thrive. 

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Gympass Editorial Team

The Gympass Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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