March 24, 2021 - Podcast

Episode 107—Hate crimes, and work loneliness

The recent murders of eight people in Atlanta, six of whom were Asian women, shocked the country and drew immediate calls for the white man arrested in the murders to be charged with a hate crime. However, authorities have resisted, saying they aren’t sure that racial bias motivated the man’s crimes. Jeannine Bell, a professor of law at Indiana University who has studied hate crime and police for more than 20 years, says there is often a gap between public opinion and law enforcement when it comes to thinking a hate crime has been committed. Long-term polling data suggests that most Americans are horrified by bias-motivated violence. They also support hate crime legislation, an effort to deter such attacks. Yet, Bell says officials often resist the quick classification of incidents as a hate crime. Hate crimes have precise qualities that must be met to satisfy legal requirements. And even when police and prosecutors believe the elements of a hate crime are present, such crimes can be difficult to prove in court, she says. Hate crimes are crimes motivated by bias on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity. In some states, gender, age and gender identity are also included. Hate crime laws have been passed by 47 states and the federal government. To be charged with a hate crime, Bell says the prosecutor must convince the judge or jury that the victim was targeted because of their race, religion, sexual orientation or other protected characteristic. Bell says bias motivation can be hard to prove, and prosecutors can be reluctant to take cases that that they may not win in court. Additionally, Bell says that police departments are rarely organized in a way that allows them to develop the expertise necessary to effectively investigate hate crimes. Advocates for hate crime victims maintain that police and prosecutors can do much more to identify and punish hate crimes and Bell says empirical evidence supports their claims. Distrust of police, especially in Black communities, may dissuade minorities from even calling the police when they are victimized by hate crime for fear they could also become victims of police violence. All this means that perpetrators of hate crimes may not be caught and can reoffend, further victimizing the communities that are meant to be protected by hate crime laws. Bell says hate crime laws reflect American ideals of fairness, justice and equity. But if crimes motivated by bias aren’t reported, well investigated, charged or brought to trial, it matters little what such laws say.

In other news, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is keeping millions of Americans from their usual offices, as they find themselves still working at home. Even with vaccines now being distributed, working from home may still be the future for some, and new research suggests resulting "work loneliness" can negatively impacts employee well-being. A new study by Stephanie Andel, assistant professor of psychology at IUPUI, found that feelings of work loneliness during the pandemic were associated with higher depression and fewer voluntary work behaviors. Participants in the study came from a wide range of industries, including manufacturing; technology; retail; and education. Andel and colleagues looked at three different factors that might drive work loneliness including perceptions of job insecurity, telecommuting frequency and insufficient communication from companies about responses to the pandemic. Andel says they found that each of those factors contributed to feelings of work loneliness. When people feel lonely, the study found, they experience more depressive symptoms, and they are less likely to go above and beyond in their jobs, such as helping a co-worker -- something many organizations may have hoped their employees would do during the pandemic. However, there is hope in the form of self-compassion. Andel and colleagues found self-compassion, or being kind to yourself during times of suffering, can mitigate some of the negative effects of work loneliness. Individuals who reported having higher levels of self-compassion exhibited fewer depressive symptoms following feelings of work loneliness in comparison to those with lower levels of self-compassion. Andel says she suspects this is because self-compassion leads individuals to be kinder to themselves, makes them more likely to recognize that they are not alone in their feelings and helps them to be aware of, but not consumed by, their negative feelings. For companies that want to help their employees struggling right now with work loneliness, Andel suggests providing consistent and clear communication regularly to employees regarding the company's response to the pandemic and be transparent about structural or financial changes that may affect employees' job security or income. Additionally, companies can host virtual social gatherings for employees and create an organizational climate that promotes and encourages employee self-compassion. For individuals who want to enhance their own self-compassion, Andel suggests that in times of perceived failure or suffering, try to avoid negative self-talk and, instead, give yourself the same kindness and compassion that you would give to a good friend.