Stigma & Job Effectiveness

Stigma is a process that takes value away from certain people due to disapproval of specific characteristics. It dates back thousands of years ago to the ancient Greeks. The ancient Greeks marked the skin of traitors and slaves to brand them as wrong or immoral. Now, stigma goes beyond these physical marks. It captures characteristics of a person that can result in social disapproval. For example, individuals can be stigmatized based on their physicality, mental state, race, religion, gender, or past experiences (e.g., history of being in prison). Possessing any of these characteristics has been found to decrease feelings of belonging and advancement opportunities in the workplace. Those who are stigmatized often lose their credibility in society, leading to further stigma.

In our research, we sought to understand how stigma towards employees with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) may influence their work. HIV is an infection that attacks the body’s immune function. This is important considering that about 40 million people in the world are currently living with HIV. Out of these, 70% are working-age adults. In recent years of the pandemic, many employees with HIV had to leave their jobs due to increased risk of infections. This is because employees with HIV have a poor immune system. If they were infected with the COVID19 virus, they would have a difficult time coordinating their body’s defenses to fight the infection . Safety concerns plus stigma increasingly threaten their ability to maintain their  employment. Not only are employees with HIV made to leave because of their own safety, but also because others wrongly fear they might spread HIV itself. For example, employees with HIV have been demoted, suspended, or transferred to jobs without interaction with customers due to fear they might be contagious.

With all this in mind, we wanted to know how stigma compromises people’s job effectiveness. Job effectiveness is a worker's ability to perform their job duties well and help others at work. In order to do this, we surveyed 225 employees with HIV from the Philippines, a country with one of the highest HIV infection rates. Here, we found that employees with HIV are stigmatized for being dirty, infectious, and immoral. As a result, they report feelings of fear and shame. Oftentimes, these feelings can come from their workplace being unsafe, hostile, and dangerous. They may also feel inferior and unworthy compared to their coworkers. We found that prolonged feelings of shame reduced  job effectiveness. These workers felt incapable of performing their job well. This means that being stigmatized for their HIV status induces feelings of worthlessness, weakening their desire and energy to excel. On the other hand, feelings of fear did not impact job effectiveness.

Interestingly, depending on the circumstances, this stigma does not always impact job effectiveness. Employees who reported having high self-esteem were less affected by the stigma. Believing in themselves, led to less feelings of shame. They were also less intimidated by others’ judgments, allowing them to perform their work and help others efficiently. 

We also examined whether employee health would decrease the negative consequences of stigma. We specifically looked at CD4+ cell count. These cells are indicators of healthy immune function. Using information from their medical records, we found that employees with HIV who also had a high CD4+ cell count are more likely to display positive energy and strength. These employees demonstrated less shame related to their health condition. In turn, they were productive members of their workplace. On the other hand, those with HIV who have low self-esteem and low CD4+ cell counts have the worst job effectiveness outcomes. All these results suggest connections between self-esteem, CD4+ cell counts, and job effectiveness.

Taken together, this demonstrates that HIV stigma can cause feelings of fear and shame. This can decrease job effectiveness of employees with HIV. It is important to know that self-esteem helped reduce the potential negative consequences of stigma. Attaining a healthy immune function can also help reduce the negative effects of shame on employees’ job effectiveness. Certain workplace policies may help employees with HIV achieve higher self-esteem and a healthier body. For instance, employees with HIV can receive counseling services to help boost their self-esteem and improve the way they manage their work environment. Additionally, workplaces  should provide enough break time, access to medical support, and a low-stress environment to improve health conditions for employees. We hope that this research encourages organizations to create healthier and happier work environments that limit stigma for employees with HIV.

Written By: Dr. Anna Carmella Ocampo

Academic Editor: Medical Scientist

Non-Academic Editor: Fashion Designer

Original Paper

• Title: A cross-lagged longitudinal investigation of the relationship between stigma and job effectiveness among employees with HIV

• Journal: Journal of Applied Psychology

• Date Published: 13 October 2022

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