What Is Cognitive Overload? Why Is It Hampering Inclusion At Work?

You already know many of the biggest barriers to inclusion in the workplace, from sexism to racism to unconscious bias and so many more. While these are pressing challenges that are affecting the entire professional world, there is one notorious offender that has been there all along but hasn’t yet got the attention it deserves. Think of all the information that we process on a daily basis and now think of all the information one needs to process in order to work, well, it’s definitely not a small amount. Hence, cognitive overload is proving to become a big hurdle in the advancement of diversity and inclusion within the workplace. Moreover, since the inception of the pandemic, mental health has also become a top concern in the workplace at large, which also means this problem needs to be dealt with.

Many organizations consider D&I training an add-on and an overloaded brain is less permeable to adapting

In order to reach one’s full potential at work, good mental health is vital and one’s mental health can also be greatly affected if the workplace is a toxic one; call it a vicious cycle. The truth is that many organizations consider D&I training an add-on and not something central to the workings of a company. As a result, this is treated as unnecessary by the brain and therefore it rejects it more often than not. When the mind is already loaded with much information, the brain is less likely to adopt “extra” information. D&I training requires one to be present and the will to accept and change one’s mindset and behavior, which does mean some effort from attendees. Let’s recognize that many simply lack the space to adapt, however, this cannot be an excuse for a primitive mind and behavior. Let’s also acknowledge that something needs to be done in order to override this phenomenon.

Diversity and inclusion must be intertwined within company policies rather than have separate sessions

Organizations need to encourage employees to take some time out for meditation and reflection, just like they would for other meetings. Also, instead of a one size fits all training for everyone, managers can encourage their team to read and learn for themselves while having an informal meeting to talk over certain topics. Rather than diversity and inclusion as a separate training session, why not find ways to include them in everyday tasks, like meetings, projects, etc. Moreover, D&I needs to be a top-down approach starting with the leadership of the company so that inclusion can be intertwined with the very fabric of the workplace so that it eventually becomes second nature. Therefore, we need to first address the mental health of employees and how cognitive overload affects them on a daily basis, and how this translates into them adopting D&I into their daily lives. 

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