Emotional Tax in the Workplace

March 23rd, 2021 Research, Respect in the Workplace

There are various costs and benefits associated with different jobs and occupations, but one that isn’t widely considered is emotional tax. Emotional tax is the state of being consciously on guard to deal with potential bias or discrimination stemming from factors related to one’s identity, including race, gender, ethnicity, and more (Travis & Thorpe-Moscon, 2018). This tax can be compounded for employees who identify with more than one marginalized group; for example, women of colour often experience both racial and gender bias (Travis & Thorpe-Moscon, 2018). Further, this tax is widespread, with 39% of Black, East Asian and South Asian Canadian professionals report being highly on guard to protect against racial bias (Thorpe-Moscon, Pollack, & Olu-Lafe, 2019). 


Emotional tax has many personal impacts, including effects on employee health and well-being, and strong organizational impacts, particularly through preventing employees from being able to thrive at work (Travis & Thorpe-Moscon, 2018). Of the Canadian professionals surveyed who were highly on guard, 86% aspired to leadership positions in their workplaces and 82% wanted to remain in the same company (Thorpe-Moscon, Pollack, & Olu-Lafe, 2019). Despite their strong drive to succeed and contribute to their organization, the majority of Canadian professionals who experienced high levels of emotional tax were considering quitting their jobs (Thorpe-Moscon, Pollack, & Olu-Lafe, 2019). Clear efforts to bridge this disconnect between employees’ goals of leadership and contribution and their ability to feel safe and respected at work are critical in addressing the high cost of emotional tax in the workplace. 


Workplace leaders play an important role in actively supporting employees and addressing potential reasons for being on guard and working collaboratively towards more inclusive workplaces. Above all, support should be active and expressed, not silent or presumed. A 2019 report from Catalyst identified these strategies leaders can use in the workplace to address and work against emotional tax:

1. Listen:

Create opportunities for open dialogue to discuss differences in the workplace, seeking and acknowledging experiences that bridge differences across employees. 

2. Learn:

Explore the day-to-day instances of inclusion and exclusion experienced by employees, both big and visible and small and subtle- both matter. 

3. Link Up:

Partner with employees to collaborate on meaningful solutions grounded in their expertise and willingness to contribute. The value of employees’ contributions should be identified and shared, both publicly and privately. 

4. Lead:

Both leaders and employees should be both supported in learning and held accountable to enacting inclusive practices, policies, and behaviours in the workplace. 


Additional resources to learn more about emotional tax and inclusivity in the workplace can be found below:


  • Day-to-Day Experiences of Emotional Tax in the Workplace Report
  • These Diagnostic Tools can be used by organizational leaders to provide a deeper understanding of factors that may enhance or inhibit inclusive cultures specific in your workplace
  • Our Respect in the Workplace program



Thorpe-Moscon, J., Pollack, A., and Olu-Lafe, O. (2019). Empowering Workplaces Combat Emotional Tax for People of Colour in Canada. Retrieved from 

Travis, D.J., and Thorpe-Moscon, J. (2018). Day-to-Day Experiences of Emotional Tax Among Men and Women of Colour in the Workplace. Retrieved from