How Asian Values and Microaggressions Show Up in the Workplace

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Yesterday I took the afternoon off work for my mental health. 

I’ve experienced an absolute wave of emotions over the last few days and it started with my reflections of the Atlanta Anti-Asian hate crime. 

What has been beautiful in all this hatred is seeing all Asians of different cultures coming together to share their experiences. It warmed my heart to see so many speak up, but I will admit, it brought up a lot of triggers for me as well. 

This Instagram post by Joanna Ho, an Asian-American children’s author, particularly hit me.

“There are cultural reasons: We are taught to self-deprecate, to be humble in specific ways, to put our heads down and not make waves. We are taught if we work hard, people will recognize our worth through the fruits of our labor.⁠”


My parents raised me to be a strong woman and although I’m a third-generation Chinese-born Canadian, I still feel the remnants of these values and beliefs.

Yes, the shooting happened on March 16, but what’s happening now is a collective confession of Asian people’s racial experiences. 

Hearing the experiences of others will remind me of other instances of microaggressions that I have lived through. For example, a former colleague and friend of mine were discussing our experiences in our first workplace after graduating university. We were interns — so young and so eager. She reminded me that people (typically white males) would always mistake us for each other. When she said that, I remembered another Asian woman that I was mistaken for at the same workplace. I laughed and thought it was funny. But when I posted about it on Instagram, others replied absolutely horrified that this happened to us. As my sassy friend pointed out, “somehow we don’t mix up the six tall bald straight white dudes in the creative department.” 

So this brings me back to why I took a mental health day yesterday. 

I couldn’t focus. I wasn’t productive. I recognized that I needed space and time. 

I consulted the experts aka Harvard Business Review, for some advice. There are not a lot of resources for Asian employees yet, but the resources developed in the aftermath of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor helped validate what I was feeling. 

“It may seem counterintuitive to rest when there is so much work needed for meaningful change. Yet, consistently disengaging from work can facilitate recovery, as rest is critical for resilience to adversity. This includes taking time off from work when needed to prioritize mental health and well-being.”

This came from the HBR article: Give Black Employees Time to Rest and Recover

Mental Health Break and Helping Asian Employees 

So why am I writing all of this out? What is my hook here? Resting and making space to grieve could be a huge hurdle for Asians out there given the values we were raised on. As colleagues, friends, employers, etc. I am writing this to say that we know that you know what we’re experiencing is hard. Our Asian values tell us to put our head down and keep working through all of this. 

If an Asian person speaks up about their experience or how they are feeling, honour those feelings and the space that they need. It was so hard for them to confess and explain this to you. This is not a “next few days”, “this weekend”, “this month” kinda thing. These feelings and experiences can show up weeks from now when everything has sunk in.

Asian people are taught to be polite especially in a workplace setting. Recognize that we might not call you out on your microaggressions. We may laugh along with you, but deep down it hurts and we’re just uncomfortable and trying to be polite. 

To all my Asian brothers and sisters out there, the next while will be hard. You are already so brave. Don’t let anyone silence you. Know that anytime you speak up, it’s one step closer for raising awareness of our experiences and feelings. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.