As we come up on two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of employers are taking inventory of all that’s changed.
Most employees are working remotely at least some of the time. In-office requirements have been adjusted. And some workers have reevaluated their entire careers and are jumping ship.
In fact, according to GoodFirms, 22% of employees are definitely going to leave their current jobs, and 30% more are seriously considering it. And a huge reason behind this is dissatisfaction with their company’s culture.
So many different elements comprise company culture: leadership, expectations, workloads, co-worker relationships, policies. It’s a lot to get right.
The GoodFirms survey discovered that popular cultural reasons for leaving the company include the inability to work from home and employers having unrealistic work expectations.
But even if these particular stumbling blocks aren’t an issue at your company, there could still be problems lurking. In fact, company culture can turn toxic without leadership even knowing.
One of the biggest contributors to a toxic culture that drives talent away is toxic employees — that’s according to CEO of ClearForce, Tom Miller.
ClearForce is a risk management company that works with employers to create and maintain a trusted work environment. Miller says an organization’s people are a key element of the overall culture.
“Employees are the greatest asset a company can have,” Miller says, “but the behavior of certain people can create risk inside the organization to colleagues.”
Namely, harassment has become a heightened challenge for employers — and employees aren’t afraid to walk away from a company because of it.
Miller says the problem with harassment is employers may not even know it’s going on. If employees don’t report the problem, yet resign because of it, the connection is never made — and the issue is never corrected.
Why don’t employees report harassment and other toxic behavior? Miller says a lot of people are worried about anonymity and may not trust their company to keep it private.
Many companies have an anonymous reporting hotline, but those are often underutilized, Miller says. Besides not believing they’re truly anonymous, employees don’t know exactly what to report.
“Employees need guidelines on what’s a reportable offense,” Miller says. He recommends distributing detailed policies to your staff, as well as having options to select while reporting the incident.
The best way for employers to know whether harassment is an issue at their company is to seek out the information, Miller says. “A proactive response is always better than a reactive one.”
After making sure your reporting methods and guidelines are as clear and secure as possible, it’s important to examine your investigative practices.
“There needs to be a fair and equitable process to resolve the issue, or people won’t bother reporting it,” Miller says. All of this helps build trust.
Another way employers can be proactive on workplace toxicity is to evaluate employee behavior regularly.
“Don’t just assess people once a year and be done with it,” Miller says. “Don’t just do one background check when you hire someone, and then never again.”
Evaluating your employees’ behavior regularly can help stop potential toxicity in its tracks.
Importance of inclusion
Miller isn’t the only one who recognizes that employees comprise a huge part of company culture.
Alexandra Schrecengost, founder of Culture With Us, says worker won’t be satisfied with their company’s culture unless they feel included. Culture With Us helps companies create programs that ensure inclusion for all, no matter if they’re working remotely or in the office.
“Culture is the most important thing,” Schrecengost says. “If there’s no culture, people feel like they’re just going to a job. They’re not engaged.”
Since workers don’t typically come out and say when they’re dissatisfied, it’s important for employers to look for warning signs, Schrecengost says. Do employees seem more withdrawn than usual? Less enthusiastic? Are your high-performers suddenly only completing the bare minimum? The root of this lack of motivation is almost always cultural problems.
Challenges of hybrid
So once employers identify the issue, what can they do to fix it? Schrecengost says communication is the most important thing — particularly if some or all of your staff are remote.
“It’s easy for remote employees to get into a rut,” Schrecengost says. “A quick connect can make all the difference.”
Have weekly water cooler chats with employees, just to touch base and let them shoot the breeze with each other. Make sure you’re putting aside some time solely for team-building and socializing, but don’t overdo it. You don’t want to interrupt employees more than necessary, but you don’t want them to feel neglected, either. It’s important to find a happy medium.
If you’re able, organize in-person team-building retreats or activities. Schrecengost and her own employees did an escape room, with both in-person and virtual participants, which was a great way to foster some camaraderie between employees who don’t get to physically see each other. Another simple way to make remote workers feel included is to send them gifts they can use daily, like a journal, a coffee maker or a yoga mat.
Both Miller and Schrecengost acknowledge that the pandemic makes achieving a healthy culture even trickier.
“It’s a challenge, because managers can’t see what’s going on,” Miller says. “Companies need to adjust their conduct policies to take the pandemic and remote work into account.”
For example, Miller says less time in the office together doesn’t mean less harassment. It can still happen virtually. In fact, about one in four workers have experienced some kind of digital harassment during the pandemic. It’s important for employers to make workers aware of what remote conduct is considered unacceptable.
Schrecengost agrees that virtual work makes having a cohesive culture more difficult, but it also presents some unique opportunities.
“Hybrid work helps expand diversity,” she says. “It creates social experiences and allows workers to meet employees around the globe.”
Overall, culture is something we’re growing and evolving with, Schrecengost says. And now is the time for employers to use our new virtual world to their advantage.