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Remote Working Risks Increasing Toxic Cultures

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In a study conducted in May 2021 of 133 US companies, 29% of the respondents said that team spirit and working relationships have suffered from working remotely, with 11% leaving or planning to leave because the company culture has become toxic. Toxic cultures result in demotivated and disengaged employees and have a significant negative impact on organizational outcomes.

The study was conducted by Wildgoose - a team building events company. It asked them if their employer had successfully adapted company culture to remote working, as well as which elements of the culture had suffered and what they wanted from a hybrid working future.

Key findings from the survey include:

Respondents identify problems with leadership, organizational goals and connecting with colleagues. With 57% of employees expecting to continue either fully remote or hybrid-remote working, the study authors maintain that it is essential that companies address employee concerns to stop company culture becoming a much bigger issue.

33% of employees surveyed state that the opportunity to continue flexible or hybrid working is important to them. Respondents also identified a healthy work/life balance (74%), competitive pay (55%) and opportunities for personal development (36%) as important factors in their decision to remain or leave their employment .

Elements employees prioritizeRespondents identified that the aspects of company culture that have suffered most with remote working include team spirit (29%), teamwork and colleague support (28%), and objectives and learning for both individuals and the organization (20%).

Commenting on the results, Kate Palmer, director of HR advice and consultancy at Peninsula, said:

A company culture takes time and effort to cultivate and maintain. The reality of the pandemic is that, for a prolonged period, regular day-to-day operations were put to one side. Business owners and HR departments were putting all resources into keeping the business going or grappling with new rules continually emerging.

Bad company culture can make the workforce feel isolated and unsupported, and can result in a disconnect to the organization. Attitudes and behaviors of managers towards employees and their individual circumstances make a real difference, regardless of work location. Environments in which employees are scared to ask for help, raise a concern or are disproportionately chastised will not foster loyalty or engagement.

Deanna deBara posted on the Trello blog about Signs of a Toxic Work Culture—and How to Correct Them. She lists five indicators of toxic culture and provides advice on how to avoid them:

  • Employees are in constant conflict
  • Results are valued more than people
  • A lack of psychological safety
  • Toxic employees
  • Toxic leadership

She quotes Scott Dust, PhD, professor of management at Miami University in Ohio, who points out that

Organizations tend to wait until things get bad to make corrections—but by then, it’s too late. Organizations need to be proactive in managing their culture, because it takes a significant amount of time and resources to fix something that’s broken.

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Community comments

  • That's not what it means to be toxic

    by Menito Bussolini,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    To be toxic means to directly harm other employees and their work, or to knowingly introduce flaws in the system. This is not what remote work does at all. If you find that your employees are disengaged, either start paying them more or fire them, or learn to live with the fact that this is the new baseline. It has nothing to do with anyone being toxic.

    In fact, individually targted toxic behaviors are almost completely eliminated by remote work.

  • So many ways to read the data

    by Pavel Grushetzky,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    E.g. "29% of the respondents said that team spirit and working relationships have suffered from working remotely".

    The study page states

    Nearly two in five (18%) employees in the US believe that their company culture has gotten worse over the last year

    When our survey respondents stated their company’s culture has gotten worse, we asked them which aspects in particular have been affected

    Then the "loss of team spirit" is mentioned as a top aspect with ~29% share.

    That looks like ~29% of 18%, which translates to ~5% of all respondents.

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