Chief Strategy Officer, SEI Boston.
It’s no secret that Covid-19 has radically changed our entire world—and shifts within the world of work have led to increased discussion and openness about “the workplace.” Employees are now more empowered than ever to reflect on and share personal experiences about their working environment, and they are increasingly willing to simply move on to a new job if they’re dissatisfied in their current positions. Right now, we’re truly in an employees' marketplace.
Remote work has also yielded new workplace issues that contribute to problematic work environments. Unfortunately, working remotely often causes these issues to go undetected. But these issues, which may seem unimportant at first glance, are actually key contributors to employee resignation.
The Great Resignation is, in part, caused by a "Great Revelation" for employees: They don’t need to put up with a job that doesn’t meet their needs. The truth is that it’s the simple things driving employees away. Employers must continue to look for and cut out workplace toxicity as they would have or should have when in person. Why? Not only to retain staff in a post-Covid world of work but to do the right thing. Many companies have lost their beacon given this unfortunate thought basis, “Well they are home, so it shouldn’t matter.”
What Does 'Toxic' Mean For The Workplace?
“Toxic” workplaces aren’t just about mean bosses, unpleasant colleagues or unfair treatment (although they can certainly include these things). There are other elements—often quite simple elements, in fact—that contribute to a dissatisfying work environment in any setup, in-person, hybrid and/or remote. The location simply doesn’t matter. As employees and employers alike are realizing, remote work environments can be no less toxic than the office but in unique and often unexpected ways.
In short, a toxic workplace is any environment that promotes workplace culture, behaviors and expectations that first and foremost impact the emotional well-being of your employees—in addition to the ultimate end result, driving employees to resign.
I fully acknowledge that toxic is a strong word. However, I’ve chosen this word very deliberately because it speaks to the hidden factors slipping past employers’ radars that are eroding their teams' engagement, commitment and enjoyment. Yes, enjoyment.
The small, seemingly insignificant toxicities highlighted in this article are prevalent across all industries, and they’ve played a key role in many resignation decisions. Organizations, C-suites and managers that ignore them will surely see their employees soundly ask for “a quick catch up on the calendar on a Friday afternoon.” We all know that those meeting requests usually end with, “I am leaving.”
Reasons Your Remote Workplace Might Be Toxic
Inability To Provide Employees With In-Person Options
Lots of employees enjoy working from home, but not everyone does and not everyone can. Many employees miss the separation between home and work—they might crave an office space that promotes focus and collaboration, or they may struggle to balance at-home responsibilities like parenthood with work-related tasks.
When organizations don’t supply workers with the option (keyword, option) of a physical workspace, employees may feel unsatisfied, unsupported and unproductive. And with no in-person space to share these frustrations, employee struggles related to working from home may go completely undetected.
Lack Of Relationship-Building Opportunities
Remote work can be isolating, and many companies neglect relationship-building in the remote workspace. Also, when companies go remote, tenured workers often have a stronger network of work relationships than new workers, causing new employees to feel even more out of place.
A lack of workplace relationships could even make newly remote employees feel they’ve been overlooked for promotion opportunities, since new workers may not have the same connections with co-workers and managers as previously in-person employees do.
Lack Of Recognition And Reward
Work anniversaries, employee wins and simple kudos/shoutouts are evident in in-person workspaces. But in remote settings, opportunities for recognition and reward often go unnoticed. When everyone’s running on separate treadmills, it’s hard to know when someone goes the extra mile or simply finishes the mile.
Many companies have moved away from celebrating employees, which is a big deal for literally anyone anywhere. Even small moments of acknowledgment make employees feel valued, validated and appreciated—an essential truth many employers just don’t realize.
Lack Of Community Support
By the very nature of remote work, organizations have moved away from supporting the local community. Organizations used to play a critical role in keeping the local economy thriving; just think of all the coffee runs you used to make to your favorite cafe by the office and the trickle-down effect that had.
With so much focus on ourselves, the workplace and how everything will get done, we’ve forgotten about the people around us. Along with financial support, businesses in close physical proximity to one another share a feeling of community, connectivity and a greater sense of belonging—all of which have been lost with the rise of remote work.
Why Does Addressing Toxic Environments Matter?
Of course, no employer actively wants to create a toxic work environment. However, these small toxicities slip between the cracks and cause ripple effects that go far beyond a single company.
We give too much press to this “open market” for job hunting. Sure, we may be in an employee's job market, but that doesn’t mean employees want to look for new jobs all the time. People don’t want to job hunt—in fact, most people want to commit.
Employees will stay when—and where—they want to stay. Companies that fix these simple toxic slip-ups will retain staff, boost employee morale and drive results. When organizations support a positive work environment, employees can become the involved and productive team players they want to be and support the foundation for better business.
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