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Three-quarters of UK employees have experienced toxic workplace culture

Oak Engage have commissioned a survey of over 2,000 employees to shine a light on the detrimental impact of toxic work environments on employees’ mental and physical health, productivity and overall wellbeing.

A survey of more than 2,000 employees* has revealed that three quarters (75%) of employees say they have experienced a toxic workplace culture, with women and people working in Healthcare most likely to be affected.

The survey revealed that middle managers (33%), other employees (28%) and leadership (28%) were most responsible for toxic workplace cultures.

The survey also uncovered various toxic behaviours experienced by employees, including feeling belittled in front of other employees (56%), bullying (42%), forced to work long hours (32%) and harassment (26%).

Clear communication with your people
Employers need to communicate consistently and openly with their people. It starts from the top and communicators can advise leaders on encouraging a healthy culture at work.

Smriti Joshi, Lead Psychologist at Wysa said:  “Fostering a healthy culture at work allows for vulnerability and creating a safe space for employees. When leadership models authenticity by sharing both their productive strengths, as well as their emotional challenges and imperfections, it paves the way for normalising conversations around mental health concerns. This will reduce the stigma for employees and allow them to feel heard by other employees and managers.”

“Transparency in conversations will reduce scope for misunderstandings and  mistrust around work, the workspace and leadership intentions. This level of openness cultivates a sense of safety within the workplace, thereby enhancing employee presence and productivity.”

Promote equality and diversity
Alarmingly, discrimination is prevalent in the workplace, with employees reporting incidents based on age (24%), gender (21%), race (including colour, nationality, ethnicity or national origin) (14%), pregnancy or maternity leave (11%), disability (10%), sexuality (9%), religion or beliefs (8%), being married or in a civil partnership (5%), and gender reassignment (5%).

Smriti comments: “Diversity and inclusion can bring in far more benefits for an organisation than one can imagine. Embracing inclusivity helps create a safe space for employees and brings in talent from diverse backgrounds with different perspectives, experiences and skills. This culture of diversity and inclusion can lead to enhanced creativity, innovation, and problem-solving within the organisation.”

Flexible working hours
According to the survey, a negative workplace culture hinders employee retention (67%), overall happiness of employees (63%), productivity (54%), employee attendance (43%) and collaboration (39%).

Smriti adds: “When people are struggling, languishing or experiencing mental health concerns, mental health professionals recommend they slow down and pace their day based on their energy levels and needs and only prioritise what is necessary. Not being able to “own” their schedules or not having the provision of flexible schedules from their workplace can add to more stress  and exacerbate their challenges.” 

“This can result in increased absenteeism, or even worse, presenteeism, where employees are physically present but mentally disengaged. In this scenario employees can feel “forced” to come into work even when they are already struggling, leading to poor focus, low productivity and impacting their self confidence. This presents a high risk of their mental wellbeing worsening or even reaching a point of crisis.”

Safe channels for reporting and regular feedback
Employees need to feel safe to report any issues related to toxic workplace behaviours. 

Will Murray, CEO at Oak Engage said: “It’s so important for employees to have their say, provide feedback and raise any issues they may have. This gives a sense of belonging and increases employee engagement with two-way communication, fostering an inclusive work environment and makes your people feel valued, appreciated and heard. Oak allows you to conduct regular surveys and polls which enables you to capture real-time feedback from employees.”

Smriti adds: “Organisations can also help their employees by giving them access to mental health tools that offer a safe outlet to voice their concerns and teach effective coping mechanisms. Utilising analytics to gauge the emotional wellbeing of employees can also inform policy decisions.”

Employee training
The survey revealed that 81% of employees agreed that businesses with toxic workplace cultures have leaders or managers who lack empathy.  

Smriti highlights: “Not everyone has people management experience or skills and sometimes even the kindest people may not be able to express empathy while communicating, especially during  a conflicting situation at work.  By providing regular training focused on understanding and empathy can be transformative. Tailoring this training to meet the specific needs and challenges of your organisation, while keeping diversity in your organisational workforce, can help create a more compassionate, respectful, and inclusive workplace where employees feel valued and supported.”

Supportive leadership
Leadership plays a crucial role in setting the tone of the workplace. Communicators should encourage leaders to lead with empathy and show a genuine interest in the wellbeing of their employees. 

Smriti adds: “The commitment of senior leaders in any organisation is crucial for the success of any mental wellbeing initiatives and training programs. When leaders champion the cause, actively participate and openly discuss their own mental health experiences and challenges they faced during their journey, it resonates with employees.  Such leadership encourages active participation and uptake of these initiatives and training sessions. It helps employees feel motivated to engage and contribute, maintaining a safe, cohesive, inclusive and empathetic culture at work.”

Invest in technology
The survey shows 69% of employees agree that the communication channels and technology they use in their organisation contributes to a positive culture.

Will Murray, CEO at Oak Engage adds: “Our research aims to shine a light on the detrimental impact of toxic workplace culture on the mental and physical wellbeing of employees. The statistics are alarming, highlighting the clear need for businesses to create healthier working environments for their people.” 

“With 69% of employees affirming that their organisation’s communication channels and technology contribute positively to their work culture, it’s critical that these resources are utilised more effectively. Products like Oak Engage’s intranet can promote open dialogue, celebrate achievements and encourage a sense of belonging amongst employees.”

“But we need to remember that technology alone isn’t the solution. It needs to be backed by strong, empathetic leadership and a genuine commitment to prioritising employee wellbeing.”

*Research by Oak Engage – report – website

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