With the Great Return comes a great opportunity to reimagine and reset company culture. As ambassadors of healthy cultures, it’s the job of HR and compliance to put the guardrails in place to keep employees free from harassment and toxicity at work—a basic requirement of a healthy, thriving culture. But what does this look like in a post-pandemic world as many companies embrace hybrid work environments?
“Before the pandemic, a lot of culture centered on getting work done. But over the past 15 months, we focused on workers first, which stressed some cultures,” according to Bill Schaninger, a senior partner at McKinsey & Company and expert on culture. “Now we’re asking what a return to the workplace looks like.”
One thing is certain: there is no returning to normal. Going forward requires leaders to reexamine the rule book and evolve their compliance and ethics programs to meet the needs of a hybrid playing field and higher employee expectations. For some, this creates a clean slate—an opportunity to build healthy cultures through more proactive and preventive compliance and ethics measures.
“This is an unbelievable opportunity to remake culture. It’s rare in a leader’s lifetime to have such a clean drop for reshaping how you run the place,” stated Schaninger.
Leaders must be intentional about keeping a pulse on workplace culture
Employees expect leaders to support and safeguard their physical and psychological wellbeing at a whole new level. A good paycheck is not enough. Fairness and equity have taken front-row seats. This is evidenced by an analysis of 1.4 million reviews on Glassdoor that found a toxic workplace culture is 10 times more likely to contribute to an employee leaving than compensation. On the flip side, companies with healthy cultures have three times greater total returns to shareholders.
To compound this, the shift to hybrid work necessitates heightened vigilance in virtual communication channels. According to 2021’s State of Workplace Harassment report, 38% of 800+ full-time employees polled in the US experienced harassment through email, video conferencing, chat apps, or phone. And, 24% of American employees surveyed believe harassment continues or worsens on remote channels. To make matters worse, harmful behavior often goes unreported. Between the privacy of these channels and the lack of reporting, HR and compliance can be left in the dark.
Conducting an audit of current policies through a “proactive versus reactive” lens, can be a helpful exercise as leaders look to meet the challenges of balancing hybrid and remote workers. For instance, how effective are policies like zero tolerance at preventing harmful behavior?
Zero Tolerance: A Reactive Strategy?
When workplace toxicity goes too far, companies often resort to zero tolerance. While zero tolerance can be one component of a safe workplace, it’s not a proactive strategy. It’s a rearview mirror approach to ethics and compliance because harassment often goes unreported until it’s too late.
Activision Blizzard is an example of a company whose toxicity reached a breaking point. The Call of Duty and World of Warcraft gaming company faces numerous allegations of sexual harassment, workplace toxicity, and unequal pay. In fact, the state of California filed a lawsuit in August 2021 accusing the gaming company of fostering a “frat boy” culture. To quell the negative media, Activision Blizzard announced a zero tolerance policy in October 2021.
The Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) is yet another case of workplace toxicity gone too far. The Los Angeles Times reported that female firefighters refused to report harassment out of fear of retaliation. One female fire commissioner testified, “The women are not safe to speak. They cannot talk about…what has happened to them. It is not safe to do that.” Last October, female firefighters called for the resignation of Chief Ralph Terrazas and the first-ever female fire chief, Kristin Crowley, was named. What was the first thing she did? Reinforce a zero tolerance policy, stating, “I am going to focus on ensuring that our work environment has zero tolerance—and I mean zero tolerance—for harassment, hazing, discrimination.”
While zero tolerance may be necessary in some cases, it’s not enough because it relies on a hindsight view of the transgression. The goal should be to never trigger zero tolerance.
3 Ways to Create a Healthy Hybrid Culture with Proactive Ethics & Compliance
Companies now have the tools at their disposal to prevent harm from happening in the first place by embracing proactive and preventative training and technology measures. Here are three considerations to get leaders thinking proactively:
1. Training: Think all the time, not some of the time
Too often training is done to check a box on an annual or quarterly basis. Now is the time to think out of the box about how to make compliance and ethics training relevant and consistent in a post-pandemic workplace. Do employees know how to recognize inappropriate behavior in virtual communication channels? Is there complete clarity around zero tolerance (i.e. what type of behavior will trigger it and what action will be taken)? Is training dynamic and evolving with the social dynamics of the workplace, or are pre-pandemic stock videos still the go-to?
2. Data & analytics: A healthy culture is a data-driven culture
Leaders are under pressure to prove the efficacy of their compliance and ethics programs, and that means data and analytics. Of course analytics are paramount to DE&I efforts, but what about emerging forms of data and analytics that can help leaders gauge the health of how employees communicate with each other? With the prevalence of virtual channels comes the need for monitoring—and no, not “Big Brother” type monitoring, but rather metrics that help leaders keep a proactive pulse on company culture by informing them if potentially harmful, harassing, or bullying words are being used. This is one measure that helps leaders communicate and reinforce policies to prevent harm from going further. Every executive has metrics around the financial health of their company. Shouldn’t they also know the health of their culture?
3. Mindset: Think foresight & insight, not hindsight
Half the battle of rising to post-Covid workplace challenges is related to mindset. Moving forward requires leaving legacy thinking and policies behind. Consider an audit of existing compliance and ethics policies and methodologies. Are they forward-thinking, or reactive? Are they relevant to hybrid work, or centered around in-office behaviors? Steve Scott, Global Head of Workforce Management and Analytics at Standard Chartered Bank, shared in a recent myHRfuture podcast how his organization is embarking on an “exciting transformational journey” that will enable them to “pivot away from focusing only on the hindsight reporting” with insight and analytics: “I talk about the hindsight, insight, foresight model that we are trying to build. I don’t think we are unique at Standard Chartered that a lot of our time is occupied thinking about the future of work and the re-imagination of work.”
For employees and employers alike, the pandemic has been a time of great reflection. Now it’s time to put that reflection into action. To reshape compliance and ethics programs to evolve with a new workplace and employee expectations around fairness and equity. Some hindsight strategies like zero tolerance might be necessary, but consider, do you have the right balance of hindsight, foresight, and insight? Go ahead, press the reset button on your company culture and feel empowered to think proactively as true ambassadors of your company’s culture.