How Come Stress Still Exists in Your Organisation?

 Organisations around the world are experiencing unprecedented levels of burnout, which is creating a significant — and under-recognised — cost to organisations in the form of quiet quitting, reduced innovation, and even spiralling healthcare costs. Many people are quick to point to an increase in overall workload as the culprit. But our research shows that the work itself has not increased so much as the collaborative demands of the work.

By that, we mean the volume and frequency of the collaborations that people have to engage in to complete the work — what we call the collaborative footprint — have risen over the past decade and a half, bringing exponential opportunities for stress. This comes through the increased potential for misunderstanding, misalignment, and imbalances of workload and capacity, among other things. All of this combines to create a battering of everyday stresses.

One form of this stress is the one we call “microstress” — small moments of stress from interactions with colleagues that feel routine but whose cumulative toll is enormous. Our research into high performers has made clear the destructive impact of unchecked microstress, both on individuals and on teams. At the team level, this form of stress propagates through networks and relationships.

It may seem challenging to find ways to reduce stress on teams that are overloaded with deliverables, but leaders have more tools at their disposal than they may realise. Instead of relying only on coaching on individual coping strategies, leaders can look for systemic improvement in the collective working environment. We have identified four overlooked collective strategies that leaders can implement for reducing microstress. Here are the four key questions you need to ask.

Can we reduce structural complexity?

For decades organisations have been building organisational complexity — not only in expanding spans and layers in traditional hierarchical structures (expanding the number of direct reports to reduce layers between the front line and the C-suite), but also in moving to matrixed, networked, or other more agile ways of working. While new these structures can be effective at increasing flexibility, they have also unintentionally introduced complexity by multiplying the required number of interactions per employee. We routinely see organisations adopting advice to move to structures with consistent spans of control (the number of people one is responsible for managing) of eight people. But such efforts to improve efficiency don’t consider the collaborations required to do the work. The collaborative footprint of work — which has risen 50% or more in the past 15 years, according to Rob Cross’s research — is creating exponential opportunities for small stresses to run rampant in any organisation. Unchecked, such complexity, can easily accumulate, triggering a proliferation of microstresses.

 De-layering might seem to be a solution, but in embracing it many organisations have moved to spans of control that really are not feasible given the collaborative intensity of the work. (We’ve even seen some organisations scaling up to spans of control of 12 or more.) Such flat hierarchy can create stress for employees balancing competing objectives of multiple leaders to whom an employee might report, formally or informally.

Removing layers, while appealing on cost analyses and decision-making flows, also often introduces other less visible inefficiencies around work. Many teams are underperforming today due to priority overload where too many uncoordinated asks are coming into the teams from disconnected stakeholders and failures of coordination and prioritization at high levels in the organisation.

One way to fix that is to have explicit processes to remove excessive complexity. It may not be possible to rewind all of these efforts at de-layering organisations, but there are a few simple practices you can employ to root out the potential for unnecessary stress from structural complexity. Most companies have many ways of introducing new complexity, but no systematic continuous effort to remove it. Netflix is one of a handful of firms known for prioritizing identifying and removing unnecessary complexity. As their company policy states, “We work hard to … keep our business as simple as possible … you don’t need policies for everything.” If you must introduce new teams or procedures, consider making them temporary. Create them with an explicit sunset clause, such that it is dissolved when no longer useful, avoiding the gradual ratcheting of complexity over time.

Companies can also control complexity by continually simplifying the product portfolio, which is often a key driver of complexity. Trader Joe’s has a such a policy for controlling the number of SKUs to maintain the number at less than 10% of the industry average. Similarly, LEGO controls the number of colours and brick types in its products, to control manufacturing and logistical complexity.

 Above all, don’t just think about on paper efficiency, think about the collaborative asks being placed on human beings who execute these tasks day in, day out. When we have asked top teams in offsites who in the room wants another email, meeting, or phone call in their lives, we have yet to see a single hand shoot up. The more complex, the more matrixed, the more required communication and connection between employees, the more ad hoc the more microstresses are going to be impeding the effectiveness of work.

Does our workflow make sense?

Organisations have had an unrelenting push into agile, network-centric structures executing through teams that are formed and disbanded at increasingly rapid pace. These efforts are providing speed, but taken to an extreme, they are starting to sacrifice the benefits of scale and efficiency that came from the process revolution. Forming and reforming project teams requires increasing coordination, often relying on the heroics of individual employees to get work done. But that is not a sustainable strategy — and triggers endless opportunities for burnout. “It’s better to rely on a process than just people,” Don Allan, CEO of Stanley Black & Decker observed of one of the key HR lessons of the pandemic, “so you do not create unnecessary stress and even burnout for your organisation.”

The proliferation of technologies in the workplace promises to streamline work and communication, but instead can often became a source of additional complexity, required work and stress. Often, we find organisations using between six and nine means of collaborating to get work done — meetings (virtual and face-to-face), email, instant messaging (such as Slack), team collaborative spaces, phone calls, texting, etc. Inefficiencies invariably creep in as people use these modalities differently — for example, who doesn’t have a colleague who loves to write elaborate emails, hiding what they want in the 10th paragraph! Or at the other extreme, some people use one modality (e.g., IM) to solve problems quickly, but lack of transparency into the interaction creates misalignment with other teammates who have no idea a decision was made over IM.

One way to limit this stress is to agree on collaborative norms. For example, a team might agree to only use bullets on email. And if a longer explanation is required or a disagreement seems to be brewing, the team agrees to meet face to face. We find a simple exercise of asking teams to agree to three positive norms across all modes of collaboration that they want to sustain and three negatives they want to stop (e.g., emailing at night, hitting reply to all on mundane responses, etc.) can generate 8–12% time savings across teams, allowing them more time to focus on the actual work. Technology itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but the culture that springs up around using that technology is where microstress creeps in.

Teams can also limit the set of tools they’re using and bake them into the work in a way which reduces human transaction costs. Focus on maximizing technology that helps eliminate or reduce the costs of mundane tasks, e.g. setting up workflows on Slack or recurring meetings to ensure appropriate check ins don’t slip through the cracks because they’re relying on a team member to set up and coordinate. Encourage the team to invest time in learning the tools and share their productivity tips and tricks. And avoid new tools or multiple tools that inadvertently becoming new sources of work or complexity e.g. through cumbersome sign on procedures or lack of mutual compatibility. Too often teams aren’t consulted about which tools will actually help their productivity.

Has the profusion of teams spiked employees’ microstress?

One of the unintended consequences of organisations relying on teams that are assembled for projects is that teams have less time to build the kind of trust that is essential for efficient collaboration. And that happens repeatedly because many organisations require employees to contribute to five or six team efforts (in addition to their primary team) and have often let these groups grow too large, with the average team size hovering around 15.

To avoid team growth from causing trouble, don’t let “flexible” turn into inefficient. Some organisations trying to attract and retain top talent during the great resignation (and quiet quitting) have implemented talent marketplaces which allow employees to locate projects they would like to work on or roles they want to fill as they chart their own career progression. Though well-intended as a talent retention tool, these shifts create inefficiencies in the network that most organisations do not account for. These programs are well-received by the employees but induce microstresses on both the team the employee is leaving and the one they are ported into, as they suddenly have to redirect and shape key working relationships with new people. One life sciences organisation we worked with modelled the relational cost (the “switching costs” on work relationships and productivity of continually rotating teams) and determined that it didn’t make sense for anyone to switch roles or teams in less than fifteen months because both the team and the rotating employee would fail to optimize the opportunity.

Companies must also ensure that their return-to-office plan doesn’t create hidden stress. About 80% of companies are opting to require employees to be in the office three days a week, according to research from i4cp (the Institute for Corporate Productivity). To soften the blow and ensure flexibility, about half of those companies are allowing employees to pick the days they want to return.

Unfortunately, this well-intentioned effort has also created a new set of microstresses when the people who an organisation needs to work together pick different days. Leaving this up to chance will not only hurt employee morale, but innovation and productivity. To prevent this, some organisations are using a technique called organisational network analysis (a methodology that maps employees’ working relationships) to specify specific groups of employees that need to be in the office at a given interval. Such an analysis can help leaders answer three critical questions in a return-to-office strategy:

  • Who should be brought back together and in what cadence of in-person and virtual interactions?
  • What work should be prioritised in the now scarcer in-person time?
  • How do leaders manage the transition to a hybrid model with the least resistance?
  • This method also helps motivate employees to resume some in-person interactions by showing them how hybrid work can improve their own effectiveness.
  • Have we built a sense of purpose in our employees’ everyday interactions?

Organisations have become adept at working efficiently with the help of technologies — what can’t be swiftly taken care of on a Zoom call these days? But when work revolves around technology use, it can become transactional, missing the opportunity to make sure that employees understand how their work contributes to that purpose.

To avoid that problem, smart companies create opportunities to discuss purpose and how each group contributes to it. It is your role as a leader to shape and communicate the goal that you’re all working towards. Don’t let that get lost in the sea of microstress. With a clear understanding of how they are contributing to purpose, employees can more easily prioritise their work. Discuss what work is essential (and what is not) in contributing to purpose and use this to help your team prioritise and redesign work accordingly.

While many organisations focus on rallying employees around a collective corporate purpose, our research also suggests that purpose can be found in positive everyday interactions with colleagues, too. For example, employees can find meaningful purpose in “co-creating” (involving the aha moments that emerge as people build on each other’s ideas) which helps builds a sense of We are in this together. Small moments of working on something together create an authentic connection, a kind of antidote to the flood of microstresses that otherwise fill employees’ days.

Finally, as leaders, don’t underestimate the impact of your own microstress, both on you and your team. Look for interactions in which you are unintentionally creating microstress for your team — for example being slightly unpredictable in your expectations, failing to communicate deliverables clearly, or continually micromanaging their work. The microstress we create for others inevitably boomerangs back on us. If you recognize where you are the source of unnecessary microstress and try to course-correct, you will not only help reduce stress on your team, but you’ll be also reducing stress on yourself, as well.


Take the first step towards transforming your remote work culture by requesting a free demo assessment from Great People Inside.        

Our team of experts will guide you through the assessment process, showcasing the effectiveness and value of our tailored solutions for your organization.        

During the demo, you will have the opportunity to explore the comprehensive features and functionalities of our psychometric assessments, experiencing firsthand how they can empower your HR strategies and drive positive outcomes. From personality assessments to cognitive abilities and team dynamics evaluations, our assessments provide valuable insights to enhance talent management and foster inclusive remote work environments.        

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to test the power of unbiased HR solutions. Request your free demo assessment from Great People Inside today and embark on a journey of fair and effective talent management in the remote work era.        

Together, we can unlock the true potential of your remote teams and achieve remarkable success. Request a Free Demo Assessment.        

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Positive Work Culture Can Be More Productive: Here’s How

Too many companies bet on having a cut-throat, high-pressure, take-no-prisoners culture to drive their financial success.

But a large and growing body of research on positive organisational psychology demonstrates that not only is a cut-throat environment harmful to productivity over time, but that a positive environment will lead to dramatic benefits for employers, employees, and the bottom line.

Although there’s an assumption that stress and pressure push employees to perform more, better, and faster, what cutthroat organisations fail to recognise is the hidden costs incurred.

First, health care expenditures at high-pressure companies are nearly 50% greater than at other organisations. The American Psychological Association estimates that more than $500 billion is siphoned off from the U.S. economy because of workplace stress, and 550 million workdays are lost each year due to stress on the job. Sixty percent to 80% of workplace accidents are attributed to stress, and it’s estimated that more than 80% of doctor visits are due to stress. Workplace stress has been linked to health problems ranging from metabolic syndrome to cardiovascular disease and mortality.

The stress of belonging to hierarchies itself is linked to disease and death. One study showed that, the lower someone’s rank in a hierarchy, the higher their chances of cardiovascular disease and death from heart attacks. In a large-scale study of over 3,000 employees conducted by Anna Nyberg at the Karolinska Institute, results showed a strong link between leadership behaviour and heart disease in employees. Stress-producing bosses are literally bad for the heart.

Second is the cost of disengagement. While a cut-throat environment and a culture of fear can ensure engagement (and sometimes even excitement) for some time, research suggests that the inevitable stress it creates will likely lead to disengagement over the long term. Engagement in work — which is associated with feeling valued, secure, supported, and respected — is generally negatively associated with a high-stress, cut-throat culture.

And disengagement is costly. In studies by the Queens School of Business and by the Gallup Organisation, disengaged workers had 37% higher absenteeism, 49% more accidents, and 60% more errors and defects. In organisations with low employee engagement scores, they experienced 18% lower productivity, 16% lower profitability, 37% lower job growth, and 65% lower share price over time. Importantly, businesses with highly engaged employees enjoyed 100% more job applications.

Lack of loyalty is a third cost. Research shows that workplace stress leads to an increase of almost 50% in voluntary turnover. People go on the job market, decline promotions, or resign. And the turnover costs associated with recruiting, training, lowered productivity, lost expertise, and so forth, are significant. The Center for American Progress estimates that replacing a single employee costs approximately 20% of that employee’s salary.

For these reasons, many companies have established a wide variety of perks from working from home to office gyms. However, these companies still fail to take into account the research. A Gallup poll showed that, even when workplaces offered benefits such as flextime and work-from-home opportunities, engagement predicted wellbeing above and beyond anything else. Employees prefer workplace wellbeing to material benefits.

A POSITIVE CULTURE fosters Wellbeing

Creating a positive and healthy culture for your team rests on a few major principles. Our own research (see here and here) on the qualities of a positive workplace culture boils down to six essential characteristics:

  • Caring for, being interested in, and maintaining responsibility for colleagues as friends.
  • Providing support for one another, including offering kindness and compassion when others are struggling.
  • Avoiding blame and forgive mistakes.
  • Inspiring one another at work.
  • Emphasizing the meaningfulness of the work.
  • Treating one another with respect, gratitude, trust, and integrity.

As a boss, how can you foster these principles? The research points to four steps to try:

1. Foster social connections

A large number of empirical studies confirm that positive social connections at work produce highly desirable results. For example, people get sick less often, recover twice as fast from surgery, experience less depression, learn faster and remember longer, tolerate pain and discomfort better, display more mental acuity, and perform better on the job. Conversely, research by Sarah Pressman at the University of California, Irvine, found that the probability of dying early is 20% higher for obese people, 30% higher for excessive drinkers, 50% higher for smokers, but a whopping 70% higher for people with poor social relationships. Toxic, stress-filled workplaces affect social relationships and, consequently, life expectancy.

2. Show empathy

As a boss, you have a huge impact on how your employees feel. A telling brain-imaging study found that, when employees recalled a boss that had been unkind or un-empathic, they showed increased activation in areas of the brain associated with avoidance and negative emotion while the opposite was true when they recalled an empathic boss. Moreover, Jane Dutton and her colleagues in the CompassionLab at the University of Michigan suggest that leaders who demonstrate compassion toward employees foster individual and collective resilience in challenging times.

3. Go out of your way to help

Ever had a manager or mentor who took a lot of trouble to help you when he or she did not have to? Chances are you have remained loyal to that person to this day.  Jonathan Haidt at New York University’s Stern School of Business shows in his research that when leaders are not just fair but self-sacrificing, their employees are actually moved and inspired to become more loyal and committed themselves. As a consequence, they are more likely to go out of their way to be helpful and friendly to other employees, thus creating a self-reinforcing cycle. Daan Van Knippenberg of Rotterdam School of Management shows that employees of self-sacrificing leaders are more cooperative because they trust their leaders more. They are also more productive and see their leaders as more effective and charismatic.

4. Encourage people to talk to you

Especially about their problems. Not surprisingly, trusting that the leader has your best interests at heart improves employee performance. Employees feel safe rather than fearful and, as research by Amy Edmondson of Harvard demonstrates in her work on psychological safety, a culture of safety i.e. in which leaders are inclusive, humble, and encourage their staff to speak up or ask for help, leads to better learning and performance outcomes. Rather than creating a culture of fear of negative consequences, feeling safe in the workplace helps encourage the spirit of experimentation so critical for innovation. Kamal Birdi of Sheffield University has shown that empowerment, when coupled with good training and teamwork, leads to superior performance outcomes whereas a range of efficient manufacturing and operations practices do not.

When you know a leader is committed to operating from a set of values based on interpersonal kindness, he or she sets the tone for the entire organisation. In Give and Take, Wharton professor Adam Grant demonstrates that leader kindness and generosity are strong predictors of team and organisational effectiveness. Whereas harsh work climates are linked to poorer employee health, the opposite is true of positive work climates where employees tend to have lower heart rates and blood pressure as well as a stronger immune systems. A positive work climate also leads to a positive workplace culture which, again, boosts commitment, engagement, and performance. Happier employees make for not only a more congenial workplace but for improved customer service. As a consequence, a happy and caring culture at work not only improves employee well-being and productivity but also improved client health outcomes and satisfaction.

In sum, a positive workplace is more successful over time because it increases positive emotions and well-being. This, in turn, improves people’s relationships with each other and amplifies their abilities and their creativity. It buffers against negative experiences such as stress, thus improving employees’ ability to bounce back from challenges and difficulties while bolstering their health. And, it attracts employees, making them more loyal to the leader and to the organisation as well as bringing out their best strengths. When organisations develop positive, virtuous cultures they achieve significantly higher levels of organisational effectiveness — including financial performance, customer satisfaction, productivity, and employee engagement.


Take the first step towards transforming your remote work culture by requesting a free demo assessment from Great People Inside.

Our team of experts will guide you through the assessment process, showcasing the effectiveness and value of our tailored solutions for your organization.

During the demo, you will have the opportunity to explore the comprehensive features and functionalities of our psychometric assessments, experiencing firsthand how they can empower your HR strategies and drive positive outcomes. From personality assessments to cognitive abilities and team dynamics evaluations, our assessments provide valuable insights to enhance talent management and foster inclusive remote work environments.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to test the power of unbiased HR solutions. Request your free demo assessment from Great People Inside today and embark on a journey of fair and effective talent management in the remote work era.

Together, we can unlock the true potential of your remote teams and achieve remarkable success.Request a Free Demo Assessment.

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Can Hybrid Work Become Toxic?

Toxicity at work — no matter where or how we do our jobs — is caused by a range of factors. It is important to recognize that some aspects of hybrid and remote work make toxicity more likely to occur.

First, though, let’s quickly outline what “toxic” actually means. It doesn’t refer to the misunderstandings, tensions, and conflicts that are a natural (and needed) part of any healthy organization. Nor does it refer to a one-off incident or a coworker who is a jerk every now and again. These kinds of irritations, for the most part, are best thought of as normal parts of (working) life.

So, what actually is considered toxic? A study by Donald Sull and his colleagues identified five attributes of a toxic culture: disrespectful, noninclusive, unethical, cutthroat, and abusive.

Toxicity carries a sense of inescapability, which is part of what makes it so painful to experience at work.

Undeniably negative as these attributes are, there is no absolute, uniformly accepted scale against which we can measure any of them — all five are subjective, anchored in each person’s experience. Making matters more complicated, a hybrid environment by definition means that employees are experiencing their work in very different contexts — some face-to-face, others remote — and those may vary by the day. As a result, hybrid workspaces aren’t uniform; some people may experience a hybrid environment as toxic while others do not. That does not make a toxic hybrid environment any less painful or damaging to those who experience it as such. However, it does mean that some behaviours may be toxic even as a result of well-meaning — or at least not ill-meaning — actions.

Remoteness changes dynamics

Working hybrid means that, compared with full-time in-office work, more communication will take place via technologies like email, text, phone, or video. One of the early findings in research on the effects of technology-mediated communication was that people become more disinhibited and exhibit less self-monitoring and self-control when communicating through technology. In other words, when we talk to one another electronically, we are more likely to blurt out things that might be hurtful. Think about heated exchanges you’ve had with colleagues both in person and electronically — chances are, you were much more tempted to try to slip in a sharp quip in an email than face-to-face.

This dynamic is not (necessarily) about being a nasty person. We all have moments of anger, frustration, or passion, and if handled badly, those feelings have the potential to turn toxic.

In face-to-face interactions, though, the human on the other side of the conversation is far more salient to us, leading most of us to recognize the potential costs of a less-careful word and bite our tongues. The point isn’t that we shouldn’t speak our minds (if we feel that we can’t, that’s bad for psychological safety), but that we should choose our words well. While the reduced self-monitoring and self-control that come with remote interactions do not necessarily cause toxicity, they certainly make it more likely for disrespectful or abusive (two of Sull’s toxicity characteristics) comments to come out.

Hybridity is fundamentally imbalanced

Hybrid also means different people are working in different contexts. Some may be at home, while others are in the office — and those locations have undeniable differences. People in the office have greater access to resources and higher visibility, often leading to more credit and quicker promotion as a result. Remote workers, meanwhile, often feel left out and shunned. Negative as these effects may be, they are not strictly toxic if everyone is equally disadvantaged at some point. The problem is when some people (likely remote/hybrid workers) feel consistently excluded — as was the experience of one manager I recently worked with.

Company policy was to allow all employees to work remotely two days a week, and the manager had allowed her team members to choose those days. She quickly discovered her team had effectively split on the basis of different (but consistent) patterns of which days people chose to come into the office. Compounding the issue, team members’ remote-work choices were heavily driven by commutes and children’s school schedules, which aligned them with demographic differences in the team. Problems arose when some team members felt they were being excluded from the discussions and meetings that occurred on the in-office days of the other group. The split led to interpersonal tensions and conflict, people feeling excluded and disrespected (two toxicity characteristics), and it ultimately resulted in turnover.

Hybridity can reduce cohesion and trust

Research shows that lack of close contact reduces connection and trust, which are key elements of a healthy culture. During the pandemic, I spoke to many employees who had started new jobs remotely, and I consistently heard that they hadn’t gotten to know their colleagues and felt disconnected. Research from Microsoft found remote working leads employees to have smaller, less-well-developed networks.

Remote (and by extension hybrid) working does not necessarily mean organizations will have a weak or inconsistent culture. Take Linux as an example. Its open-source software development from day one has been carried out by a loosely structured community of developers who have never met in person, yet extensive research on the group has found it has strong social norms governing behavior. However, it is hard to deny that the group’s structure (or lack thereof) removes or impedes many of the mechanisms we traditionally use to establish, transmit, and maintain culture. Note that Linux started with a remote, dispersed culture. While many companies have embraced remote and hybrid since the pandemic started, their cultures were already established and then adjusted to handle the crisis.

Culture is so important because it is the compass organizations use to eschew cutthroat and, in more extreme cases, unethical behavior. To be clear, hybridity does not inherently lead people to be more cutthroat or unethical (though one might argue the sense of distance between people makes them less aware of the negative ramifications of their actions). However, in every social system we find a range of behaviors, and culture typically helps us rein in the negative ones. On top of that, while people are less likely to exhibit toxic behaviors toward those they feel close and connected to, the distance that a remote/hybrid environment brings makes us more likely to view some of our colleagues not as “us” but as “them” — and it’s much easier to act poorly toward “them.”

Hybridity makes it hard to resolve issues

There’s one more key challenge in remote and hybrid work: We have fewer face-to-face interactions with colleagues, and research shows that it is harder to resolve disputes (like those around toxic behaviors) virtually. Think about trying to address a sensitive topic over Zoom with someone and worrying about everything from where they’re looking to how fast they reply. Are they giving me their full attention? Am I sure my sincerity is coming through over video? Was their slow response because they disagreed or are just lagging?

When we’re face-to-face, we have more interpersonal tools at our disposal. We have better data, as we can more easily read facial expressions and can see off-camera behaviors. We also have better tools, as face-to-face interactions allow us to synchronously work together to resolve differences. And the propinquity effect (essentially, we like people we have more exposure to) means all of this happens from a starting point of a closer relationship.

One other issue it’s important to mention is microaggressions, which some people have argued happen less often in remote settings because we’re around one another less. However, I would caution leaders and employees alike to stay vigilant for signs of microaggressions (often reflected in toxic behaviors like noninclusion) in hybrid settings. While these settings may have fewer touchpoints where microaggressions can occur, they do not remove the underpinnings of why microaggressions happen — nor do they prevent them from coming out in other outlets, such as Slack, messaging apps, or videoconferencing. In effect, hybrid work can obscure the problem without resolving it.

Educate employees

The first step toward avoiding toxic behavior in hybrid teams is to help people learn how it can arise. You may think, “Of course they know not to be disrespectful, abusive, or noninclusive,” but that’s not the issue. Sit down with your employees and have a conversation about how these outcomes can happen as unintended consequences of hybrid work arrangements and decisions. Remind them that toxicity is about behavior — and that what matters isn’t what your intention was but how others perceive your actions. A good starting point is to ask employees to reflect on hybrid work behaviors they may have experienced as toxic (for example, feeling routinely excluded from a social group or reading comments on Slack that they found abusive or disrespectful). The goal of this step is not to identify particular issues or point fingers but rather to increase employees’ self-awareness and the number of eyes out there looking for toxic behaviors or their antecedents.

Lay a foundation

As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” One of the most effective tools you can put in place is a culture with built-in antibodies against toxic behaviors. In particular, focus on promoting empathy and psychological safety. A culture with a core of empathy encourages employees to consider the impact of their actions on their colleagues, increasing the likelihood that employees catch themselves before behaving in a way another might find troubling. In turn, a culture that includes psychological safety is critical for those cases that empathy doesn’t prevent. We don’t always recognize the impact of our actions, and building psychological safety ensures that employees can speak up about the behaviors they perceive as toxic. Research has provided excellent practical advice for promoting both empathy and psychological safety.

Have ongoing conversations

Because the experience of hybrid work is different among employees and dynamic over time (someone may be in the office today, surrounded by colleagues, and at home alone tomorrow), toxicity is a moving target. The only truly effective way to manage such dynamism is with an ongoing process — and the cornerstone is repeated, ongoing conversations. I encourage hybrid teams and organizations to have periodic check-ins where everyone is encouraged to raise concerns or flag toxic experiences. There is no hard-and-fast rule for frequency, as it depends on how dynamic the organization’s hybrid environment is: The more and faster it changes, the more frequent those conversations should be. As a starting point, aim for a monthly check-in and adjust as needed. Make sure the psychological safety foundation is in place if you want people to share honestly, and treat these conversations as more than a superficial box-ticking exercise.

Intervene quickly

Even with a good understanding of the issues, a positive cultural foundation in place, and ongoing discussions, hybrid working may still lead to behaviors that your employees find toxic. A big problem with toxic environments is that they tend to get worse: Toxic behaviors either feed on themselves, breeding more toxicity, or cause disgruntled employees to disengage, creating new tensions due to workloads needing to be redistributed. To break the cycle, you need to not only keep an eye out for toxic behaviors but also be ready to move fast when you see them, help all parties engage in a dialogue, and work to reach a mutually acceptable solution.

Let’s say you notice a situation like that of the manager whose team was split over their WFH days. In a case like that, call a team meeting and share your concerns of how the situation might feel exclusionary. It may turn out your concerns aren’t shared — but you’re still creating buy-in and ownership of the issue, making it easier to address later if it does become a problem. If, however, you’ve recognized a budding concern for some of your team members, you have a forum to discuss and collectively resolve it before it gets too far along.

Toxicity can be an unfortunate reality of some work environments. While hybrid work does not necessarily cause toxicity any more than in-person work does, it is important to recognize that hybrid introduces some different mechanisms through which toxicity may arise. Keeping these in mind can help leaders recognize, guard against, and eliminate toxicity when it occurs — or ideally before.


Take the first step towards transforming your remote work culture by requesting a free demo assessment from Great People Inside.

Our team of experts will guide you through the assessment process, showcasing the effectiveness and value of our tailored solutions for your organization.

During the demo, you will have the opportunity to explore the comprehensive features and functionalities of our psychometric assessments, experiencing firsthand how they can empower your HR strategies and drive positive outcomes. From personality assessments to cognitive abilities and team dynamics evaluations, our assessments provide valuable insights to enhance talent management and foster inclusive remote work environments.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to test the power of unbiased HR solutions. Request your free demo assessment from Great People Inside today and embark on a journey of fair and effective talent management in the remote work era.

Together, we can unlock the true potential of your remote teams and achieve remarkable success.Request a Free Demo Assessment.

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