Leadership

The 8 Irrefutable Signs of a Toxic Hybrid Workplace

toxic hybrid workplace

It’s a reality many company leaders are grappling with today: Work may never look the same as it did in pre-pandemic times. Too many leaders are using this difference to avoid building careful plans for the next step, and this is creating toxic hybrid workplaces.

With 66% of businesses considering redesigning their physical office spaces to accommodate hybrid work, it’s far from a fringe trend. But while hybrid workplaces offer their advantages — particularly as the possibility of future lockdowns loom — they come with some unique challenges, too. And, unattended to, these can breed a toxic working environment. Below, here are eight signs you’re in one.

1. Your company is “winging” its hybrid plan. 

While it’s true there aren’t many long-established blueprints for this working model, taking a haphazard stab at a hybrid workforce will still read accordingly. 

“I believe winging it isn’t an option for developing a high-functioning and fair hybrid workforce,” Edward Mellett, founder of WikiJob, said. “If a company doesn’t seem devoted to integrating remote and hybrid teams, building a hybrid work culture, or treating hybrid and in-office workers equally, it’s doubtful that remote workers will be treated well.”

A clear, detailed plan is needed, with the time to implement it. And employees should ideally be made a part of devising that plan, career coach Kyle Elliott advised.

“Ensure you gain employee buy-in through transition periods,” Elliott said. “One way to do this is to set up employee advisory committees where staff across departments come together to provide insights and feedback on organizational initiatives. This ensures executives receive a holistic view of the employee experience before implementing changes.”

2. Company policy on when and where work is done seems to change weekly.

Yes, life under COVID means the future continues to change constantly. No, that isn’t a built-in excuse to waffle as a company, rather than outlining a fixed strategy and following it as best you can.

“Too much change to how the company operates can cause a lot of anxiety and stress for employees,” Stefan Chekanov, CEO of Brosix, said. “They want a consistent, comfortable setting that allows them to do their work and be successful. Do not change things too often, or it could cause a toxic culture within your company.”

3. Meetings clearly favor those in the room.

In-the-room preference when it comes to meetings can take a few different forms. One of them, according to Amber Morland, CEO and Founder of WinCope, is unpredictable meeting times.

“Companies that allow employees to work remotely must take into account the various time zones in which they are located and attempt to organize essential meetings and events at times that are convenient for all,” Morland said. “Managers who schedule meetings at 5 a.m. or 8 p.m. are disregarding their remote employees’ time and contributions.”

“Tech difficulties” also shouldn’t be used as an excuse to keep remote workers from equally participating in meetings, Sarah Parsons, founder of Sarah Parsons Media, said.

“Zoom can be a pain,” Parsons said. “But, by the same token, it has carried us through a global pandemic and enabled us to connect and work together even when we’re struggling. As a leader, it is incumbent upon us to really listen through the Zoom fatigue and technical difficulties that may occur.”

4. Systems for praise center those physically present, too.

Be it on Slack or over Zoom, your company likely adopted ways of virtually recognizing and rewarding employees during the pandemic. If those systems are immediately being shelved now that some workers are back in the office, it’s a sign of uneven priorities.

“Celebratory actions to demonstrate appreciation for employees and make them feel valued are an important aspect of organizational culture. If these events are solely held in the office and no purposeful attempts are made to make those who work remotely feel included, this is a red flag,” Rameez Usmani of the Code Signing Store said. “Praise and encouragement can be shared with the entire organization through collaboration platforms, and there are also other simple events and activities that can be completed virtually.”

5. Leadership assumes that, because they can’t see burnout, it isn’t happening.

Especially for companies that now have a large faction of permanent WFH workers, chugging along with the assumption that burnout is only a problem if outright seen or stated won’t cut it.

“Employees may not appear overwhelmed – and if they work from home, you wouldn’t notice anyhow,” Alec Pow, CEO at The Pricer, said. “They’ve become so accustomed to it after a pandemic year that they don’t even notice the stress and burnout. However, more than a third of employees think their workplace is unhealthy because of exhaustion. And employees who are burned out are less concerned about their work, their coworkers and their firm.”

6. Communication is sloppy and siloed.

Ensuring all employees, no matter where they’re based, feel equally looped in can be one of the more pressing challenges of avoiding a toxic hybrid workplace, Chris Taylor, Marketing Director at Profit Guru, said. 

“In hybrid or remote work environments, challenges begin when leaders lack – or fail to execute – a communication strategy,” Taylor said. “When employees are unaware of what is occurring, they feel excluded, and they frequently use gossip, preconceptions, and misinformation to fill vacancies.”

And when one half of a hybrid workforce feels that they, in particular, are submitted to poor communication practices, that can breed further toxicity. 

“A lack of communication with remote workers (can) lead to a situation where in-office workers have more resources and information,” Jon Hill, CEO of the Energists, said. “This can lead to resentment and feelings of isolation in the remote workers and can cause disparities in productivity, since in-office workers who have better information are better able to do their jobs.”

7. The message is clearly sent that getting promoted means being at the office.

If the company acts like career laddering is harder to map out for remote workers than it is for those in the office, that’s a problem, Nicole Graham, a coach at Womenio, said.

“Not having a career path for remote employees is one of the red flags that I suggest employees and job seekers should look out for when spotting a toxic hybrid workplace,” Graham said. “When your hybrid workplace reserves opportunities for in-office workers to learn and grow, it’s a sign that your hybrid workplace doesn’t appreciate remote workers or consider them as part of the company’s more significant strategic strategy.”

One way to spot this? Paying attention to how many senior leaders actually work from home, Ewelina Melon, Head of People at Tidio, advised.

Suspicion is valid when only lower or mid-level employees are free to work remotely and the leadership is exclusively in the office,” Melon said. “This might be a sign that the workplace is not as hybrid as it claims to be.”

8. Compensation is tied to where you work from.

Earlier this month, Google made headlines for announcing that workers who choose to remain remote will see as much as 25% of their salary cut. It’s a move other large tech companies, like Facebook and Twitter, have made in recent months, too. And it’s an incredibly toxic one, Jesse Thé, CEO of Tauria, said.

“The most significant sign of a toxic hybrid workplace that you should immediately consider running away from is when remote employees are financially and professionally penalized for deciding to work from home,” Thé said. “Working remotely should be equally perceived as working from the office, since people at home can properly carry out the same amount of work or even more as those who are physically present in a building; therefore, they shouldn’t be paid less.”

The best thing employers can do, she added, is tie compensation to performance alone.

“Value employees equally no matter where they decide to work from, as long as they’re delivering results,” she said.


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About the Author

As a writer, Liv McConnell is focused on driving conversations around workplace equity and the right we should all have to careers that see and support our humanity. Additionally, she writes on topics in the reproductive justice space and is training to become a doula.