The coronavirus pandemic has led to job loss for more than one out of every ten Americans. New data from the post-outbreak workforce suggests that those lucky enough to still have a job are experiencing less trust, empathy, and respect in their reconfigured workplaces.
In March, we released Emtrain’s Workplace Culture Report 2020, which provides data-driven insights into workplace culture failures. We were curious to see how our benchmark data on workplace culture had changed in the weeks since March 15th, when companies started adjusting to the pandemic. We compared responses from over 100,000 employees collected in the twelve months before March 15th, 2020, with approximately 20,000 employee responses gathered since.
What We Found
Many of our indicators of cultural health remained stable in the pre and post-pandemic data. Others were more volatile, but as the weeks have progressed data has smoothed out to align with pre-pandemic levels. Several indicators show a significant change from pre-pandemic averages fifteen weeks after the start of work from home and other adjustments.
What Stands Out in the New Findings
A lack of strong norms for the “new normal”
Post-pandemic, we see a 10% decline in the number of employees who see “well-understood norms of behavior that govern how people treat each other.” That’s a big drop in one of the most significant indicators of healthy culture in our benchmark. Businesses that are just biding their time until things return to normal may be leaving employees without a clear idea of “how we do things around here” now that everyone’s “here” is different. Consequently, we see an 11% drop in employees who say that their “workplace culture is healthy.” That’s a clear signal that it’s time to adapt or develop norms and practices for the way we’re working.
Employees who are less likely to speak up
Power dynamics in the workplace can keep employees from speaking up when they experience disrespectful behavior. We saw the biggest swing in the post-March 15 data on two indicators that measure employees’ comfort when speaking up if managers make inappropriate requests. We saw a 15% drop in employee likelihood to say “no” to inappropriate requests, and a 20% drop in employee belief that managers understand it’s hard for them to say ‘no.’ Two of our indicators measure the extent to which employees feel comfortable saying “no.” When managers aren’t getting upward feedback, they’re likely to double-down on behaviors that decrease respect.
Increased in-group/out-group tensions
The number of employees who have had to minimize their personal identity to fit in at work has increased by 7% since the outbreak. At the same time, the number who report strong and respectful relationships across age groups has decreased by 7%. These two changes suggest in-group/out-group tensions are being amplified. The increase of physical distancing and growing public acknowledgment of systemic racial inequality seem likely contributors to these changes. Workplace culture leaders should pay attention to uniting workers around shared goals as well as demonstrating respect and appreciation for diverse talent.
What HR Leaders Can Do
Ask questions and listen to your employees. Don’t be satisfied with assumptions based on what you see in your day to day interactions. Explicitly ask your workforce questions and gather data, either in conversations or using survey tools. Asking casual questions of concern like “How are you doing?” or “Are you okay?” might not dive deep enough into the real issues and what employees are experiencing on a day to day basis. Instead, questions such as, “What are your concerns?,” “What is getting in the way of you being effective?,” and “What is your work from home situation like?” might get you a more objective view of what your employees are experiencing.
Download the Fact Sheet: New Findings on Workplace Culture During Pandemic to learn more about Emtrain’s findings.