Workplace Culture Takes a Hit in 2023

It’s no secret that September 2022 to September 2023 has been rough. Massive layoffs in all industries. Shrinking budgets and scrutiny on any and all budget requests to support a good employee experience. Well… Emtrain’s 2023 Workplace Culture Report is the evidence that it’s been a tough year and the toughness had a direct result on workplace culture.

As a reminder, Emtrain has a framework of Workplace Social Indicators to help evaluate and predict the social dynamics within teams. We embed probing questions within our content to flesh out the employee actions that are relevant to the various Workplace Social Indicators. As employees finish our courses, Emtrain collects millions of data points about employee actions and employee perceptions that are happening in real time.

Emtrain published this year’s report this week. In the report, which is available for download here, Emtrain looked at how more than one million employees in the last three years felt about 16 essential Workplace Social Indicators. These indicators represent skills needed to generate respect, inclusion, belonging, and ethics within an organization. In almost every case, employee sentiment about these skills dropped.

For example: the number of employees who had positive responses to questions about how their organization handled cultivating authenticity dropped 5.14%. There were also significant drops in the number of employees who thought their company did a good job in advancing allyship (down 4.21%), demonstrating integrity (down 3.86%), and nurturing trust (down 3.48%).

We are in the middle of turbulent societal shifts set against the backdrop of an economic downturn and budget cuts. The employer pendulum is swinging away from the employee experience and towards the corporate balance sheet. When that happens, inclusion and ethics take a hit.

Other findings from 2023 Emtrain’s Workplace Culture Report include:

    • There was a 20% drop in the number of employees who said people in their organization act as allies when the situation calls for it.
    • There was an 8% drop in the number of employees who said their senior leaders lead by example when it comes to making decisions that put the interests of the organization first.
    • There was a 12% drop in the number of people who said their coworkers see the value of creating respectful work relationships.

Unfortunately, 2024 is shaping up to be another difficult year for people leaders. There’s likely to be continued scrutiny on all budget requests to support the employee experience and we’re likely to experience heightened tribalism and social polarization as we go into the 2024 Presidential election. In preparation, here are four key areas people leaders can focus on to help prevent further declines in workplace culture heading into 2024.

Shifting from employee experience to employee enablement: Encouraging managers to coach employees to embrace challenges as growth opportunities and to proactively seek help when needed from workplace leaders or other colleagues.

Developing an allyship muscle: Allyship is a skill, which leaders demonstrate when they use their privilege to create an opportunity for someone who likely faces bias and/or has fewer opportunities than the ally. Developing an allyship muscle does not cost any money, and it infuses diversity, ethics, inclusion, and belonging into a workplace culture.

Being intentionally transparent and providing context for clarity: There are no effective shortcuts to communicating with employees and sharing business needs and expectations. Don’t just tell employees “the what”; paint them a picture of “the why”.

Nurturing trust: Trust is the connective tissue between co-workers, employees, managers, and the organization. Trust is earned through people’s actions over time. Coaching and reminding people that everyone’s actions impact others, and that people in an organization are interconnected and need each other to achieve shared goals, are critical to nurturing trust.

The last 12 months have been difficult for employees and that difficulty is apparent in the 2023 Workplace Culture Report. It’s hard to stay positive and healthy in tough times. But as we prepare for 2024, people leaders have an opportunity to be proactive rather than reactive and strengthen the social fabric of the organization so it’s better able to withstand the turbulence coming our way in 2024.

Janine Yancey
Business Compliance & Workplace Culture Expert
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