Can Corporates Prevent the Toxicity of the Times from Impacting the Workplace Culture?

Why Corporates Find it Tough to Prevent their Workplaces from Becoming Toxic

We are living in highly partisan and divisive times. With so much of negativity and toxicity prevailing in the external world, the question to ask is if corporates can remain immune to the prevailing culture of intolerance and bigotry?

Indeed, one can go as far as to say that it is inevitable that the external world seeps into the air-conditioned and hermetically sealed workplaces despite all efforts made to the contrary.

The reason for this is that all of us are social beings and hence, what happens in the wider world impacts our professional and personal lives.

Therefore, it is a tough ask for corporates and the HR or the Human Resources managers to contain the spread of toxicity from infecting and vitiating the workplace cultures.

Moreover, in the present times, there are many corporates whose head honchos themselves have taken extreme political stances and hence, it is natural for their employees to either support such stances or oppose them vehemently.

So, in short, it is extremely difficult for corporates and the HR managers to avoid their workplaces from being political as well as toxic in turn.

How Toxicity Impacts the Workplaces and Are Corporates Helpless in This Regard

How does the prevailing toxicity begin to impact the workplace cultures? To start with, employees might engage in debates with each other over coffee and around the water cooler about the prevailing events of the day.

In addition, they might be posting on social media during working hours stating their opinions and at times, engaging in vitriolic debates with their peers and colleagues.

Moreover, they might also carry the excess baggage of toxicity into the workplaces and this can impact professional relationships as well.

For instance, in recent months, there have been several instances of corporates firing employees for what they deemed as objectionable posts on social media and that too during working hours.

Of course, there is nothing that corporates can do if employees go rogue in their political beliefs and bring such vies to the workplaces, apart from warning them or for that matter, firing them.

In other words, the only weapon against hate at the workplace is the threat of being laid off that might work sometimes, but equally, might not work at all times, since the prevailing toxicity is such that there are those who care two hoots whether they are fired or not and still persist.

Some Practical Steps That Corporates Can Take Without Running into Legal Problems

Having said that, corporates are not totally helpless in this regard as well.

For instance, in our working lives we have come across many leading multinationals that had specific and explicit policies regarding hate speech at the workplace.

These policies were very clear and to the point and had lists of Dos and Don’ts wherein they clearly stated what was acceptable and what was not.

Moreover, some corporates also restrict access to social media during working hours in addition to banning browsing of websites that they deem offensive by blocking them.

Of course, when personal Smartphones have all the Apps ready to go, there is precious little that corporates can do and therefore, there are some firms that monitor personal devices as well.

While the legalities of such surveillance is debatable, it is a given that many corporates do ensure that their workplaces remain free of the prevailing toxicity.

In addition, many corporates have policies that prohibit heated debates and discussions among peers about political issues, though again, there is the question of Free Speech protections in the United States that bar them from this type of regulation.

So, there are some steps that corporates can take to protect workplaces.

What Google, Infosys, and Other Firms Do to Allow Free Speech and Contain Toxicity

A middle of the ground approach would be to allow employees to engage freely with each other and then, taking action whenever such debates threaten to get ugly.

For instance, the Indian Software giant, Infosys, has a Bulletin Board where employees can banter with each other and this is something that is monitored and regulated so that employees do not cross the line.

In our professional experience, we have found that regulation is better than outright bans and this is where adroit HR managers can play the role of a skilful umpire or referee.

Indeed, in Google, the formation of employee unions and the creation of a virtual meeting room for debates and discussions among employees have been hailed as a step in the right direction so that employees have a valve to dissent and vent and at the same time, such activities are monitored and regulated to prevent them from becoming toxic.

Therefore, it is our argument that permitting employees to vent and then regulating such free speech is better than a Free for All or Outright Bans on the other end.

This helps the workplace culture to be open and at the same time free from external toxicity.

What Service Sector Corporates Can Learn From Manufacturing Firms

Last, the situation in most corporates resembles the Manufacturing Heydays of the decades before the 1980s when such firms wrestled with ways and means to avoid their workplaces from being politicised and at the same time, let unions play the role of venting mechanisms.

The services sector now has to take a leaf out of the Playbook of such factories and plants where dissent was tolerated to a certain degree.

This is the central challenge for corporates as they cannot fully avoid the external toxicity from seeping in and yet, at the same time, they cannot become dictatorial with employees.

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