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How HR can Identify and Fix a Toxic Online Work Culture

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“Over a period of time, you realize that building a very strong company, and a very strong foundation of talent and culture in a company, is essential to making great products.” – Steve Jobs, former CEO& co-founder of Apple.

Steve Jobs was right on the money when it comes to understanding the monumental impact work culture has on business success. In today’s digital, remote-heavy workplace, the challenges of creating a positive company culture in which everybody thrives, (and therefore, everybody wins) can also seem monumental in nature.

Human Resources (HR) teams have the unenviable task of monitoring and managing online, or in-person work culture, and it can be difficult to not only identify when that culture has become toxic, but also to know how to fix it. Difficult, but not impossible. Because with the right strategy, and tools, it is possible to identify and fix a toxic online work culture before it lands a one-two punch on your business’s productivity, and ultimately your success. To start, let’s discuss why a robust, positive online work culture is so darn important!

Why a Healthy Work Culture Online is Important

There’s no question we are working in a hyper-connected digital world where business is conducted in a vastly different manner than a few decades ago. Online is practically everything. Meaning, online reputation, online visibility, online impact – you get it. For the majority of businesses today, all of the above online factors are key components to overall success. Throw in the enormous influx of remote workers across most major industries, and it’s easy to understand why it’s more important than ever to cultivate a healthy online work culture. Why? Let’s break down the impacts a toxic work culture can really have on your business.

Attracting top talent

This is not a news flash – businesses need talented workers to thrive. But attracting those workers is not as simple as offering a healthy compensation package and 401K. In fact, according to one survey, belong—68% of Americans see benefits and corporate culture as more important than their salary. Oh, and throw in that more than one-third of workers in another survey said they would pass on the perfect job if the culture was not a fit. (No, really, the perfect job.) So, how do you expect to capture the best talent if your work culture is not impeccable?

Employee retention and turnover

Forget about capturing new talent for a moment and consider the cost of losing the good employees you have as a result of a poor workplace culture. In a 2022 survey by the SHRM Research Institute, HR leaders ranked poor company culture in the top 5 reasons for employee turnover. And the financial impact of employee turnover is tangible. It’s estimated that losing an employee can cost 1.5 – 2 times the employee’s salary. The cost is even higher for C-Suite employees.

Decreased productivity

Quiet quitting isn’t a myth. You know, employees doing the bare minimum but not really giving it their all to drive business success. A toxic culture is often the catalyst to quiet quitting and the hit productivity can take as a result can directly impact your business financially.

Employer brand and reputation

You are who the internet says you are? Ok, maybe not entirely. But the point is that when it comes to your company’s brand and reputation, what gets put out there into the digital landscape can impact your business in a myriad of ways. Think of it as the domino effect. Toxic work culture > disgruntled employees > negative reviews online > top candidates remain wary > potential clients are distrustful > sales are impacted.

You get the picture. A toxic workplace culture can have significant negative impacts on an organization. It can lead to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and higher turnover rates. It can also affect employee mental health and well-being, leading to burnout and disengagement.

But in an organization that is primarily spread out over the web, how do you recognize the signs of toxicity in the online workplace?

Look for the Warning Signs

Obviously, the sooner you recognize your online work culture is becoming toxic, the faster you can take steps to address it. It’s important to recognize these signs early on, so you can act, and prevent things from escalating. Here are some red flags to look out for:

  • Lack of communication: If employees aren’t communicating effectively or are reluctant to share their thoughts, this can indicate a breakdown in your online work culture.
  • Gossip and negativity: When employees engage in office gossip or speak negatively about others, it can create a toxic atmosphere and affect team morale.
  • Low productivity: A significant drop in productivity or quality of work could be a sign that employees are disengaged or feel unmotivated due to a toxic work environment.
  • High employee turnover: If employees are leaving at an unusually high rate, it’s pretty clear that something is wrong with your online work culture.
  • Harassment and bullying: It isn’t always easy to see when employees are being bullied or harassed online, but this can create a hostile work environment and negatively affect their mental health.

Being proactive in your communication and efforts to identify a toxic online work culture, can help you take appropriate action before the situation becomes unmanageable.

Take the Necessary Steps to Address the Problem

HR professionals have an inherent responsibility to address the problem and identifying the problem is the first step to addressing a toxic online work culture. But acting on your findings is the next crucial step.

Address the Problem Head-On – The most effective way to address a toxic online work culture is to confront the problem head-on. Start by calling out unacceptable behavior and reinforcing the company’s values and expectations for appropriate online conduct.

Provide Training and Education – Often, employees may not be aware of the impact of their behavior or communication online. Provide training and education on online etiquette, inclusive communication, and the impact of toxic behavior.

Offer Support – Employees may need additional support to navigate a toxic online work culture. Consider providing mental health support or counseling services to help employees cope with the impact of the toxic culture.

Develop a Clear Online Code of Conduct – Create a clear online code of conduct that outlines the behavior expected from employees in online communication and interactions. Ensure the code is communicated regularly and reinforced with appropriate disciplinary action when necessary.

Set Up Reporting Channels – Ensure that employees have clear reporting channels for any online harassment or bullying. Set up a reporting mechanism that employees can access safely and anonymously to raise concerns about toxic online behavior.

Foster a Positive Work Environment – Encourage and promote a positive online work culture by acknowledging and celebrating positive contributions. Reward positive behavior, communication, and collaboration in online communication.

Encourage Transparency and Communication – Transparency and communication are core elements of a healthy online work culture. When employees feel that they can communicate openly and transparently, it can lead to increased trust, stronger relationships, and better problem-solving.

Promote a Positive Culture

A positive work culture starts by building a sense of community, trust, and productivity among colleagues. Here are some tips for promoting a positive online work culture:

  • Encourage connection: Remote work can sometimes feel isolating, so it’s important to foster a sense of community. Encourage employees to connect with each other through chat, virtual meetings, or even video games. Organize virtual team-building events to allow teams to get to know each other. These interactions can help create a sense of camaraderie and cement strong bonds between employees.
  • Embrace feedback: Encourage open and honest communication between employees and management. Encourage employees to share their thoughts and ideas. It can help improve collaboration, encourage creativity, and prevent misunderstandings.
  • Recognize and celebrate successes: Everyone deserves a pat on the back when they accomplish something. Be sure to acknowledge their hard work and success. Celebrating their achievements and recognizing their efforts can go a long way to motivating them and others to work hard and strive for excellence.
  • Prioritize mental health: Remote work can be isolating, so it’s important to prioritize mental health. Encourage employees to take breaks when needed, and don’t be afraid to check in with them regularly to make sure they’re doing okay.

The bottom line is that employees who feel valued and supported are more likely to remain loyal to your organization and go the extra mile to meet the company’s goals. A positive work culture that creates a sense of community and teamwork starts with each individual employee feeling like an important, respected member of the team. And with the right strategy, HR teams can promote a positive online culture and build a more productive and engaged workforce.



  • https://www.lexingtonlaw.com/blog/news/employee-happiness.html#:~:text=Nearly%2070%25%20of%20Americans%20value,a%20new%20job%20or%20career
  • https://press.roberthalf.com/2018-11-27-More-Than-One-Third-Of-Workers-Would-Pass-On-Perfect-Job-If-Corporate-Culture-Was-Not-A-Fit-Survey-Finds
  • https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/pages/report-hr-pros-rank-top-reasons-for-turnover.aspx
  • https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-true-cost-turnover-john-chisham/

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