Address negative work environment.

Jul 13, 2022

Many workers are not feeling great about work. The pandemic changed perspectives and priorities. Many people are less tolerant of negative work environments and have confidence in the ability to find new opportunities more in line with their personal values and preferences. Almost 20% of all residents who quit their job in the past 12 months cited a bad work environment as the main reason for leaving. It was the most frequently given answer to an open-ended question about why they left their job. A good wage, increased flexibility—these are critical to employee satisfaction. But for many workers, those are not enough if the work environment is an unpleasant, uncomfortable or unsafe place to be.

Negativity can come from different places and in different forms; in many instances, it stems from racial, gender and other discrimination in the workplace, and the tolerance of it by management. Nearly one in five of all respondents see discrimination due to gender or sexual orientation as a barrier to getting and keeping a job for themselves or people they know, with the same rate for race or ethnicity discrimination. Among Black and multi-racial respondents, that number jumps to more than 40% among Black or multi-racial respondents.

The frequency with which negative work environments came up in the worker focus groups also suggests there is more employers can be doing to foster a positive work environment for all.

Several employers who participated in roundtable discussions shared that they had a great company culture. These employers referenced practices centered on making employees feel good and appreciated (everything from adding ping pong tables to the workspace as a place to let off steam and have fun with coworkers to a monthly drawing for cash bonuses); making them feel heard (such as implementing an “open door” policy to ensure employees know they could approach managers with any challenges or problems); and supporting them in their work (one employer referenced a buddy program where new hires are paired up with more senior employees).

A positive company culture goes beyond free lunches and extra PTO, though. A positive work environment starts at the top and must be engrained at every level and in every aspect of an organization. Want a baseline for how workers are feeling? Ask them to share in an anonymous survey what their work experience is like (see #5). Think of ways to foster and incentivize positive behavior, become more in tune to any discriminatory practices or language that might have been tolerated or gone unnoticed before, and work to address and remedy such things. “Sometimes you just need to get to know your people and more about them to create a culture of care,” one employer said.