Tom Miller is the CEO and cofounder of ClearForce, a Vienna, Virginia-based startup focused on discovering misconduct and high-risk behaviors in the workplace using data analytics. Challenges in workplace culture and toxicity, he noted, exist in companies of any size, whether they have 50 employees or 50,000. Across the board, these issues can be a hindrance to employee retention.
“Whether you’re a small company or whether you’re a large enterprise, these are fundamental challenges that businesses are working to accomplish today,” Miller told Technical.ly. “There are so many opportunities for these organizations to improve policies and procedures and technology to help create a better environment.”
For Miller, workplace toxicity issues exist across a spectrum, and solutions are possible for any company. But, he noted, it’s particularly difficult as companies move back to hybrid or in-person work after a few years at home.
“Organizations are trying to get their head around maintaining culture in a workforce that, for the most part, was not face-to-face for significant periods of time,” Miller said.
Here’s how he thinks companies can improve culture across the board — and how tech can have a role.
Miller’s number one recommendation, for companies of any size, is to be more proactive about how they’re averting toxic culture in the first place. He sees much more success in companies that look out for and get in front of problems before they become a problem. This can look like airtight reporting policies or strict procedures after a complaint has been made. Either way, these processes need to be established ahead of time and employees need to know they can use them successfully.
“For an organization to think through and put in place ways to measure and detect cultural issues inside the organization — it can be policies, it can be procedures and, many times, it’s putting systems in place so that you’re taking advantage of technology — is really creating this technology-driven cultural change inside the organization,” Miller said.
Most, though not all, companies already have an established reporting policy in place. Miller noted that it’s not uncommon to find 1-800 whistleblower or ethics phone lines, and any company with HR has a point person to report an issue. The problem, he thinks, is that many employees don’t find the policy anonymous enough or aren’t sure what to report.
What this means, he said, is that there’s not enough direct input from employees into leadership, executive teams or boards. Thus, there lacks a sufficient capture of behavioral or incident information from people dealing with issues on the day-to-day. And, sometimes, it’s not timely enough for change.
“In all these examples, the ‘after’ report shows that people knew this existed,” Miller said. “So folks knew that either these individuals or this culture had problems, but somehow that information didn’t make it to the individuals in leadership that had an opportunity to make change.”
To combat this, Miller suggests capturing more direct input and first-party reporting from employees. Specifically, he pointed to web-based reporting platforms that give organizations categorical and configurable reporting to leadership.
While part of the issue is providing the right channels for employees to report issues, it’s also crucial for companies to constantly be on the hunt for potential issues. A perfect solution for that, Miller thinks, is tech, which can be programmed for regular check-ins and easily connect to other incidents (say, if two employees make complaints about the same person). And the regularity of tech also means more consistency in responses, not to mention cybersecurity measures that can be installed to ensure employee protection.
Miller said that the ClearForce technology, which is cloud-operated in Microsoft Azure, was built primarily for privacy and anonymity in a more fair and equitable process. Having systems like that in place, he noted, helps companies discover more toxic behaviors and risks while enabling a complete and consistent information flow. He also said tech can offer an easy way to ensure legal compliance, privacy and protection of sensitive information.
“Technology really can put guardrails in place,” Miller said. “And if you use those guardrails appropriately, it’s going to protect sensitive information from not being distributed to individuals that shouldn’t have authority to view or act upon it. It really creates controls inside the organization.”
The American workforce continues to feel the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Great Resignation. At the end of 2021, U.S. job openings stood at nearly 11 million, and over 4 million people quit their jobs in December alone.