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Using Technology to Tackle Organizational Toxicity

Burnout businesswoman under pressure in the office

Toxicity is all around us in a polarized society where people can quickly spread vitriol via various social media channels. But when toxicity affects the workplace, organizations face risks, including claims of harassment and hostile work environments.

Despite companies implementing solutions like hotlines and expressing concern and support for employees experiencing harassment in the workplace, these problems persist. Could technology provide a solution? Many believe so, and there’s evidence to suggest that technology can, indeed, play a role in minimizing and addressing toxic work environments.

Tackling Toxicity Head On

HR has a role to play here, said Shannon Walker, executive vice president of strategy at Case IQ, an investigative case management software firm based in Ottawa. “Employee misconduct investigations are the responsibility of every HR department,” Walker said. “The aim of every investigation should be to prevent similar issues from happening again.”

That work can be intense, detailed, and fraught with opportunities for error and bias. Technology can help.

“Modern case management software can help improve reporting of incidents and grievances, resolve cases more efficiently, and take steps to proactively address future issues before they happen,” Walker said. “Learning from the data you’ve collected and taking action to reduce repeat issues improves the workplace for employees while also protecting your organization.”

Technology to the Rescue

Technology can be employed to help combat toxicity and harassment, said Alyssa Roberts, a practicing psychologist, researcher and senior writer at Practical Psychology.

“Based on my experience conducting research and intervening in toxic workplaces, technology does show promise in aiding employers’ efforts to curb toxicity when implemented carefully and combined with other measures,” she said. “Some tools I’ve studied include anonymous reporting platforms that allow workers to flag issues confidentially without fear of retaliation. Done right, these systems can help identify problems early on by giving a voice to those who may otherwise stay silent.”

Jared Pope is CEO and founder of Work Shield, based in Dallas, a company that developed a full-service solution for managing workplace harassment, discrimination and misconduct through reporting, investigation and resolution to help address rising toxicity. Pope, a former lawyer with a background in HR and employment, said he was motivated by the #MeToo movement to explore why workplace harassment persists and what might to done to combat it.

“It’s not like all of a sudden harassment started, but why is it not being solved?” Pope asked. Most companies in the U.S., he noted, have hotlines, but most people don’t call those hotlines because they’re afraid to. In fact, HR Acuity reported in 2022 that “a staggering 75 percent of employees who experience unfairness at work never report it to management.”

Pope decided to develop an incident management platform combined with a call center that intakes complaints and conducts investigations to create attorney-client privilege with the employers, which can expedite the resolution process. Pope said that issues are resolved with an average turnaround time of 4.8 days. The goal is to tackle organizational toxicity at its roots to prevent it from undermining culture and employee well-being.

But even tech providers acknowledge that technology is not the sole solution to these issues. People must be part of the equation.

The People Part of the Equation

Despite the many benefits that technology can bring to bear for tackling toxicity in the workplace, there is also a people element to achieve real impact. HR plays a critical role here.

Jared Brown, co-founder and CEO of Hubstaff, a time tracking and workforce management company based in Fishers, Ind., noted: “Technology can absolutely help employers and managers stay on top of company culture, but we need to remember that it is always a tool and not a panacea. New technologies should point companies to ongoing issues, where HR leadership then takes steps to understand the cause and work to address that.”

Roberts agreed. Technology isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution and needs to be part of a comprehensive strategy, she said.

“For example, if reporting platforms are not accompanied by meaningful follow-through like investigations and accountability for bad actors, they may do more harm than good by fostering distrust,” Roberts said. “Education is also key—simply having a system isn’t enough if employees don’t understand how or when to utilize it properly.”

SHRM has also acknowledged the importance of civility in the workplace, launching its 1 Million Civil Conversations initiative this year. Together, employers and employees can encourage inclusivity, bridge divides and build understanding, one conversation at a time.

It’s important to be proactive rather than reactive when addressing toxicity, said Daniel Wolken, talent acquisition specialist at DailyRemote. “For instance, prioritizing inclusion and respect from the start through transparency, tailored training and leadership who ‘walks the talk,’ ” he said. “Similarly, establishing clear policies and equitable conflict resolution processes helps keep things civil, should issues nevertheless arise.”

HR also needs to be supported, Brown said, in learning and effectively using the technology that can be their aid. That’s critical for ensuring successful intervention.

Here, again, technology can be leveraged for training in a variety of ways to ensure that it is accessible, engaging and impactful.

Technology and Training

Providing harassment and ethics training through immersive digital modules has been a game changer, said Kelly Indah, a tech expert and security analyst at IncrediTools.

“People learn a lot more when they can practice skills in a safe virtual setting,” she said.

That environment can also provide the opportunity for reporting issues, Indah noted: “The tech can open communication, promote transparency, gather data and drive accountability.” Technology, she said, “is a powerful catalyst when combined with compassionate leadership.”

Importantly, training and education shouldn’t be a one-and-done effort. “Other aids like internal message boards or feedback apps can foster open dialogue when moderated actively and inclusively,” said Roberts.

It’s important, though, to ensure that all employees feel they can express themselves freely, she said. 

“Accompanied by in-person support like trained ombudsmen or employee resource groups, technology aids have shown the most success in empowering workers while supporting positive culture change,” Roberts said.

The key, according to Indah, is “linking empathetic tech with human understanding to build trust, diversity, respect and belonging. With the right foundation, we can create places where everyone has the chance to do their best work.”

Roberts agreed. “Overall, a multifaceted approach is most effective,” she said—one that combines technology, policy, training and human support. “The goal should be giving all workers a safe way to be heard, addressing root causes, not just symptoms. Done holistically and justly, interventions show promise for improving workplace wellness for both individuals and organizations.”

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis. 


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