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An engaged, connected workforce is one of the hallmarks of a strong culture. So what happens when hybrid work threatens these important connections? Are we more prone to cultural erosion and toxic workplaces than we’ve ever been before?

As humans, we're wired for connection.  Scientists say our human need to connect is "as fundamental as the need for food and water". But is connection just as important in the workplace? Recent studies suggest that it's a crucial factor for a strong organisational cuture.

While there are many upsides to hybrid work, the reality is that maintaining culture in a remote working environment is challenging.

Without our usual face-to-face chats, spontaneous water cooler moments, and social coffee outings, connections are difficult to maintain. And while organisations put a lot of effort in the early days of the pandemic to maintain engagement with virtual office quizzes, Friday night Zoom drinks and online fitness challenges, this was never a long-term solution. The reality is, our workplace connection has been eroded, little by little.

A “narrowing” of organisational culture

In our new hybrid-work reality, the employee-organisation connection has fundamentally changed. And not necessarily in a positive way. While not every organisation that embraces hybrid working experiences a complete erosion of culture, for most there’s certainly been a “narrowing” of our definition of corporate culture. With hybrid-working here to stay, organisations must look at ways to address this.

Pre-pandemic, there was an accepted view that we work for an organisation. We went to the office, and we were part of a team and a broader workforce under a larger corporate banner. During lockdowns, our world was significantly minimised - into Zoom screens, emails and message threads - and the onus of maintaining engagement and building connections fell largely on the shoulders of individual managers.

As a result, the relationship between employees and their managers has become closer and more important than ever.

When bad culture turns toxic

With the world and workplace in flux right now, shifts in culture and engagement levels are expected. But when does poor organisation culture cross over into toxic workplace territory?

MIT Sloan studied more than 1.3 million Glassdoor reviews and analysed the language employees use to describe their organisation. They found a number of commonalities in the negative comments of employees - they call these “the toxic five”.

  1. Disrespectful: Lack of consideration, courtesy and dignity for others.
  2. Non-inclusive: For example, disability, racial, age, gender, LGBTQ inequity.
  3. Unethical: Dishonesty, lack of regulatory compliance, or unethical behaviour.
  4. Cutthroat: Backstabbing behaviour and ruthless competition.
  5. Abusive: Bullying, harassment, and hostility.


With the world and business moving at lightning speed, organisations are adapting their strategic goals more fluidly than they’ve ever done before. But are they doing the same for their organisational culture? Leaders must constantly review their culture to make sure it’s aligned with the organisational strategy.  Culture can be eroded in an instant. But building culture takes time.

If you are attending the ACC 2022 Conference in Brisbane, please drop by the HFW Consulting stand to pick up a copy of the full article, and/or join us at our round-table event taking place on the morning of Friday 18th.

If you're not attending the conference, please email, and we will happily share a copy with you.

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About HFW Consulting

HFW is a truly industry focused law firm and has been since its inception in the late 1800s. Our Australian practice works seamlessly with our global network of 20 offices to deliver legal solutions to major domestic and international clients across our six key sectors of shipping, construction, energy, commodities, insurance, and aerospace.

Complementing HFW's legal expertise is our consulting arm, HFW Consulting. We have provided consulting services to a broad range of private and public companies around the world, from start-ups to several members of the Fortune 500 and organisations listed on the stock exchanges in Sydney, Dubai, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, London and New York, as well as state-owned entities in the Middle East.

About the Author

Chris O'Callaghan leads HFW Consulting. Chris has been involved in Organisation Development for over 25 years, leading projects which range from Business Transformation to Organisation Improvement and from Leadership Development programmes and Board Transformation Coaching to scenario-based risk maturity programmes. 

Chris has worked for some of the world's leading organisations across the shipping, construction, energy, not-for profit, mining and pharma sectors and spanning regions including Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Middle East, USA and Europe.  

He regularly speaks and leads sessions at cross-industry conferences, on a range of subjects most recently on how business is preparing for the post-pandemic recovery with c-suite representatives from across industry. 

To find out more about HFW Consulting please contact Chris via email


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