Why Retailers Are Scrambling to Reduce Toxic Behavior

The retail industry has changed dramatically in the last few years. Back at the founding of American retail, businesses delivered value by gathering products in one place and making them available to consumers. But over the last few decades, that paradigm has turned on its head. For retail companies in the 21st century, product is no longer the only driver of revenue. Today, one of the most important factors in attracting customers and driving sales is the human element of retail. In response to this shift, a growing number of companies are finding new ways to elevate their greatest asset: the employees who work for them.

Walmart has embraced this new paradigm and become a frontrunner in this regard. Recently, the company adopted virtual reality to train more than 1 million of its associates on legal compliance and soft skills such as empathy and customer service. It’s a move that says a lot about the company. Beyond demonstrating that it values learning and development, Walmart has shown that it understands every employee can have an impact on the business. Today, all it takes is one bad customer experience to damage profitability and brand value, putting the onus on retailers to figure out how to mitigate the incidence of damaging workplace behaviors.

Don't believe that one employee can make that big of a difference? Consider the incidents of bias that rocked two large retail companies last year, both of which lost millions of dollars due to the discriminatory behavior of a single employee. After an incident of racial bias, one of these companies lost over $10 million in revenue and nearly 10% in stock value within 24 hours. The costs were even steeper for the other company. After sources announced that a company leader used a racial slur, the company lost over $80 million in market cap within a day, followed by multiple quarters of weakened sales and legal battles.

Sterling Taps Fama As Social Media Screening Partner

Fama is honored to partner with Sterling to provide a compliance-focused, AI-based online screening solution to the hundreds of Fortune 500 businesses they serve. By analyzing publicly available online information for indicators of toxic behavior, cultural fit, and team performance, we look forward to helping these companies avoid costly bad hires while furthering the foundation of trust and safety that is integral to business today. Check out the PR Newswire release below!

NEW YORK, NY (October 2, 2019) -- Sterling, a leading provider of background and identity services, today announced its new partnership with Fama, an AI-based social media and web screening solution that identifies behaviors identified as relevant by employers for their potential hires by analyzing publicly available online information.

The partnership helps companies build stronger cultures and protect their brands during the hiring process by finding indicators of behavior, culture, fit and performance among potential candidates. Results from each screening are provided to Sterling's clients in 24 to 48 hours.

"Fama's AI and machine learning technology, stellar track record and shared vision with Sterling will serve our clients well and strengthen the foundation of trust and safety that Sterling provides," said Josh Peirez, CEO, Sterling. "By screening social media, which is a fundamental part of everyday life across the U.S. and much of the globe, we help companies avoid costly bad hires, safeguard their reputations and create better work environments."

Healthcare, Social Screening and Reinforcing Community Trust

Want to hire better, and promote trust in your healthcare system? Then think of your organization as a body. When everyone is doing their part, the body as a whole flourishes, but throw in one bad actor and the whole system can come crashing down. Every organization works hard to manage employee-based risks, but for hospitals and similar organizations, the challenges are even more pronounced given the sensitive nature of the healthcare profession. So what are healthcare organizations doing today to ensure patient safety and public trust?

It’s an important question. Patients trust that healthcare professionals will do everything in their power to ensure patient safety and privacy. So when someone in the organization does something that goes against this belief—discriminating against a patient or mistreating those under their care—the story goes viral and it’s not long before all trust is eroded. Events like these suggest that hospitals may need far more than standard credentialing or criminal background checks to protect their organizations. In an effort to regain patients’ trust, healthcare systems are now looking to identify risky behaviors during the hiring process.

Take emergency room doctor Christopher Kwan Chen Lee as an example. After it was revealed that he had posted a series of sexist and racist remarks online, among them a comment that “some women deserve to be raped”, hundreds of people called for his resignation and exposed a major flaw in the hospital’s screening process. As it becomes increasingly clear that every employee’s actions are an extension of the hospital, no hospital or healthcare organization can avoid the risks of a personnel-based scandal, and more of them are turning to social screening to avoid hiring professionals who may put patient safety and community trust at risk.

Why a Top Performing Salesperson Left Her Dream Job

I’m a director of development at a top creative agency. During my five and a half year tenure with my previous company, I tripled our team in size and successfully generated more than 50% of the company’s total revenue. During this time, I created a network of positive client relationships, assembled an incredible team, and substantially expanded our company’s capabilities. But it wasn’t long before things took a turn for the worse. While I wasn’t sexually harassed, it doesn’t take an incident of sexual harassment to turn your top performers away.

When I first joined the company, I felt as if I had won the lottery. I couldn’t believe I found what I believed to be the perfect environment for me—an unconventional, high performing creative workplace, with a tight-knit team and a start-up mentality free of the corporate red tape and play-nice politics that had constricted me in other environments. With ambitions of success for not only myself as a salesperson, but for the business as a whole, I was excited about growing the company’s revenue and making a direct impact on the lives of the people around me.

The new role started out great. I was given leeway that I never thought a “traditional” office environment would allow—for example, I was granted the ability to paint my entire office pink based on sheer personal preference. We’d be taken out to dinners and given gifts on birthdays, and from the outside looking in, it seemed like a dream job at this stage of my career. My manager seemed to beam with pride in grooming me to be his star pupil, and I couldn’t have been more excited to grow and contribute in the role.

What Capital One’s Data Breach Shows About Online Risk

The New York Times, CNN, and other media outlets recently published articles reporting that a software engineer in Seattle allegedly hacked into a server and obtained the personal data of over 100 million customers at Capital One. While this is not the first time Capital One has faced a major data breach, there were two things that made this case particularly notable. First, the breach is estimated to cost the bank up to $150 million and has been said to be one of the largest bank data breaches in history. Second, and of particular interest to HR leaders: the warning signs of this data breach were available right on public social media.

The suspect was Paige Thompson, 33, a former software engineer at Amazon Web Services, which hosted the database that was breached. Using the online alias “erratic,” Thompson had in many ways the persona typical of a software engineer in Seattle, participating in programming chatter with people in the field. However, her habit of oversharing also left a trail of digital breadcrumbs that led the FBI to her door. Thompson allegedly bragged about the breach on Twitter; shortly after the breach was discovered, she tweeted, “I have a whole list of things that will ensure my involuntary confinement from the world. I’m never coming back.”

Could Capital One have prevented this particular breach using social media data? Well, no. Thompson was not a Capital One employee, and the ‘trail of breadcrumbs’ that identified her as the suspect behind the hack was left after the breach had already occurred. But suppose Thompson was an employee at Capital One, or even Amazon. If that were the case, Amazon and Capital One could have had reams of information that painted a picture of who she was—a skilled programmer with a troubled past—and used social media to help prevent the attack.

How to Keep Online Screening Simple (In 3 Steps)

New ways of screening candidates often raise new questions. Even when your legal questions around online screening are answered and you’re confident that you’ve got compliance figured out, plenty of operational questions remain. When working with our clients, we sometimes hear that our users are overwhelmed by all the scenarios they might encounter when working with publicly available online information. How are you supposed to incorporate an entirely new form of information into your hiring process without derailing your current approach?

Good news—there’s not much you need to do at all. In fact, the information that comes to you in a digital screening report isn’t all that different from information that comes to you in an interview or through a reference check. Online screening uses the same frameworks that HR departments are already using to make smart and ethical hiring decisions, while offering a new and pertinent form of information. That means there are essentially three possible actions you can take when reviewing a candidate’s online information.

Social Media and Law Enforcement: The Benefits and Drawbacks

Being a police officer is tough. On a daily basis, police officers put their lives on the line, work long and irregular hours, and deal with a nearly unparalleled level of public scrutiny. While the vast majority of officers are aware of the high ethical standards to which they’re held and make major personal sacrifices to ensure the public trust, a few bad apples have unfortunately damaged that sense of public trust and created a problem for officers across the country.

In recent weeks, media outlets have been writing about the Plain View Project, a collection of over 5,000 inflammatory social media posts made by police officers in departments across the US. For members of distressed communities in particular, this review of police behavior on Facebook has confirmed many people’s worst suspicions about law enforcement, suggesting that the police are not to be trusted, or there to protect them. While the project has shown that there are concerning behaviors that departments might consider addressing, it has also damaged the reputations of many dedicated officers who work hard to ensure public safety.

What can police departments do to restore the trust they’ve worked to build? Though there’s no silver bullet, one step that law enforcement agencies can take is to identify inflammatory and toxic behaviors before they have a chance to enter your department.

Leadership Isn't a Role, It's a Series of Behaviors

We know there is a deep connection between culture and organizational outcomes. When culture is done right, it unleashes tremendous energy, harnessing a diverse set of talents towards shared organizational goals. But a culture that is hostile and dysfunctional cripples the organization’s capacity and drives away talent.

While each and every employee plays a role in creating an organization’s culture, it’s the leadership that has the power to make or break the workplace culture. Why? Because “leaders bring the weather.” The things leaders say and do signal to the entire organization what behaviors are permitted, and their impact on employees is so great that the behavior of company leaders is often mimicked throughout an organization.

Consider former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, whose aggressive, win-at-all-costs leadership style created an ethically hazy and toxic culture, resulting in hundreds of complaints and lawsuits against Uber by employees and customers alike. Or the demanding, authoritarian leadership of former Volkswagen CEO, Martin Winterkorn, charged with aggravated fraud by German prosecutors for deceiving regulators about VW’s diesel exhaust levels. Under his reign, the company culture was marked by an extreme deference to authority, intimidation and fear, and a lack of tolerance for dissent.

While the above are flagrant and scandalous examples of leadership gone awry, organizational culture can also be eroded by subtle, seemingly insignificant behaviors, off-the-cuff comments, and even nonverbal behaviors. Leaders don’t have to yell, scream, or engage in unethical behavior to undermine culture. In fact, most of what constitutes culture is tacit and subtle. It comes down to two questions: how does it feel, and how do people relate to each other?

Have Toxic Workplaces Become the Norm?

Toxic behavior in the workplace seems more common than ever before. Last year, the Oxford English Dictionary famously elected “toxic” as its Word of the Year, calling out the ways that toxic behavior has infiltrated the world of business. In the last few months, numerous studies and surveys are confirming this phenomenon as well. In a recent survey of tech workers by the anonymous workplace app Blind, more than 50% of respondents said they were working in a noxious work environment. In another survey conducted by the RAND Corporation, Harvard Medical School and UCLA, nearly 20% of employees across industries said the same thing. Given that anywhere from 20-50% of employees believe they’re working in a toxic environment, is it fair to say that toxic workplaces have become the norm?

It’s certainly tempting to think so. If you subscribe to our newsletter, where we do a regular news roundup on how companies around the world are working to protect culture, you’ll find that almost every month there is yet another company in the headlines for a scandal related to toxic behavior. We’re not the only ones reporting on these phenomena either. According to the World Health Organization, burnout is now an official medical diagnosis, and that’s leading more and more people to resign themselves to toxicity as a natural state of the workplace. But in our tendency to resign ourselves, perhaps confiding in a trusted colleague or trying to leave for greener pastures, we forget that you can actually take steps to identify combat toxicity in your workplace—and the numbers prove it.

When you look past the figures on how much toxicity people are feeling and explore what the numbers have to say about who responds to HR-based interventions, you’ll see that with the problem may be far easier to deal with than you originally thought, and there are two reasons why. First, it turns out that even though many people believe they’re in a toxic work environment (and, according to our industry benchmark data, are spot on in their assessment), the individuals who might require training and intervention to change usually comprise about 10-15% of your organization. Second, the numbers show that the vast majority of employees who do exhibit toxic behaviors—up to 95% of them—can be addressed with proper identification and action.

How Online Behaviors Are Impacting Your Bottom Line

Many of us have experienced toxic behavior in the workplace. Though many of us use stories and anecdotes to illustrate and process our experiences, few of us have had access to quantifiable data when attempting to communicate the importance of managing these behaviors at work. What are the full costs of toxic workplace behavior? To help organizations get clarity around the value of reducing toxic behavior in the workplace, we’ve anonymized and aggregated a trove of data around this question, and taken it upon ourselves to use this data to provide meaningful insight for companies around the world.

Last year, we kick-started this conversation by publishing a study called "The Cost of a Toxic Hire.” It was a breakthrough resource showing how much money companies were losing to the turnover and absenteeism caused by toxic employees. While the response was overwhelmingly positive, we recognized that companies were losing far more than $1.2 million per year. We soon found even more information about how much market cap companies were losing to the impacts of toxic behavior, and the measures that boards are now taking to protect their companies from the fallout of insidious workplace events.

Earlier this year, we launched the Toxic Employee Handbook with Dr. John Sullivan, a renowned influencer in the world of talent management. This newly released handbook covered over 40 distinct categories of damage caused by toxic employees and offered new tools to start building a business case for formal toxic behavior reduction efforts. Again, the response was overwhelmingly positive. More and more companies are looking to understand the full extent of damages that toxic employees inflict on our businesses and to discover ways they can identify them before they harm our organizations.