If you follow the mission and directives of nonprofit organizations, you’ve likely heard of United Way Worldwide. According to their website, the nonprofit “advances the common good in communities across the world. Our focus is on education, income and health—the building blocks for a good quality of life.” However noble their mission statement, United Way has been in the news recently as former employees have come forward with reports of a hostile work environment, prompting an internal investigation.
The United Way investigation began when former employers decided to take a stand against a toxic corporate culture. The allegations of a toxic, hostile work environment came in the form of a letter that was signed by an anonymous group of former United Way of Summit and Media, citing pervasive problems such as racism, sexual harassment, and nepotism. While the word “anonymous” raises eyebrows in conjunction with whistle-blowing, it bears pointing out that these former employees claim they will be subject to retaliation. The letter was sent to United Way board members on July 31, prompting board chairman Mark Krohn to announce the onset of an internal investigation.
Harassment and bullying are just one of the allegations made by the former employees who signed this letter, and this has led to one United Way board member already resigning. One of the first dominoes to fall in the United Way investigation was former board member Elizabeth Bartz, who was in charge of running government affairs in Akron, Ohio. Leadership from the United Way of Summit and Media began investigating Bartz after there were allegations that she had verbally abused employees on social media. Bartz used Facebook Messenger to send a private message to another former employee, calling them a “toothless piranha” and accusing them of attempting “to ruin UW” with their allegations of bullying in harassment—ironically by engaging in bullying and harassment. This led to Bartz’s resignation.
Bartz’s reaction to the anonymous letter might actually validate these anonymous claims by former United Way employees. However, according to an article by the Beacon Journal, these anonymous former employees are feeling ignored after an investigator reported that the allegations in the letter “were mostly unsubstantiated.” A former employee who claimed to speak for the group told the Beacon Journal, “It’s clear it’s not an objective report…We can’t keep talking if we’re not going to be valued and our experiences are going to be diminished. It’s pretty disheartening when someone says they were sexually harassed and they are told it was ‘he said/she said.”
The frustration and feeling of defeat expressed by these anonymous employees are the effects of poor corporate culture in motion. Like a piece of antique furniture with termites, poor corporate culture can rot a company from within. Looking at the list of grievances these former employees are citing—racism, sexual harassment, nepotism—these are all enormous and complex problems that are not created in a vacuum. The corporate culture of the workplace must be an environment where these issues are able to thrive in order to develop a pattern of behavior. When employees make claims about these types of internal issues, it is in the best interest of the corporation to submit to an independent corporate culture audit.
If your corporation or organization is experiencing repeated instances of internal difficulty, it might be time for a corporate culture audit. A corporate culture audit is a program that examines the internal policies of a corporation or organization, how those policies are enforced, how they effect the employees, and how those employees relate to each other as a result. If the corporate culture in a company is good, that positivity is baked into the internal operations, employees feel valued by their organization, and therefore will remain engaged and invested in maintaining productivity. Pervasive, repeated internal problems may not stem from a single factor, but the entire corporate culture of the workplace. Think of a corporate culture audit like a medical check-up for a business or organization. Lauth’s investigators evaluate the culture from leadership down, identifying the major factors in disruption, and advise leadership on how to improve their business from within. For more information on our corporate culture audit program, click here.
Essential Employees See Decline in Corporate Culture
In the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, many states are currently living under lockdown, with Indiana in particular abiding by Governor Holcomb’s ‘stay-at-home order’. Residents are ordered to stay at home unless making essential trips for things like groceries, medical supplies, or reporting to essential jobs for essential tasks—all in the pursuit of reducing the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. However, working persons across the nation are finding themselves in conflict with their employers regarding their compliance level with their state’s level of travel restrictions during the pandemic—landing some companies in hot water with their employees who have come forward citing a toxic corporate culture that some describe as choosing “profits over people.”
While the world watched China and Italy deal with devastating consequences of COVID-19, other countries like the United States struggled with how to respond. The Trump administration is currently facing criticism for the general handling of the pandemic with the consequences being felt across the nation. The homogenized body of information flowing from various sources, the compliance climate surrounding lockdowns has some businesses demonstrating their lack of understanding of what constitutes an “essential” job or business.
Media outlets of all shapes and kinds are publishing lists of essential jobs and services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The list is much longer than many may think, with 35 different businesses and organizations deemed essential, from exterminators to funeral homes. One of the business types not on that list is recreational retail—businesses like GameStop, which sells video games, electronics, and gaming merchandise. Even after many states started initiating lockdowns, GameStop stores remained open, exposing employees and consumers alike to one another in reckless disregard for COVID-19 precautions. At the end of March, a former employee wrote an op-ed for Vice, detailing their declining relationship with the company over seven years, culminating with their departure after GameStop made the choice to keep stores open during the pandemic. Under the pseudonym “CT Collins”, the former employee described a corporate culture that was slowly deteriorating, “As corporate continued to increase expectations, associates began to lose motivation altogether. Since holidays alone, my store saw increased expectations in every metric we were tracked on, despite January and February being extraordinarily slow months…This despite the fact that our store had struggled to meet the previous targets, and our new game sales were nearly halved from the previous year.” Ahead of the highly-anticipated release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, GameStop certainly had an opportunity to recoup lost profits by remaining open during the launch of the popular life-simulator.
GameStop’s difficulty with the definition of “essential” has unflattering optics that demonstrate a level of indifference to their employees with regards to whether or not their contact with customers and each other can contribute to the rising epidemic of COVID-19. The op-ed by CT Collins already documented a declining corporate culture in which employees were trapped in a cycle of disengagement and apathy as a direct result of corporate expectations. Following the outcry from the employees, the decision was finally made to close GameStop stores in compliance with what has become known as “flattening the curve.” We can only hope that other businesses begin to revaluate how much of their daily operations can be conducted in the cloud—allowing employees to work from home and telecommute with the use of technology and business-to-business platforms.
GameStop is not the only retail giant getting bad press. Amazon has come under fire as a documented history of corporate culture issues, including an infamous incident in late 2019 in which an Amazon fulfillment associate died of cardiac arrest while on the warehouse floor and their fellow employees were told to “go back to work.” Now, an Amazon worker, Chris Smalls, has been fired for protesting the unsafe working conditions in the Staten Island warehouse where he works—one of the busiest in the nation. Given that millions now depend on delivery to get essential items, it’s not a surprise that Amazon is struggling, but employees are making their voices heard during these uncertain times, articulating their perceived lack of value to the corporation as many distribution centers fail to protect their employees from the spread of COVID-19.
Amazon is arguably essential as a distribution service that can put much-needed supplies in the hands of people who need them, but if the employees feel as if their employers have flagrant disregard for their health and safety, it should be no surprise that employees disengage and become vocal about their discomfort with the working environment. CEO Jeff Bezos has made repeated promises in the past to address the claims of toxic corporate culture within Amazon, but it seems that extraneous circumstances continue to bring out the very worst of capitalism within its distribution centers. As an “essential” business, Amazon has a responsibility to its employees to ensure they have a safe working environment by respecting social distancing protocol and providing safety equipment to protect them during the outbreak.
Disregarding restrictions set by the Center for Disease Control and other federal agencies during a pandemic as a non-essential business is a perfect storm for rapid deterioration of corporate culture. Even if the corporate culture was previously healthy within a company or organization, such blatant disregard for health and safety become a malignancy within the workforce, where employees do not feel valued, and disengage from their jobs, leading to further drop in productivity. To prevent this from happening to your company, the steps are really very simple:
If you’re not one of the designated “essential” business types, it’s imperative to allow your employees to do as much work as possible from home, and close all brick-and-mortar locations that would allow the continued spread of COVID-19.
If you are an “essential business,” carefully evaluate within the context of your business model constitutes an essential job or task. If it can be done over the phone, over email, or over video-conference, it should be.
Take advantage of any opportunity to limit human contact. Keep all on-site workers a strict 6 feet apart, encourage heavy hand-washing and commitment to maintaining excellent sanitary conditions in the workspace.
The bottom line is that taking care of your essential employees in this uncertain time can only positively impact your workforce. When physical risk is not a part of the job description, it is easy for employees to feel inherently undervalued when they’re asked to risk their health in the interest of their job. Disregarding the limits put in place for the betterment of public health can only incite decline in your corporate culture.
Employers across the country have operated in a sea of gray area when it comes to confidentiality among employees regarding internal investigations. The question remained whether or not employers were able to require employees to keep internal investigations internal while they were in full swing. Prior to the new year, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) finally answered that question.
Previously, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) had
taken a position that employers could not require employees to keep ongoing
internal investigations confidential because it generally violated labor law. Section
7 of the National Labor Relations Act guarantees employees “the right to
self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain
collectively through representatives of their own choosing.” Universal
requirement of confidentiality could potentially interfere with that law.
Confidentiality in internal investigations was instead dealt with on a
case-by-case basis, with no precedent for blanket confidentiality. This topic
has been in review by the NLRB since May of 2019, but it was only recently that
the board announced that they had reversed their position.
By their very nature, internal investigations are already a big headache for many employers. Further compounding these frustrations is the ideation that no internal investigation can generate meaningful results unless the integrity of the internal investigation is maintained by all employees of the corporation or organization. This new standard of approval by the National Labor Relations Board is a categorical win for employers. The win comes down to one word—duration. In articulating their decision, the majority wrote,
“There are obvious mutual interests to be served by encouraging and allowing employees to report wrongdoing without fear of reprisal from the subject of the investigation. Among other considerations, such reporting promotes the goals of the antidiscrimination statutes by helping employers eradicate workplace discrimination and deal with it promptly and effectively when it occurs.”
This articulation is indirectly evocative of the cycle of
corporate culture, a process by which cause and effect on the parts of both
leadership and employees in pursuit of improved operations leads to a healthy
corporate culture for the entire workforce.
While there are concerns that the future of this reversal
may affect an employee’s ability to organize, the projection of this reversal
is very good news for internal investigations. In any investigation, the
control of information is critical to finding solutions to the corporate
crisis, allowing investigators to use tried-and-true methodology to get to the
root of the problem. With the NLRB finally taking a position that allows
employers to require confidentiality, the integrity of those internal
investigations can now be maintained from the onset, leading to clearer
solutions for the pervasive issues that malign corporations and organizations.
Corporations and institutions with relative high visibility have a lot to lose when internal misconduct is exposed. If you are an institution, such as a school, prison, or government body, internal misconduct can strongly shake the public’s confidence in how that misconduct will impact the groups and communities being served. Embarrassing, pervasive issues, such as a business party culture, can really drive down faith in your brand. If you’re a large corporate chain, such as Walmart, or McDonald’s, your corporate culture is subject to criticism from current/past employees, with heavy emphasis on how that corporate culture effects both productivity and the workforce.
Just one week after ringing in the new year, McDonald’s current CEO, Chris Kempczinski, has announced that he plans to bring an end to the business party culture embroiled in their corporate atmosphere. According to The Wall Street Journal, Kempczinski, “…is seeking to restore a more professional culture at McDonald’s after what some current and former employees described as an environment influenced by his predecessor’s late-night socializing with some executives and staffers at bars and flirtations with female employees…” This business party culture was pervasive. His predecessor, Steve Eastbrook, was terminated in November of 2019 after he confessed to having a relationship with an employee. What is particularly problematic about these circumstances is that healthy corporate culture begins with leadership. When leadership behaves ethically within the organization, employees are more likely to follow that example. When executives, managers, and supervisors are not held accountable for bad behavior, it sends a message to the rest of the organization that poisons the well of corporate culture.
But inappropriate personal conduct is not the only challenge
currently facing McDonald’s culture. Strains imposed by the franchises’
renovation program has franchisees challenging their relationship with the
corporation. In addition, unions are still reeling from a decision handed down
by a national union-organizing supervision board, which states that the
corporation will no longer be liable for labor violations committed by its
franchisees. Labor advocates who made their concerns apparent to the board were
ignored, and the decision came down with a 2-1 vote. In the background,
employees continue their cause of “Fight For 15,” in reference to their desire
to have McDonald’s starting wage raised to $15 per hour.
Kempczinski’s promise to diffuse a business party culture within the corporation is a promising start—however, in order to make meaningful changes to the corporation, there needs to be a top-to-bottom evaluation of internal processes, and of the behavior exhibited by leadership—both in the public view and behind closed doors. That is why so many institutions and corporations are subjecting their internal operations to a corporate culture audit to ensure that they won’t be caught unawares about the debilitating, pervasive issues within their organization. Regardless of quality, corporate culture moves in a cycle. The actions of leadership filter down through the workforce, influencing productivity and engagement from employees. Employees either contribute positively or negatively to the corporation as a result of that leadership, and that leads directly back to leadership in a supervisory capacity. For the sake of a long-beloved American corporation, let’s hope that Kempczinski follows through on his promise for change.
Corporations that have seen a decline in their corporate culture are turning to internal investigation and risk assessment firms for help in 2020. The discourse around corporate culture has evolved significantly over the last few years, with employees voicing their desire for work-life balance and how corporate culture directly impacts their decision to stay with a company. Leadership is better-educating themselves on how their actions feed into the cycle of corporate culture, and how they can improve employee retention by making meaningful changes that grease the wheels of success in their business or organization. However, many corporations have their anxieties about conducting internal investigations in a fishbowl—where employees are able to see the methodology in motion—and how this will impact their workforce and their business.
Corporations can find themselves open to scrutiny from both
their employees and their customer-base when they announce an impending
internal investigation. Some corporations, for a myriad of reasons, opt to have
internal investigations under a cloak of classification in order to protect the
integrity of the investigation—however, in the interest of transparency, many
corporations opt for a visible investigation, warning employees, shareholders,
customers, or all of the above, of an impending internal investigation. This
means that the investigating bodies will be under a microscope of scrutiny
within the corporation, as their methodology, decorum, and their practices will
a source of debate around the proverbial watercooler.
Regardless of who is contracted to conduct the internal
investigation, or under what level of declassification, if there is visibility
of an investigation, there is a delicate balance of transparency and
professionalism needed in pursuit of the truth. One of the most difficult tasks
an internal investigator has at the inception of the investigation is
establishing a rapport with relevant parties, such as leadership and the
workforce in order to garner frankness from persons who will be crucial to the
Investigators must establish credibility with the client and
relevant subjects in the case. This means ensuring those individuals are aware
that the investigator shares their values and is only interested in identifying
problems to improve the business—not damage it—indicating a high level of
accountability that will have a ripple effect throughout the corporation or
In tandem with establishing credibility, investigators must
be straightforward about their objectives, outlining what the client hopes to
achieve and their proposed methods of reaching that goal. Investigators must
never make promises they cannot keep by making declarations before they know
the facts. Corporate investigators must always pursue a resolution to a
business’s problem that does not impair their long-term goals—by the same
token, it is imperative that the investigator informs the client that there
might be some negative consequences as the result of their findings, such as
turnover, further inquiries, or bad publicity.
Objectivity is key in any internal investigation. It’s one of the reasons some companies elect to have a private investigator or risk assessment firm conduct their investigation, as opposed to an in-house investigator or member of house counsel. No employee with a stake in the outcome of the investigation, even indirectly, may be 100% objective in identifying pervasive issues in an organization. In addition to that objectivity, an independent investigator—unknown to the corporation or organization—investigators can move through a workplace undetected. This will take the edge off of the “fishbowl” factor that is common with internal corporate investigations. Private investigators can adopt a persona and conduct their investigations without the eyes of concerned coworkers; interviewing employees, collecting evidence, evaluating the location, and reviewing internal communications can all be conducted in plain sight.
Internal corporate investigations with a “fishbowl” factor can be an inherent challenge for corporations. Above all, it’s important to remember that employees are your greatest asset, as they feed into a cycle of corporate culture that can successfully stimulate your business or organization. An appropriate level of trust and care must always be taken when subjecting your workforce to an internal investigation. When employees feel valued, they will become empowered and engaged to give their best to the benefit of your organization.
Regardless of the industry, all businesses should be
vigilant with regards to employee theft. Employee theft can come in all shapes
and sizes, from an administrative assistant pocketing some extra Post-Its to
hardcore embezzlement on behalf of leadership. It can be easy to dismiss
repeated instances of employee theft as isolated incidents, implementing
disciplinary action or termination, and moving on with the work week. However,
many executives and managers may not realize that repeated instances of employee
theft could be indicative of a much larger problem in their corporation or
From a position of leadership, it’s easy to dismiss a single instance of employee theft; the employee is the one who made a choice to steal from their company or organization, and that employee was wrong for doing so. Discipline or termination typically follows, and leadership walks away feeling confident that they’ve removed a bad apple from their barrel. However, pervasive issues with employee theft are symptomatic of a systematic problem within the business or organization that go beyond a single employee’s bad judgement.
Why do employees steal?
The three most common reasons employees steal are not very
difficult to understand.
employees feel as though their employer has wronged them, or their compensation is inadequate.
employees believe that employers insure such losses—therefore it is a victimless crime.
employees know they will not be held accountable if they are caught
All of these reasons may characterize the employee as “disgruntled,” a term with a cultural context that often absolves the employer of any misconduct. When a corporation or organization has repeated instances of multiple employees committing theft, it’s a sign that the corporate culture of the workplace is less than healthy. A single employee pilfering staplers is not symptomatic of unhealthy corporate culture, but 5 employees pilfering staplers is a sign that employees do not feel valued, and therefore do not respect their employer.
The cycle of healthy corporate culture always begins with happy employees, because when employees are happy, they are more engaged, and contribute positively to the productivity of the organization. This pleases leadership, which incentivizes them to make decisions that raise morale, such as rewarding success with pay-raises, benefits, and thoughtful, constructive collaboration. The cycle begins anew with happy employees. Poor corporate culture means that undervalued employees will contribute negatively to workplace productivity. One of the ways poor corporate culture manifests is through employee theft—and it’s not just about profits or staplers. When employees are disengaged from their duties, they’re more likely to take extraneous breaks, or taking longer breaks than permitted, which is theft of company time. This often comes from a rationalized perspective, in which the employee does not feel their own time is valued within the organization, and therefore will place the same perceived value on company time.
Whatever the type of theft, repeated instances of employee theft cannot be ignored. It may be a sign that your business or organization needs a corporate culture audit. A corporate culture audit is like a check-up—when you go into the doctor for a standard check-up, they evaluate all of your major bodily functions for signs of disease or deterioration, and a corporate culture audit is no different. When investigators conduct a corporate culture audit, they evaluate all of your business’s internal operations, hiring processes, and principle employees for roadblocks that hinder productivity and contribute to poor corporate culture. The identification of these pervasive issues will lead to investigators providing leadership with expert recommendations to dislodge the blockage, allowing the cycle of corporate culture to right itself through cause and effect.
If you think your business or organization needs a corporate culture audit, call Lauth Investigations International today for a free quote on our Corporate Culture Audit program. For over 30 years, Lauth has been providing corporations with solutions to stimulate their business. In pursuit of truth, call 317-951-1100, or visit us online at www.lauthinvestigations.com.