Helping Employees Navigate Toxic Workplace Experiences

Jana Morrin

Toxic workplaces are on the rise, and today, for the sake of their people and their bottom line, organizations must address and take action against this kind of behavior. This week on ProjectHR, Jana Morrin, CEO and Co-founder of Speakfully, a platform that helps employees discreetly navigate through toxic workplaces, talks about the need to support employees who experience mistreatment at work. We'll discuss:

  • The impact of toxic workplaces;
  • What companies should be doing to help employees;
  • How data and analytics can help companies become more proactive against toxicity; and
  • The Speakfully process.

Jana Morrin

Workplace Advocate

“It needs to be an ongoing, continuous conversation with everybody -- and when that happens, people will resonate with that when they’re going through something.”

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Terms Matter

  • Ms. Morrin refers to workplace “mistreatment”, rather than “harassment” because so much of what can happen in a toxic workplace can fall into a gray area.
  • The self-doubt inherent in people dealing with toxic environments can make people shy away from the harassment label, even if what they’re dealing with is actual harassment. By using “mistreatment”, it allows those people to address their problem without having to come to terms with the label.
  • “Harassment” is often used as shorthand for “Sexual Harassment”, but it shouldn’t be. There are many different kinds of harassment that have no sexual element whatsoever, but people often forget to include those in the definition.


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The Impact of Toxic Workplaces

  • Happening more than organizations know about, because of these gray areas.
  • Impacts to actual employees dealing with the toxicity are personally and professionally devastating, and can make just completing their day-to-day work deeply challenging.
  • Impacts can be devastating on an organizational level as well, as toxic environments decrease employee productivity, damage public relations, legal and ultimately, experience much higher turnover than their non-toxic counterparts. 

First-Hand Experience

  • Ms. Morrin, unfortunately, had first-hand experience with a toxic work environment, and it inspired the creation of the Speakfully platform. She shared her story with us on ProjectHR, but she also shares it on her blog.
  • Started DIY documentation using Google Docs - 30 total pages of documentation. 
  • Feared retaliation from her boss, and “wasn’t sure what he’d do”.
  • Ms. Morrin had a good relationship with her HR team, but wasn’t easy to talk about these gray-area issues.
  • Quitting was a spur-of-the-moment decision based on yet another incident of her boss’ bad behavior.  

What Should Companies Be Doing?

  • Senior leadership needs to have continuing conversations with employees about maintaining positive working environments, and the resources available to employees in need (Employee Hotlines, etc.), not just address them during onboarding. 
  • HR needs to be transparent throughout the reporting process..
  • The company needs to take accountability and take action when toxic behaviors are discovered.
  • “It needs to be an ongoing, continuous conversation with everybody -- and when that happens, people will resonate with that when they’re going through something.” 

The Speakfully Platform

  • Bourne from her experience in a toxic workplace - what would have helped her in that situation, from both the employee perspective as well as from the organizational perspective.
  • Speakfully is a platform that helps HR be more proactive, creates a safe place for employees to be able to document their experiences, and then submit them to HR, if and when they are ready to do so. HR can then show that transparency through the platform with notifications to the submitting employee. Prior to submission, HR will also receive limited data and analytics that simultaneously respects the employees’ privacy, but still allows HR to get an idea of what’s going on, without getting any defining details of the unsubmitted documented experiences. 

The Speakfully Process (for “Individuals”)

  • Individual employees can log in to Speakfully for free, if their organization does not provide it to their employees.
  • Employees create a folder and begin writing log entries. The program begins by first asking them three key questions:
  • What is it that you experienced?
  • Where did it happen?
  • How did it make you feel?
  • Log entries are time-stamped, and allow for inclusion of materials such as photos, screencaps, and emails.
  • A resources panel is provided for employees as well, one that includes educational links and access to a peer-to-peer texting counselor service.
  • Employees are also given the option to export their folders to HR at any time.

The Speakfully Process (for “Teams”)

  • Organizations can provide Speakfully to their employees, at different tier levels.
  • Companies who do so can access the limited data and analytics mentioned above, prior to submission, which helps them be more proactive. 
  • Those data and analytics come from the meta-data of those first three key questions asked.

The Need for Privacy

  • Speakfully is a cloud-based platform maintained by a third-party vendor.
  • Everything is encrypted, no one has access to folders other than the individual employees, until they choose to share them.
  • No one sees “who or what” until folders are shared -- the shared meta-data allows employers to see as a whole, as an organization, this is the way that people are answering these questions.

The Legal Benefits of Speakfully

  • Speakfully allows employers to take the pulse of what’s going on in their organization, so that they can decide if they need to do more training, if they need to have more conversations about maintaining their positive workplace.
  • Speakfully won’t make anyone MORE liable - companies are liable regardless of whether they have a tool or not. Corporate liability depends on the actions an organization takes in response to toxic behavior. 
  • Offering this tool to your employees allows them to express themselves and submit whenever they’re ready, so that if they do submit, their companies will receive a comprehensive, time-stamped document that they can take action on.

Links Referenced This Episode

Jana Morrin: Backstory

  • B.S. from University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire
  • Ms. Morrin is currently the CEO and Co-founder of Speakfully


  • Jana Morrin:
  • Speakfully email:  
  • Speakfully website

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