3 Warning Signs of a Dysfunctional Workplace, and What to Do About It

The way your employees behave can help reveal the source of workplace dysfunction, which usually points to the lack of a strong, thriving culture.

According to business management guru Patrick Lencioni, a healthy organization has a distinct competitive advantage; it is “whole, consistent, and complete . . . its management, operations, strategy, and culture fit together and make sense.”

A dysfunctional workplace, on the other hand, is fractured and confusing, lacking creativity and energy. But how do you know if your workplace is going through a temporary slump or if you’re heading toward dysfunction? Even without words, your employees are telling you!

Here are 3 warning signs to look for:

1. Employees don’t know the mission, vision, and values of the organization or how their work aligns with it.

Big organizational changes like new leadership, widespread layoffs, or shifts in policy can create friction in the workplace, which may temporarily cause employee stress and confusion. However, if employees are generally unsure about the company’s mission or the role they play in fulfilling that mission, it may mean several fundamental aspects of a healthy workplace culture are missing, namely:

  • The organization’s mission, vision, and values have not been clearly articulated;
  • Employees are not receiving clear, timely, and meaningful communication from executive leadership;
  • Employees may be receiving mixed messages from an executive leadership team that is not cohesive.

2. Employees are not bringing forth creative or innovative ideas (anymore).

One of the signs of a healthy workplace is innovation, which thrives when employees are engaged. Not every employee is creative or innovative, and not every new idea is a good one; but if you’ve noticed that employees have generally stopped bringing any new ideas to the table, it’s a sign that they are disengaged or disgruntled at work. This likely has more to do with an organization’s unhealthy culture than it does with employee attitude. Employees aren’t motivated to bring forth new ideas when:

  • They are not provided the tools and resources to work safely and productively; (When employees are focusing their energy on productivity or safety, they don’t have the mental or physical space to be creative.)
  • They are not empowered and enabled to leverage their strengths;
  • The company rules are unclear, or not applied fairly to everyone;
  • Leaders and the workplace climate fail to provide employees with autonomous support. (If your organization relies on rewarding and punishing employees to induce behavior change, it will backfire and create less creative, disengaged employees.)

3. The majority of employees view their work as simply a job, not as a career or a calling, and employees do not have many friendships at work.

Employees who come to work primarily for a paycheck aren’t interested in investing in the company or in developing friendships at the office. These employees certainly don’t feel like their work is a calling; instead they behave like “cogs in a wheel” because:

  • They are not given resources, programs, policies, or environmental support to thrive in all areas of wellbeing (social, career, financial, community, physical);
  • They don’t feel valued by leaders;
  • Others in the organization do not respect, support, and care about one another as people, but merely as employees to complete certain tasks;
  • The company lacks a clearly stated purpose, the difference the company is trying to make in the world.

From Dysfunctional to Thriving

In order to shift from a dysfunctional to a thriving workplace culture and to experience sustainable change, organizations must foster high levels of both organizational and employee wellbeing.

Building a culture where people are free, fueled and inspired to bring their best to work each day is not something the human resources department can tackle alone; such change requires the efforts of everyone in executive leadership. The first step is to understand your current workplace culture — our FREE manager’s audit will give you a snapshot of the health of your workplace in under 5 minutes!

If you’d like to find out more about all of the steps involved in building a thriving workplace culture, download a FREE chapter of our new book, “How to Build a Thriving Culture at Work, Featuring the 7 Points of Transformation.”

Rosie Ward, PhD, MPH, MCHES, BCC, CIC®, CVS-FR Rosie is an accomplished speaker, writer and consultant. She has spent more than 20 years in worksite health promotion and organizational development. In addition to her bachelor’s degrees in Kinesiology and Public Health, and a doctorate in Organization and Management, Rosie is also a Certified Intrinsic Coach® Mentor, Certified Judgment Index Consultant, a Certified Valuations Specialist, and a Board Certified Coach. Rosie uses this unique combination to work with executive and leadership teams to create comprehensive development strategies centered on shifting thinking patterns. She is a contributing author to the book, “Organization Development in Healthcare — High Impact Practices for a Complex and Changing Environment.” She leverages these principles to help organizations develop and implement strategies to create a thriving workplace culture that values and supports wellbeing and the unique, intrinsic needs of employees. Contact Rosie at rosie@salveopartners.com or drrosieward.com.

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