By Elizabeth Rozell, Ph.D.
A manager’s job is to solve problems and create a productive workplace. However, research indicates that at least 70 percent of U.S. employees are not working optimally at their jobs. Leaders and managers sometimes fail in their role as visionaries and facilitators, resulting in a dysfunctional workplace. It is important that such behaviors are dealt with swiftly as dysfunctional behaviors can lead to detrimental consequences. Across industries and organizational types, the signs of a dysfunctional workplace are consistent. So, what does a dysfunctional work environment look like?
- Unwritten and unspoken rules. Directions are oftentimes ambiguous and rules can be vague or even threatening. Although written rules might state that workers are to deliver superior customer service, the unspoken rules may emphasize one-upmanship.
- Narcissism. One sure sign of a dysfunctional workplace is a narcissistic manager. Productive managers focus on serving those on the front lines, rather than being obsessed with their individual success.
- Passive-aggressive behavior. Examples include habitually showing up late for meetings or “forgetting” to share important information. In functional settings, these behaviors are not tolerated.
- Communication issues. If top management is not aware of critical issues in specific departments, then it is almost certain that dysfunction has invaded the nucleus of the organization. Strong leadership teams communicate regularly. Frequent communication up and down the chain of command (really the lifeblood of organizations) drives performance and knowledge sharing. A dysfunctional workplace discourages communication by limiting access or punishing the messenger.
- Turnover. The cost to replace an employee is estimated to be between one and two year’s salary and benefits. If your workplace is like a revolving door, then you should take a deeper look. Management dysfunction can be signaled by turnover, either by choice or termination. Although elimination of poor performers is necessary, companies with high turnover rates may point to poor leadership.
- Lack of delegation. Management gurus strongly recommend delegating decision-making and responsibility to the lowest possible level in the management hierarchy. In a dysfunctional organization, managers do not delegate. Every decision, even small ones, requires review and approval by the one person in charge.
If you find yourself in an organization where dysfunctional behaviors are the norm, take heart. There are managerial strategies that can help you navigate or address the detrimental behaviors:
- Have a policy or handbook. You must have written rules that explicitly define dysfunctional behaviors and associated consequences for dealing with such behaviors. Make the behavioral expectations impossible to misunderstand.
- Look for the underlying cause of the behavior. Identify the issues rather than pointing the finger. Labeling the behaviors can depersonalize the problem and help address it.
- Approach the person directly. Don’t confront the person in public; discuss the behaviors privately.
- Invoke consequences if necessary. If an employee refuses to comply with the standards of behavior that have been established, then the organization must have firm and systematic consequences in place. Establish a zero-tolerance policy on dysfunctional behaviors.
Remain in control and stay focused. Concentrate on job performance and the issue at hand. Try to stay objective and rationally evaluate the extent to which you observe dysfunctional behaviors. Approach the process as though you were solving a problem. Express your interest in helping to address the issue.
- Establish clear expectations. This can help workers focus on the shared goal or vision from management.
This article appeared in the January 23, 2015 issue of the Springfield News-Leader. It is available online here.
Elizabeth Rozell, Ph.D., is a professor of management and associate dean of the College of Business at Missouri State University. Rozell also holds the Kenneth E. Meyer Professorship and is director of the MBA program. Her specialties include organizational behavior, leadership and emotional intelligence. Email: email@example.com.