15 Signs Your Workplace is Dysfunctional

Albert J. Bernstein PhD, author "Am I the Only Sane One Working Here? 101 Solutions for Surviving Office Insanity"

officeDoes your job drive you crazy? Do you sometimes wonder if you are the only sane person in working there? Is your workplace dysfunctional, or is it you? Here's how to find out"

Based on more than 30 years of experience as psychologist and business consultant, I've put together a checklist of fifteen diagnostic signs of a psychologically dysfunctional business. Is it the job, or is it you?

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Sign No. 1: Conspicuously posted vision or value statements are filled with vague but important-sounding words like "excellence" and "quality"

These words are seldom defined and the concepts they allude to are never measured.


Sign No. 2: Bringing up a problem is considered more as evidence of a personality defect rather than as an actual observation of reality

In a dysfunctional company, what it looks like is not only more important than what it is, it is what it is. If you don't believe that, you are the problem. A surprising amount of information is classified. Dysfunctional companies have more state secrets than the CIA. Anything that might embarrass the boss turns out to be a national security issue.


Sign No. 3: If by chance there are problems, the usual solution is a motivational seminar

Attitude is everything, especially in places where facts are embarrassing or inconvenient. In a dysfunctional family, there's an elephant -- usually a drunken abusive parent -- in the parlor, but no one ever mentions him. To appear sane, you have to pretend that the elephant is invisible, and that drives you crazy. Businesses are full of invisible elephants, too. Usually they are things that might cause difficulties for people with enough clout to prevent their discussion. The emperor may be naked, but if you have a good attitude, you won't mention it.


Sign No. 4: Double messages are delivered with a straight face

Quality and quantity are both job one. You can do it both cheaper and better, just don't ask how. If you're motivated enough you should know already.


Sign No. 5: History is regularly edited to make executive decisions more correct, and correct decisions more executive than they actually were

Those huge salaries require some justification.


Sign No. 6: People are discouraged from putting things in writing

What is written, especially financial records, is purposely confusing. You can never tell when you might need a little deniability.


Sign No. 7: Directions are ambiguous and often vaguely threatening

Before you respond to a vague threat, remember this: Virtually every corporate scandal begins with someone saying, "Do it; I don't care how." That person is seldom the one who gets indicted.


Sign No. 8: Internal competition is encouraged and rewarded

The word "teamwork" may be batted around like a softball at a company picnic, but in a dysfunctional company the star players are the only ones who get recognition and big bucks.


Sign No. 9: Decisions are made at the highest level possible

Regardless of what it is, you have to check with your boss before doing it. She also has to check with her boss.


Sign No. 10: Delegating means telling somebody to do something, not giving them the power to do it

According to Webster's Dictionary, you delegate authority, not tasks. In dysfunctional companies you may have responsibility, but the authority lives in the office upstairs.


Sign No. 11: Management approaches from the latest bestseller are regularly misunderstood to mean what we're doing already is right on the mark

"Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," "Good to Great" and "Who Moved My Cheese?" all seem to boil down to, "quit griping and do more with less."


Sign No. 12: Resources are tightly controlled

Your department may need upgraded software, but there's been a spending freeze since 2006. Cost control is entry-level management, but in a dysfunctional company anything more sophisticated is considered too touchy-feely. Whatever you propose, the first question you will be asked is if it can be done cheaper.


Sign No. 13: You are expected to feel lucky to have a job and know you could lose it if you don't toe the line

Dysfunctional companies maintain control using the threat of punishment. Most will maintain that they also use positive rewards ... like your paycheck. A few people are actually fired, but most of those who go are driven to quit.


Sign No. 14: Rules are enforced based on who you are rather than what you do

In a dysfunctional company, there are clearly insiders and outsiders and everyone knows who belongs in each group. Accountability has different meanings depending on which group you're in.


Sign No. 15: The company fails the Dilbert Test

Dysfunctional organizations have no sense of humor. People who post unflattering cartoons risk joining the ranks of the disappeared. When an organization loses the ability to laugh at itself, it is headed for big trouble. If you'd get in trouble for printing this article and posting it on the bulletin board at work, maybe it's time to look for another job before this one drives you crazy.


Next: 10 Signs It's Time to Quit >>


Albert J. Bernstein PhD is the author of bestsellers "Dinosaur Brains" and "Emotional Vampires." His newest book is "Am I the Only Sane One Working Here? 101 Solutions for Surviving Office Insanity." For more information on how to stay sane at work, visit Dr. Al's Web site www.albernstein.com.


Filed under: Office Etiquette

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279 Comments

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Gene

No more for me now that I am retired and no longer have to deal with un-educated "supervisors" and porch monkey mentality from "upper management" that have made coporate america what it is today......second and third rate companies with poor quality products.

January 01 2010 at 1:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Gene

I am so glad I dont have to deal with this kind of crap anymore now that I am retired. Porch monkey mentality from un-educated supervisors and upper "management" has made coporate america what it is today...second and third rate companies with poor quality products.

January 01 2010 at 1:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gbsmitty

This is a typical attempt to write a one size fits all article. He's probably been a "government" psychologist somewhere for 30 years (one size fits all being their operative world). The idea you could run Boeing or IBM like a 10 man software company is ridiculous. Large companies, almost of necessity, end up with cliques, politics, processes and everything else that, yes, is a little stifling. However, their very size requires structure and top down guidance to make them work to do the large scale tasks they perform. Small companies are fun to work at, and intimate, but lose that one big customer most of them rely on and see how much fun it becomes. Sorry, this article isn't very useful.

January 01 2010 at 11:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
earlymusicus

I would say this article is true of 99% of American companies. This country has been shown, in study after study, to be the worst country (of the major industrialized countries) to be a worker in - we treat our workers like cr*p, we pay our workers like cr*p, and benefits, when they exist, are cr*p. Working in America quite frankly s*cks!

January 01 2010 at 11:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
muffin311

Don't forget the boss who gives negative references to every employee no matter how good you were at your last job.

January 01 2010 at 10:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mon

Everytime I read a blog on AOL, it is filled with these idiotic "oh, I am so lonely" dating sites. Why don't you "lonely assholes" go out into the world and volunteer, or do something useful to contribute to the world? People who say they are "lonely" are just selfish people who make me sick. Wah,wah, wah. Grow to Hell up!

January 01 2010 at 9:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
enutsaid

unless you worked for a bunch of bastards, you don't know what it's like to work in a facist , nazi like environment. Americans have no work place rights at all. We have sold our souls to the banks and fat kats. TO HELL WITH THE JOB KILLERS AND THE NEW WORLD ORDER. THE ARTICLE BEING COMMENTED ON IS A WORK OF GENIUS, THE MAN OUGHT TO BE KNIGHTED

January 01 2010 at 7:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Clay

This would also seem apply to American voters and their relationship with the Federal Government?

January 01 2010 at 7:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
enutsaid

Sharp article, the phd who wrote it knew exactly what he was writing aabout. American workers have no rights , no future, and are being exploited as a result of our economic shutdown. Death to the New World Order and it's brutal genocide of the American worker. Alan Greenspan promoted job export and illegal alien imports to drag wages down. Jail the bastard along with Robert Reich, Clinton's downsizer who opened the door for Bush

January 01 2010 at 7:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Debi

I've had to work at jobs for minimum wage, when I'm a college graduate and very educated. My previous boss never let me forget that he "gave me a 30 cent raise!" Additionally, there are bigger (huge!) issues at my previous employment than that! I'm pretty fed up with the crap that "kiss a** uneducated tards" get away with, including bosses/managers who don't have any business in their positions, when I clearly was the hardest worker, best personality, and gave the best customer service there. This article is pretty much hitting the mark~~and on the right track!

December 30 2009 at 11:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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