The Symptoms of an Unhealthy Culture in the Workplace

Unhealthy work environments leave employees feeling worn down and beleaguered.
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Companies rise or fall on the health of their culture, the unwritten norms for how the organization operates. Management's actions influence whether that culture is positive or negative. Workplaces that allow a negative culture to flourish share telltale characteristics. In these environments, little priority is given to promoting positive relationships, let alone rewarding performance. Individual initiative is also squelched in favor of a top-down model that encourages employees to do little more than follow orders.

Abusive Bosses

    Abusive bosses are one of the signature symptoms of an unhealthy workplace. Bosses who use their authority to humiliate or disparage subordinates are also known as workplace bullies. Thirty-seven percent of American adults reported experiencing some type of bullying at work, according to a 2007 Zogby poll cited by "Time" magazine. Bosses may bully out of insecurity, lack of social skills or a desire to impose unrealistic standards. Whatever the motivation, the outcome magnifies workers' resentments, and hurts a company's long-term performance.

Inconsistent Feedback

    Honest feedback is among the first casualties of an unhealthy workplace, as executive coach Patty Vogan observes in a July 2006 column for "Entrepreneur" magazine. Employees take their cues in this area from how management reacts to bad news. If outbursts carry the day, employees will tell the boss what he wants to hear, for fear of losing their job. Managements that avoid these issues don't learn how the company is actually doing until a major crisis emerges.

Lack of Recognition

    All too often, corporate leaders don't bother to acknowledge employees for a job well done -- or, worse, take the credit for ideas that they didn't originate, according to Vogan. This situation often reflects a company's belief that workers shouldn't expect special attention or recognition for successfully carrying out their assigned tasks. Eventually, however, lack of acknowledgement causes employees to feel resentful, chipping away at their loyalty and motivation in the long run.

Polarizing Leadership

    No organization is free from politics because the desire for power is inherent in human nature, according to Med Jones, president of the International Institute of Management. Successful leaders reward collaborative efforts and penalize negative behavior. These standards turn upside down in an unhealthy corporate culture, whose hiring, promotion and recruiting practices are crafted to fulfill an internal political agenda, says Jones. Managers using this model treat friends more favorably, frustrating better-qualified candidates whose talents might advance the company's performance.

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