Before I started working from home, I worked a 9-5 job in an office. I remember the environment very well. While I was pretty lucky in that I liked where I worked, not everyone can say that. A recent Gallup poll points up a nasty truth; the vast majority of American workers are not happy in their workplace. While the Recession is easing, the feeling of discontent continues in the workforce. If your workers are suffering from disengagement, then your company is suffering as well.


Changing workplace culture cannot happen overnight… well unless an extremely dramatic change is made. However, even small changes can make a difference. While nobody expects work to be crazy happy fun time, workers and management do have the right to expect that the workplace will not be all trauma and drama.

Changing the Culture

When you look at your office and staff, what do you see? What do you hear? For years the workplace has followed a certain structure. And the top-down mentality can create a disengaged and dysfunctional workplace culture that can hinder productivity and engagement. To return your organization to a happy place, you’re going to have to treat the new 21st century workplace as a grassroots revival. As more jobs open up, workers are starting to feel as if they have options to either seek greener pastures or strike out on their own. They no longer feel dependent upon staying in a given job in order to meet their financial obligations. I know that feeling all too well. Increasing worker retention and reducing turnover means addressing organizational shortcomings. Let’s take a look at the characteristics of an unhealthy workplace, according to Entrepreneur magazine.

Unhealthy Practices

  1. Dysfunctional communication. This can be either a lack of communication, indirect communication, withholding information or giving misleading or false information. Lacking effective communication is pretty much the iceberg that sank the Titanic. Employees feel isolated, suspicious, and un-trusting of management that does not seem to trust them.
  2. Inconsistency or excessive rigidity in applying policies. The rules have to be the same for everyone, with some latitude for individual cases. However, some bosses will abuse the disciplinary process to remove people they don’t like, and influence the hiring process to install someone who agrees with them at all times. Working under the gun is never good for anyone, likewise no one should have to worry if they need to take a day off to care for a sick child or attend to vital matters that cannot be resolved on evenings or weekends.
  3. Narcissism in the leadership. Narcissistic leaders can create or enhance a toxic work environment, in fact, they thrive on being the center of attention whether it is positive or negative. They are quick to take credit successes and will portion out blame the failures to everyone but themselves. They condescend to their workers and kiss up to their superiors. While they may show some initial success, the deterioration in communication and trust will ultimately sink them, and make the job that much harder for anyone coming in afterwards.
  4. Seething discontent. Employees are going to complain. Anyone looking hard enough can find something to complain about at any time. However, when employees repeatedly bring up issues to their superiors, or middle management to senior management, that go consistently unaddressed or dismissed there is a problem. Sarcasm and cynicism are the hallmark of the disengaged worker, and eventually such workers withdraw, cease interaction, become excessively absent and ultimately leave the organization.

Healthy Characteristics

The characteristics of a healthy organization according to the Society for Human Resources Management are as follows:

  1. The staff trusts management to lead and look out for their people equally. Management trusts workers to be advocates for the business who will make decisions in support of the business’ goals. Finally, the workers support each other in doing their jobs and have great interpersonal relationships with each other.
  2. Healthy communication is not monodirectional. Workers and management feedback from their peers, but also management from workers and workers from management. These conversations take place regularly, and even if they are held weekly by Bluejeans meetings online, they become part of a healthy communication culture in the workplace.
  3. Transparency feeds back into the issues of trust and communication outlined above. Managers must be open about successes and difficulties, as well as responsive to feedback and evenhanded in applying company policies.

If all of this sounds a little New Age or wishy-washy, take a look around your workplace and see whether your staff fit into practices for a healthy workplace, or practices for an unhealthy workplace. If you have a bunch of people who just seem to be there, but still phoning it in you need to take a harder look at the characteristics of an unhealthy workplace and begin to implement solutions. It’s been shown in multiple studies that workers who are content in their jobs have a higher rate of productivity, a lower rate of absenteeism or accidents, and are likely to experience greater job satisfaction and feel loyalty toward the company instead of just showing up for a paycheck.