Cultural Dysfunction and Wellness
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Organizations have their mission, vision, systems, mandates, values, policies and procedures that ensure they function effectively. They also have their own unique systems and patterns of behaviour and human interaction. This is the dynamic aspect of organizational life, which influences how people feel when they are at work and how they behave because of those feelings. When leaders and leadership groups are not mindful of the emotional life of the organization; when it is ignored and not factored into the other elements of organizational structure, cultural dysfunctions arise.
Creating a culture of wellness in an organization involves ensuring that pervasive patterns of human behavior that positively impact productivity, morale, and the ability of its members to thrive and achieve their full potential is embedded in systems, training and development. This also influences their ability to realize the full potential of the organization that they serve. Despite effective systems, leadership best practices, performance management and succession planning, cultural dysfunctions still emerge, much to the frustration of leaders and human resource professionals who are working and investing their time and energy to ensure that they do not. Even fast-growing and profitable companies are not immune.
A dysfunctional culture will eventually lead to declining performance and productivity. The larger the organization, the more susceptible it is to the breakdown of communication, to the emergence of management silos and to misalignment. As a result, employees, including leaders, can experience a loss of meaning and purpose, a loss of a sense of their own value, or feelings of helplessness and futility. When employees are unable to express their ideas, feelings and needs in a constructive fashion, they will instead act out emotionally with passive aggressive behavior, resistance, power struggles and absenteeism. Rather than thriving at work – connecting emotionally, investing their energy and drawing on their intrinsic motivation — employees begin surviving — just showing up, adapting, withdrawing their energy, and doing the bare minimum.
The following are a few of the warning signs that indicate organizational dysfunction:
* Leaders in the organization stifle discussion and disagreement;
* Leaders’ behaviour (aggressive, withdrawing, devaluing, grandiose, passive)
* Ongoing conflict with ineffective conflict management skills;
* Lack of trust between members leading to employee silos, excessive competitiveness, lack of communication and collaboration between workgroups;
* Decreased productivity, resistance, complaining and negativity;
* Excessive fear, depression and adaptive behavior;
* Increased absenteeism, stress leave or employees leaving their jobs.
To make a shift from a culture of dysfunction to a culture of wellness, leadership and human resources professionals need to consider the mental, emotional and spiritual (quest for meaning) dimensions of the organization. Cultural wellness encompasses sound systems, policies, procedures and leadership practices. It must also take into account how people spend their time while working, how they feel about themselves as they are working, and their ability to express themselves authentically as they carry on the duties of their role.
Cultural dysfunction often exists as result of how the leader is behaving and how employees are responding to that behavior. Leaders are not always aware of how their character, personality, and behaviour affect the emotional life of their employees and ultimately, the wellness of the culture. Dysfunctional patterns of adaptive behavior then develop as employees struggle to figure out how their leader wants them to behave.
It is often challenging for leaders and leadership teams to acknowledge that they are a central part of the problem. They are reluctant to examine whether they are directly contributing to the problem; if they are perceived as not taking action to correct the problems; or as not interested in what is going on with employees. It is much easier to deal symptomatically: for example, by adding a wellness program, sending employees for training, blaming a certain manager or group for the problem or improving their compensation package. Unfortunately, when these attempts to help employees fail to change undesirable behaviors and other dysfunctions of the culture, leaders are at a loss as to what to do.
Alleviating cultural dysfunction is often as simple as getting the right diagnosis and prescription for treating the root problems. Using an Organizational Effectiveness Consultant or a Corporate Therapist to facilitate this process ensures that leaders and employees have the opportunity to explore the beliefs, fears and behaviours that are contributing to the dysfunction – in an open, non-judgmental forum. From this exploration, customized organizational and employee programs are developed to address the specific needs for that organization. Programs are designed that build awareness, emotional intelligence, conflict communication skills, and remove unconscious barriers to development. Employees are given the tools to deal with conflict and relationship issues as they arise. The result: changing of the dysfunctional patterns of behaviour, shifting behaviour from surviving to thriving in leaders and employees, and freeing up energy that ultimately is used to achieve organization and individual objectives and cultural wellness.
Anne Dranitsaris, PhD