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3 Signs That Your Workplace Is Dysfunctional (and What to Do About It)


It’s hard to say when the “honeymoon period” is over at a new job, but one day you it just hits you: things aren’t as good as you thought they were. Now, it’s a stretch to get from bad times to toxic times, but sometimes it gets there pretty quickly. Here’s how to know if your workplace has gone from bad to the worst ever.

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(Photo Credit: Smabs Sputzer/Flickr)

Sign #1: You’re in a Land of Confusion

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Phil Collins might have sung about it, but if your workplace is where logic goes to die, you might want to look elsewhere for employment. Even a busy or stressful environment is still often ruled by some sense of order. If nobody knows “how that gets done” (no matter how small the task) that’s a sign that the inmates are running the asylum. Good jobs mean an understood hierarchy of roles, responsibilities, accountability, and professionalism. If you don’t have those, you’re in trouble.

Sign #2: Everybody Keeps Their Head Down

Is that suggestion box gathering dust? If nobody’s willing to speak up about or against company policy or practice because that’ll mean a pink slip, then you’ve got trouble with a capital T, that rhymes with P, and that stands for paranoid workplace. You shouldn’t have the fear of getting fired keeping you from pointing out errors or places where processes could be improved. Plus, a stagnant work environment means nobody is moving forward, not even the boss. Jobs should come with room for improvement. Employees need to feel like their employer is invested in them as much as they are. Otherwise, we’re all just counting down the minutes till quitting time.

Sign #3: Nobody Cares

Projects are late and nobody notices. People quit and nobody fills their spot. Co-workers stab each other in the back for promotions and that’s considered the norm because hey, who’s going to look after you — nobody but yourself. This isn’t some sort of Hollywood dystopia, it’s your job! If everyone’s always on the lookout for the escape hatch, eventually your hovercraft is going to be empty.

So, Your Work Is the Worst: Here’s How to Avoid It All

Keep your gaze clear and strong. When you’re interviewing for a job, ask about turnover in your position and group. Check in with friends on LinkedIn to see how long they spent at the company or what they thought about it. If you’re starting to suspect your job stinks, try to get down into the specifics. Can anything be changed?

Take it day by day. Maybe things look dark because of temporary circumstances. If you’ve got a huge project or a terrible client, they won’t be around forever. Hopefully you can stick it out and make it through to the other side. If the client is rotten, try to figure out clues that could prevent you from taking on another one. If the project is bad, try a team retrospective to sort through where it all fell off the rails.

Save your sanity. It’s terrible when bad jobs happen to good people. Don’t stoop to the lowest common denominator and become apathetic and cruel, too. Try to disengage from the rotten apples – refrain from that office gossip or you might find yourself caught in a trap – and find your light outside of the cube walls. Find an ally either at work or outside of the office that you can confide in or just vent to. Just don’t let your boss catch you applying for jobs on the company clock.

Tell Us What You Think

Is your workplace a dysfunction junction? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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