50 Shades of Dismay: The Warning Signs of an Unhealthy Organization

This article sets out 50 people-oriented issues that signal an unhealthy organization. There are undoubtedly other warning signs, but this starter list will get you thinking about any potential areas for growth.

For the sake of longer-term organizational success, the first step toward improvement is for HR leaders to identify these unhealthy characteristics. The next step is to convince and collaborate with senior executives and key influencers to counter them.

So, here they are, in no special order of importance, (because, darn it, they are all very important to your organization’s health). Which of these characteristics exists in your organization?

And more importantly, what you are going to do about them?

  1. Change happens purely as a reaction to events.
  2. Advertised roles attract few applicants.
  3. There are too many support staff compared with frontline workers.
  4. Senior executives are out of touch or unapproachable
  5. The organization revels in the glories of the past rather than planning for meeting future challenges.
  6. Absence of real transparency.  Almost everything is hidden.
  7. Work and people issues are not dealt with at the right level.
  8. Problems are ignored or hidden to avoid conflict.
  9. Workers play the “that’s-not-my-job” game, doing the bare minimum and lacking concern for colleagues.
  10. Employees show irritation with colleagues or the organization in front of customers and suppliers.Frustrated employee in an unhealthy organization
  11. Internal, interdepartmental conflicts escalate.
  12. Personal agendas are openly pursued ahead of the organization’s needs.
  13. Small groups develop for mutual support and put their interests before that of the organization.
  14. Confidence in the organization’s leadership diminishes – and is openly challenged.
  15. Creativity and initiative are suppressed.
  16. Workers get little or no feedback on their performance.
  17. Bureaucratic administrative systems are created, hindering the organization’s effective and efficient operation.
  18. Rumors abound.
  19. New employees receive little or no on-boarding, with on-boarding seen as an event, not an ongoing process.
  20. Decisions are taken without consulting those affected.
  21. No attempt is made to discuss employees’ anxieties over changes. 
  22. There are lengthy periods between decisions being made and those decisions being implemented.
  23. The organization’s purpose, vision and mission are unclear – causing operational confusion.
  24. Roles and responsibilities are unclear and work gets duplicated.
  25. There is little or no delegated authority to decide things lower down the organization.
  26. People in one part of the organization don’t know what the other parts do.
  27. Meetings proliferate – and regularly over-run.
  28. Meetings are impromptu, allowing no time for preparation.  They are poorly run, and result in confusion regarding the actions to be taken.
  29. Senior management reacts with hostility to any perceived challenge to their status, self-esteem or authority.
  30. Employee exits take senior managers by surprise – and there are no succession plans in place.
  31. Churn rates are high, especially among top performers.
  32. A blame culture of “it’s not my fault” becomes prevalent.
  33. There are acknowledged “favorites” (individuals or functions) within the organization.
  34. Fashionable or quick fixes are adopted to tackle major issues.
  35. Having offered support for initiatives, senior management support evaporates once actual problems arise.
  36. High performers feel undervalued, frustrated and, ultimately, driven from the organization.
  37. Employees do not feel listened to or consulted. Stressed employee in an unhealthy organization
  38. Cost-cutting measures are imposed, often without warning, adversely effecting morale and performance.
  39. Managers don’t know or care what’s unsettling and upsetting their workers.
  40. Workers waste their time because of demotivation and poor direction.
  41. Top performers are overloaded, because they’re dependable. Less effective people have lighter workloads.
  42. Strong financial performance disguises people management and institutionalized organizational incompetence.
  43. Key performance areas aren’t personally targeted. So, no one’s at fault when these aren’t achieved.
  44. The organization’s structure provides few opportunities for promotion.
  45. A high degree of formality or excessive informality hinders performance.
  46. Empire-building and internal politics obscure organizational performance, demotivating workers in the process.
  47. People who don’t have the necessary knowledge, skills or experience are chosen for key roles, groups and working parties.
  48. Employees are given lofty titles to improve morale.
  49. Any communication is directive in nature and one-way from the top to the frontline.
  50. No encouragement is given to employees to offer opinions or raise issues and concerns.

If these warning signs sound too familiar to you, you might be wondering what, if anything, you can do to turn your unhealthy organization around. Don’t dismay – there are tools and strategies out there that can help supply the antidote. Pulse surveys create trust by giving employees a voice and including them in the process of solving the problem.

Continuous feedback in an open forum creates connection and collaboration. When pointed at the organization’s key challenges, it encourages alignment to resolve unhealthy organization symptoms.

Are you interested in learning more about how your organization can improve engagement by cultivating trust, accountability, and motivation?  Contact us today.