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Does your workplace suffer from dysfunction? Here’s how to spot and solve for it.

Protocol Workplace

Welcome back to our Workplace newsletter. Stop using Urban Dictionary to try and relate to your Gen Z co-workers! TikTok is faster. No cap. (Did I do that right?) Today: How to spot the signs of dysfunction in the workplace, two new tools to make onboarding new employees easier and a new study shows that younger workers are better at fully disconnecting on vacation.

Is your workplace dysfunctional? Here are the signs.

Bullying. Aggression. Sabotage. Absenteeism. These are all behaviors that are obviously bad for business. But what are the factors that lead to these types of dysfunction, and how do they spread? A study from Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations revealed several warning signs.

I spoke to the lead author, associate professor Nichelle Carpenter, and here’s what she had to say:

  • It may seem obvious, but companies should care about spotting and preventing the spread of dysfunction at work because it doesn’t just impact employee productivity, it also has a negative effect on customer satisfaction, Carpenter told me.
  • When a workplace is dysfunctional, it could take longer for customer concerns to be resolved, and there’s a real impact on financial performance.
  • A big misconception managers have, according to Carpenter, is that rooting out one or two problematic workers will fix the problem. “It requires more attention than getting rid of one employee,” she said. Instead, managers should focus on modeling appropriate behavior and creating a functional environment.

According to the study, signs of dysfunction at work appear in three areas: leadership, HR and attitudes. By spotting and addressing these issues, managers can get a handle on their workplace dysfunction.

  • Counterproductive, or dysfunctional, behavior is more common in teams with an abusive supervisor and less common when they’re led by an ethical or charismatic one. Ethical leaders take time to listen to workers, are honest and transparent in how they explain corporate policies and decisions and send strong cues to their reports that this is the behavior that is expected of them as well. Carpenter recommends people observe cues from their corporate leaders: Which workplace behaviors are rewarded, and which are punished?
  • Dysfunction is also more prevalent in companies that hire more based on “gut impressions” rather than structured interviews and “scientifically sound” methods of evaluation. Performance evaluations should also be done in a structured, rigorous manner, recommends Carpenter.
  • Finally, employee attitudes also contribute greatly to the spread of dysfunction. When employees believe management is treating them unfairly, bad habits can spread. One tool companies can use to get a feel for prevailing attitudes is through engagement surveys.

Another way your teams at work could be short-circuited? A bottom-line mentality. A second study from Rutgers, published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, found that performance suffers when employees are terrified of missing their targets.

I spoke to the lead author, professor Rebecca Greenbaum, about what she observed and her recommendations for managers:

  • The researchers defined a bottom-line mentality as “a singular focus on one prominent outcome.” That outcome is almost always thought of in terms of metrics tied to profitability, Greenbaum said.
  • A bottom-line mentality can be good in some circumstances. It’s just bad when it’s persistent. Always having a mentality that only the outcomes matter can stifle your team’s creativity, according to Greenbaum’s research. In addition, people may not feel as comfortable disrupting norms or challenging other team members with respect to things that “may be off.”
  • Too much of a bottom-line mentality within an organization can also result in a loss of psychological safety. People may feel less free in conveying their thinking or being vulnerable with each other. “If you’re not speaking up, then you’re not going to have as many novel solutions to problems,” she said.

So what do you do if you spot some of these behaviors in your workplace? Greenbaum recommends managers make sure they’re paying attention to how they reward. Lip service and telling your employees that you value ethics isn’t enough. If you’re only rewarding them for meeting performance targets, employees may feel pressured to act unethically in order to secure those goals. Convey that you care about more than just profits and meeting goals, and you just might avoid ending up like Boeing, Greenbaum said.

— Michelle Ma, reporter (email | twitter)

No more boring screen recordings

One of Jennifer Smith’s business school professors once told her, “Find the thing you always apologize for about yourself and find a way to make it your career.” For Smith this was efficiency. She’s obsessed with making processes more productive, sometimes annoying her husband in the process, she said. Smith is now the CEO of Scribe, a tool that helps workers make step-by-step work processes easier to explain, especially to remote employees.

Read the full story.


Thinking outside your wall: How the path to net zero requires a new approach to collaboration and knowledge sharing: The emissions that make up a full greenhouse gas footprint can emanate from outside the four walls of your own manufacturing operations, like in the case of PepsiCo, where 93% of emissions come from its value chain.

Read more from Pepsico

When the bubbles burst

As the old saying goes: if we don’t learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat it. On July 19 at 10 a.m. PDT, reporter Biz Carson will be joined by a panel of VCs who expertly navigated the 2001 and 2008 crashes to talk about the downturn around the corner. They will share lessons on how to shift strategies when the market changes, what emerging VCs should focus on in order to survive and when it is — and isn’t — time to make that next big bet. RSVP here.

Time for a vacation

You’re not the only one struggling to unplug on vacation. Even with the rise in the number of companies offering the perk of unlimited vacation time, a new poll from Glassdoor found that a majority of professionals have a hard time disconnecting during PTO. Though, tech employees do tend to be better at relaxing than workers in other industries. Here are the highlights:

  • The people have spoken and flexibility at work has vastly increased in recent years. Employee reviews on Glassdoor mentioning ‘unlimited’ vacation policies are up 75% from pre-pandemic levels, according to the report.
  • Still, 54% of professionals responded they’re “unable or do not believe they can fully unplug while on paid time off.”
  • While teachers and legal professionals reportedly have the hardest time unplugging, over half (56%) of tech professionals said they believe they can fully disconnect from work when they take time off.
  • Age also appears to play a role in the ability to disconnect from work. 65% of professionals over the age of 45 said they’re “unable or do not believe they can fully unplug while on PTO.” In comparison, only 47% of professionals between the ages of 21 and 25 said they struggle to unplug.

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Thinking outside your wall: How the path to net zero requires a new approach to collaboration and knowledge sharing:Asking suppliers and associated companies to overhaul the way they work is no small feat, but PepsiCo is taking a three-pronged approach centered around the principles of educating, enabling and incentivizing. The Sustainability Action Center aims to engage and equip value chain partners with tools to undergo their own sustainability journey.

Read more from Pepsico

Around the internet

A roundup of workplace news from the farthest corners of the internet.

In a new filing, Twitter says it's looking at “restructuring,” not big layoffs. (Reuters)

Two senior Googlers said the company has cut its hiring goals. (Insider)

Massive layoffs for tech workers all over China. (Rest of World)

Who knew? Germany, Denmark and Singapore are some of the best countries for working remote. (Bloomberg)

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to workplace@protocol.com.

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