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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, November 17, 2003

How to tell if a workplace is too damaged for you to remain

By Chad Graham
Des Moines Register

Drum roll, please.

Here are the top 10 clues that you work in a dysfunctional workplace.

    10. A picture of Enron's management team hangs in the lobby.
    9. The company's owner calls you Betty. Your name is Bob and you have a 5 o'clock shadow to prove it.
    8. Grief counselors are on standby in the human resources department.
    7. Employees have sympathy flowers delivered to themselves.
    6. Seventy-three percent of your co-workers dress as postal workers for the annual Halloween party.
    5. Cubicles are defaced by gang graffiti by local teens ditching school.
    4. Annual reviews include shock therapy, water torture and a feather that tickles. You begin to enjoy the last part.
    3. The new switchboard message is: "You've reached the operator. Complaints are now handled by a toll-free number."
    2. A co-worker's lunch consists of reheated "vodka casserole" with Xanax crust, chased by "Valium cookie" dessert.
    1. The boss walks around jiggling loose change in his pockets, saying, "I got your bonus right here."

Everyone knows there's no fun in dysfunctional workplaces.

What's tricky is determining when an office environment can be fixed by talking to the boss or working as a team to change the culture.

How do you know when a company has such severe, unfixable problems that it's better to clean out your desk and bolt screaming?

Steven Carney knows the latter situation.

The Denver architect and author of the just-released "Teamwork Chronicles: A Startling Look Inside the Workplace" (Greenleaf, $12.95) has held dozens of jobs — from designing houses and office furniture to co-producing a jazz album.

He began writing his book out of sheer disgust over the way his employers ran their companies. Carney left the rat race in 2001 to become a consultant and finish his book.

"Most of my managers were not interested in talking with me about the lack of teamwork and experience," he said. "They were not interested in talking about them. They had no time to discuss them."

One of Carney's big beefs?

The bosses. He makes the argument that a company's leadership sets the tone for everyone's performance and productivity.

If the boss acts like a moron or a child throwing a temper tantrum, the workers are going to revolt or eventually give up and resign themselves to be co-dependents.

Carney worked with some nasty, autocratic people who introduced new idea after new idea with declarations of a team approach — only to have the collaboration fall flat with infighting and scapegoating.

These managers, Carney writes, were domineering bosses who lacked skills in cooperation, communication and tact. Few wanted to discuss suggestions or collaborate with subordinates.

"As a result, millions of employees dread going to work each day," Carney said.

Want to know why bosses act this way?

They are not schooled in management techniques. Or they have a terrible sense of self-worth and "boost their sense of value and self-esteem at the expense of their workers and teams."

There are plenty of horror stories in the book about bosses throwing pens, using obscenities and blaming workers for their mistakes — and about powerless underlings too scared to speak. If this sounds familiar, you might be working for a company that's out of control.