A Workplace Culture "Miss-Fit" or Off Attitude?

workplace culture employee "miss-fit"

© 2014 thewalkingdude. Licensed under CC-BY.

Sometimes employees fit into their organizations like a square peg in a round hole. It might be a recruiting oversight. Perhaps it’s a personality quirk. An attitudinal swing in the individual. Or a workplace culture transformation, a change management shift.

What’s important to remember is that workplace "miss-fits" aren’t necessarily bad.

Too much of a good thing is quite simply, too much. That goes for sameness in the workplace.  Although workplace culture is what gives an organization a cohesive framework, variety really is the spice of life. It’s what makes where we work more interesting, more challenging and infinitely more engaging.

In a 2009 study cited by HBR writer and behavior change psychologist, Ron Friedman, “teams of three were asked to solve a problem with the help of a new colleague who was either similar or dissimilar to the existing group. While homogenous teams felt more confident in their decisions, it was the diverse teams that performed best. The newcomers pushed veterans to re-examine their assumptions and process data more carefully—the very thing they neglected to do when everyone in their group was similar.”

Naysayers challenge opinions and ideas. People on the autism spectrum, long left out of the hiring loop, challenge social business norms. Various cultural customs and conventions challenge long-held corporate mores. Inclusive diversity brings about different ways of seeing and doing, of innovating and problem-solving.

Employees perceived to fall outside the norms of workplace culture actually fuel culture and keep organizations moving forward “by bringing all the uniqueness of who they are and how they think to their work,” as Forbes contributor, Erika Anderson so eloquently writes. Those square pegs in round holes support an environment where people with widely varied backgrounds, skillsets and ideologies are authentically guided by the same mission, vision and values in the workplace.

Tackling Bad Behavior


It’s when someone’s poor performance or bad behavior is out of sync with these values that turning a blind eye can have serious ramifications.

Look at the unravelling of The Weinstein Company, one of North America’s largest film studios. Senior executives of the company are now facing a lawsuit accusing them of failing to prevent the mistreatment of staff, despite being presented with evidence of alleged abuse by one of the studio’s namesake partners, Harvey W.

Another blatant example of dire consequences is the Baltimore police corruption verdict. Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton asserts the scope of the corruption and duration of the criminal conspiracy described in testimony “leave little doubt that others in the department knew or at least suspected that members of the unit were acting outside the law.” He suggests the vast majority of officers, the supposed “good apples” were at best blind to the corruption in their midst if not accepting of it, and asks how much earlier the corruption could have been stopped if honest cops had spoken up?

“How often did supervisors look the other way so long as this unit kept making arrests and seizing guns?” This complicity, Fenton writes, was an egregious example of a culture skirting the rules and leaving the honest cops — the ones who came to the profession for the right reasons — facing an infinitely more difficult job.

Now, these may be cases in the extreme, but they’re red flag alerts nonetheless.

It’s incumbent upon people managers to deal with undesirable situations. Reluctance, inconsistency or inaction convey acceptance - which is poor management behavior as unhealthy as the bad behavior itself. Employees with a vested interest in seeing their projects, their careers and their organizations advance, become demoralized. Quality control issues, safety incidents, absenteeism, turnover and associated costs climb. The nasty habits and damaging actions (or inactions) of one or few undermine the employee engagement of many. Gossip and rumor mongering – the devil’s poison, public belittling, harassment – sexual or otherwise, negativity, presenteeism – taking up space without putting in the time or effort, playing the blame game, accepting credit where credit isn’t due, rampant tardiness and blatant sick leave abuses are just the tip of a toxic iceberg.

As soon as poor work habits or cynical, uncooperative attitudes are noticed, be proactive. Meet with the individual to find out if something’s amiss. Do they have the tools or training to get the job done and to do so well? Is their work/life balance off kilter? Introduce measures to help. Issue disciplinary warnings with back up documentation if warranted; refer to your organization’s code of conduct. Schedule weekly one-on-one meetings to check in, offer support, monitor performance.   Don’t bury your head in the sand like an ostrich hoping bad behavior will go away on its own. Because it won’t.

author patricia bell newson

About Patricia Bell Newson

A graduate of Canada’s leading Journalism Degree program, Patricia Bell Newson is an accomplished writer and communications specialist. As a key member of the TalentMap team, Pat leads the company’s thought leadership with full force producing weekly content on employee engagement and best practices in employee surveys. Pat’s experience in advising leaders on strategic approaches to sensitive issues, priorities, and policies together with her ability to research and easily grasp various concepts regarding the workplace has been a great asset in creating valuable insights for HR leaders.

If Pat ever takes her mind off her next writing project, she’ll either be on her next adventure traveling the world, trying new food experiences, or taking a well-deserved break at her cottage.

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