Is your workplace psychologically and ethically healthy?

Is your workplace a beacon of psychological health, or do employees experience the Sunday night dreads over the coming week? Is there a sense that it is run with integrity and transparency, or are folks waiting for (maybe hoping for) some investigation or even indictment?

I periodically post questions that help us determine the psychological well-being and ethical culture of a given workplace, often drawing upon experts in employment relations, organizational behavior, and psychology. I’ve collected some of them here, with links to the original posts.  Read ’em and cheer…or weep:

1.  The New Workplace Institute’s “Eightfold Path” toward a psychologically healthy workplace:

  1. Is there a sense of zest, “buzz,” and opportunity in the workplace?
  2. Do employees feel they are valued and treated with respect and dignity?
  3. Is the organizational culture friendly, inclusive, and supportive?
  4. Is organizational decision making fair, transparent, and evenhanded?
  5. Are diversities of all types welcomed and accepted?
  6. Does the organization face tough questions concerning employee relations?
  7. Are allegations of mistreatment of employees handled fairly and honestly, even when the alleged wrongdoers are in positions of power?
  8. Are compensation and reward systems fair and transparent?

2.  From the American Psychological Association’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program, how does your workplace stack up based on these criteria?

Every year, the APA recognizes North American employers who excel in these five categories:

  • “Employee involvement”
  • “Work-life balance”
  • “Employee growth & development”
  • “Health & safety”
  • “Employee recognition”

3.  From psychologists Linda Hartling and Elizabeth Sparks, what kind of workplace culture do you have?

Hartling and Sparks note that a healthy “relational” culture is one that values “growth-fostering relationships, mutual empathy, mutuality, [and] authenticity,” creating qualities of “zest, empowerment, clarity, sense of worth, and a desire for more connection.”

By contrast, they identify three types of “non-relational” cultures that hurt morale and productivity:

(1) “traditional hierarchical” cultures that emphasize top-down power;
(2) “pseudo-relational” cultures that value superficial “niceness” over constructive change; and,
(3) brute “survival” cultures that pit everyone against one another in the quest for status and institutional spoils.

4.  From Chief People Officer Kevin Kennemer, questions about willingness to mistreat employees:

  • Does your company employ leaders and/or employees who lack that strong inner conscience to resist  shocking behavior?
  • Do you think your coworkers are capable of inhumane treatment?
  • Do psychologically abused employees find themselves stranded and secluded from their coworkers?
  • What do you do if you see an employee being psychologically abused by a supervisor?

5.  From business ethics & law professor Marianne Jennings, does your workplace exhibit any of the “seven signs of ethical collapse”?

  • Pressure to maintain numbers
  • Fear and silence
  • Larger than life CEO
  • Weak board of directors
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Innovation trumping any other priority, such as ethics
  • Belief that goodness in some areas atones for wrongdoing in others

6.  From writer and organizational consultant Art Kleiner, who are the core groups in your workplace?

If you want to understand how an organization includes or excludes, identifying the core group is a vital first step.  Examine the core group members in terms of demographics.  Look at the inclusionary or exclusionary practices of those within the core group.  You’ll get a lot of answers about the culture of a particular workplace or institution, along with some insights about what is required to achieve positive change.

14 responses

  1. What a wonderful compilation of positive, proactive views of a healthy workplace. I’m going to do some studying-in preparation for a nasty place I’m dealing with.

  2. I have had Monday morning dread when I was working at my last job. Your article confirms what I always knew, my last job was creating severe anxiety for me. Thanks for a great article.

    • Lourdes, thanks for the feedback. I’m sorry that your previous job was a source of such anxiety — I hope things are better now. David

  3. Great questions! These questions have application, not only in the workplace, but in life overall; how we ‘be’ with our partners, families, friendships and for me and my profession, how we work with childbearing women. Thanks David.

    • Carolyn, you’re right — a lot of these questions relate to our lives in general. I’m glad you found the post helpful!

  4. Excellent!!!!!!!!! I love the relational v. non-relational definitions. Thank you for compiling and posting — and continuing to increase awareness of unhealthy workplace behavior!

    • Kate, thanks. Yes, the relational vs. non-relational construct has become part of my window on the work world. Over the past couple of years, I’ve come to know Linda Hartling, one of the co-authors of the piece I discuss, and greatly admire her work on human dignity. Best, David

  5. Pingback: Is Your Workplace Psychologically & Ethically Healthy? (via Minding the Workplace) « Stop Workplace Bullies…Now!

  6. I would like to recommend a segment on union bullying. This would be a welcome contrast to the usual, admiring comments about unions that appear on this blog. What do you think, for example, about the practice of bullying public officials into signing Project Labor Agreements as a condition for maintaining labor “peace”? Any bullying there? Or how about releasing rats in a restaurant that hasn’t submitted to union intimidation? Is that another reason to admire unions as protectors of the working man (oops, person). Inquiring minds want to know.

    • David, thanks for your comment. I won’t pretend that every union is a beacon of integrity or dignity. Just as there are corrupt and abusive corporations, there are thuggish and ineffective unions that help to bring down the entire labor movement. But warts and all, unions serve as a source of countervailing power on behalf of workers in terms of overall rights, wages, benefits, and fair treatment. And when it comes to joining in the fight for legal protections against workplace bullying, more unions are coming aboard, while employer organizations such as SHRM and the Chamber of Commerce are in staunch opposition.

      It sounds like we have a basic difference of worldview. We’ve both got our axes to grind. Yours is against unions, fair enough, but curiously you chose to express it in response to a post that says nothing about unions — explicitly or implicitly! Maybe it’s time for your own blog? (WordPress is free and easy — I highly recommend it.)

      (Readers, David Tuerck is a Suffolk University professor and director of the Beacon Hill Institute, which promotes free market economic policies.)

  7. There is so much that I could write here. I am still going thru a transition of workplace betrayal that I never could have imagined happening. My previous “boss” is one if not the most duplicitous persons I have ever known. Lying, false reports , etc . . . and all within a culture of making it look good – and she also claims to be by avocation an ordained minister with a worldwide ministry. I have discovered that I am one of the few that actually speak out and againonst corruption and have paid a heavy price in terms of finances and socially. This why movies are made about people like Erin Brockovitch ( sp?) because it is very very rare and daring to speak out against corruption. And I worked in the public sector – human services ! So much relies

  8. I think it is good to provide this list of “symptoms”. Unfortunately, my workplace (MA public school) is writhe with the majority of these factors and it has been known for some time, like today’s Globe story. What does it take to create positive change? Sadly, most of the research on cutting-edge principal leadership comes out of Harvard Ed School. The unethical administrative bullies hail from Harvard Ed School. Where does the onus fall?

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