On creating organizational culture: What if your boss simply doesn’t care?


We talk about good leaders who create healthy organizational cultures — you know, the kinds of places where people want to work. We talk about bad leaders who create hostile and toxic organizational cultures, the kinds of places where bullying and abuse thrive.

But what about bosses who don’t think much at all about the quality of work life within their organizations? What if notions such as supportive work environments, fair compensation structures, and organizational justice don’t cross their radar screens? For that matter, what if they’re not into creating bad work environments, either? What if all that matters to them are profits/revenues, avoiding liability, pleasing their boards & superiors, and getting ahead?

In other words, what if they simply don’t care?

A common practice

I suggest this is quite common — especially in occupational settings where people are hired into leadership positions based, at least in part, on performance factors that have little to do with their ability to manage an organization.

In my twin realms of higher education and law, this happens all the time. In higher ed, people may be promoted to administrative leadership positions because they’ve been successful professors, or maybe they’re just good at impressing people in interviews. In law, people may be promoted to management positions in law firms, public agencies, and non-profits because they’ve been good litigators.

Oftentimes, the skills that made them good at their previous jobs aren’t the right match for their new management responsibilities.

The consequences

Regardless of how they got there, bosses who practice benign neglect when it comes to organizational culture create a giant void for others to fill.

If, for example, their immediate underlings are attentive to nurturing a psychologically healthy workplace, then everyday working conditions may be pretty decent for the rank-and-file.

By contrast, if those underlings are clueless about managing a workplace effectively, then a lot of people may suffer. And if a manipulative, bullying type of individual seizes power within that void, then a good number of people will suffer.


This post was revised in July 2019.

7 responses

  1. I will admit, David, your analysis of some workplace dynamics mirrors issues that my workplace struggles with.

    Being attentive to employees’ concerns for being treated with respect for one’s dignity, at times, has been grossly lacking.

  2. Great piece!
    In Canada we have recently released a national standard on psychologically healthy and safe workplaces – can be downloaded from the CSA website. It provides tools for orgranizations to use to move towards and exceed the standard.
    It is the first standard of its kind in in the world.

  3. This type of problem is very common in the field I am in-some mid managers are fairly open about the fact they don’t care about the work. I think part of the problem is that these managers are under pressure for the top. However, in one of the few defenses of mid-management that I have is that I think that some of these people are not being paid enough. I think for the first level managers that I work with they are not getting much more money then the workers they manage and they can be promoted to non-management positions.

    I have come to a conclusion that positions over people in a company should always pay much more than non-management positions. By its nature it has more responsibility that non-management positions. Without added pay and status I think a lot of people don’t want it. The people that end up filling first level management without it paying more than non-management will tend to be “bossy” people.

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