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Corporate Provocateur

Quiz: How Dysfunctional Is Your Workplace?

People tell me crazy workplace stories all day long and ask me, “How bad is my situation, compared with other stories you hear?” Sometimes, they’re middle-of-the-road scenarios (your boss and another manager hate each other, and you have to wiggle around the problem without making enemies) and sometimes they’re truly heinous (your boss and another manager hate each other, and your boss told your whole team in a staff meeting to thwart and sabotage people in the rival’s department).

You might be thinking about a job change in 2012 or just asking yourself the age-old workplace question, “Am I crazy, or is working around crazy people just making me feel that way?” Take our quiz to discover whether the level of dysfunction on your job is low, average, or reason for a speedy exit.

1. Ideas: When you have a great idea to share with your boss, your typical first thought is:
a. “How can I pitch this to my boss when he or she will be most open to it, and how can I get the idea put into place once I get the approval?” Good ideas have a high probability of being adopted in your organization, and you generally own any idea you come up with.
b. “I know I’ll have to put together a business case for my proposal, but it’s worth it—it might take a while, but eventually the higher-ups will consider any idea with merit.”
c. “Why bother? My boss will say, ‘That’s not your concern’ or ‘I don’t pay you to think.’”

2. Recognition: When you’ve done a particularly good job on a project or in a customer interaction, you can usually expect:
a. A message or visit from your boss, saying, “Way to go! You were sensational!” and a reflection of your good results when salary-increase time comes around.
b. That the A-plus incident will be logged in your file and will show up in your performance metrics—but don’t expect anyone to do cartwheels about it.
c. No recognition for your success at all; it’s like it never happened.

3. Conflict: When there’s a disturbance in the Force on your team, you can typically look to your managers to:
a. Within a fairly short time (weeks, not months) sit down and hash out whatever isn’t working, maintaining respect for every participant’s point of view and eventually getting resolution.
b. Avoid the problem for a while, but when it has become the elephant in the room, deal with the conflict, inexpertly maybe, but at least they’re talking.
c. React with “What’s that? Conflict on the team? I’m sorry, I can’t hear you. I’m too busy humming my favorite tune, ‘If I Hit This Quarter’s Target, My Bonus Will be Huuuuge.’”

4. Leadership Ethics: When it comes to ethics, one thing I can say about the people who run this organization is:
a. They are ethical. It’s all they talk about, and it’s true: I’ve seen their ethical boundaries tested, and they do the right thing in the clinch.
b. They work at ethics. They offer seminars and have conversations about ethics. Do the top execs do everything they tell the rest of us to do, ethically? I’m not certain.
c. Ethics? This is not a word we use in daily conversation in my workplace, or actually, now that I think about it, ever. The concept itself is foreign at my job. It’s a miracle no one’s been indicted here yet.

5. Teamwork: When I think about my job and the teamwork in my workplace, I conclude:
a. One of the best things about this job is the way people work together and the fact that the state of the team is a standard and productive agenda topic at our staff meetings.
b. They try to do team building, but it feels silly or like lip service. It probably doesn’t help that my manager doesn’t always role-model wonderful team behavior himself.
c. There is no teamwork here, unless stabbing people in the back counts as teamwork. I loathe half my co-workers, and I’m sure it’s mutual.

6. Command & Control: As I observe how decisions get made at my job and who calls the shots, I can see that:
a. There are executives and supervisors, but they treat everyone pretty much the same regardless of his or her level, and our managers act more as coaches than order-givers.
b. Most managers are decent at letting people do their jobs, some bosses are overly controlling, and some of our supervisors are truly dictators.
c. Have you seen those cartoon drawings of slaves in the hull of Roman galley ships, pulling the oars? That’s me and my colleagues. You keep your mouth shut and get through the day somehow.

7. Competent Management: I’ve worked at enough other organizations to know that the managers in this shop:
a. Are pretty darned impressive. They know what they’re doing, and people seem to be hired or promoted based on merit.
b. Are about what you’d expect. There are some inspired and inspiring leaders here, some “meh” ones, and some who shouldn’t be leading anything or anyone.
c. I have yet to meet a competent manager in this place, and it’s terrifying.

8. Length of the Leash: When people are fully competent in performing their jobs in this organization, their managers tell them:
a. “Go forth! Let me know how I can support you.”
b. “Check with me before doing anything major, but on day-to-day decisions, use your best judgment.”
c. “I want to see every report you create before it’s delivered, edit every paragraph you write, and second-guess every decision you make on the job.” In fact, your managers’ actions all but say, “What would make you think I’d have the confidence in myself to hire people who could perform their jobs without the benefit of my expert guidance at every moment?”

9. Trust & Fear: No workplace is perfect, but as a general rule:
a. They manage us a lot more via trust and problem-solving than by cracking the whip here. I absolutely trust my boss to be straight with me, and I’m just as honest with her.
b. They’re pretty decent about the fear-vs.-trust thing, and I usually feel I can speak up without repercussions. Managers here don’t really keep people afraid for their jobs.
c. That one’s easy. No trust. All fear. It’s a chain gang, to be perfectly honest with you.

10. Fairness: Fairness at work is one of those things you can stop thinking about, until there’s an incident of gross and obvious unfairness right in front of you. As for fairness at my job:
a. I haven’t seen anything obviously unjust happen here, and it doesn’t seem too likely, because doing the right thing for the employees is a major topic in the organization.
b. I’ve seen a few incidents of favoritism or scapegoating, and it seems that your experience at this place depends hugely on who your manager is.
c. I’ve seen patently unfair things happening around me at work, multiple times.

11. Diversity: I’m sure the company has diversity goals it has to hit to comply with government regulations, and beyond that:
a. Diversity is a fundamental value of the company, and our CEO talks about it often. You should sit in on one of our Town Hall meetings and see for yourself.
b. Diversity is still more of a lofty goal than a day-to-day reality, but my organization is getting better at diversity all the time.
c. Please, I’m going to snort coffee through my nose in a second. We have no diversity, unless diversity means, “You have to graduate from School X, have former employer Y on your résumé, and come from ethnic heritage Z to succeed in our company,” in which case we’re overdue for a diversity award.

12. Value of People: When the top executives in our company sit around talking about the employees, I imagine their general conversation is:
a. “Without the employees, we’re toast, so let’s make sure the people working here feel valued, well-informed, and excited about the organization’s (and their own) prospects.” Sometimes it’s, “Who really needs a pat on the back—or a bonus?”
b. “Let’s take care of our best people.” You can tell if you’re one of those valued people here; the “ordinary” employees probably aren’t particularly appreciated or even discussed.
c. “How else can we squeeze an ounce of profit out of these slackers?”

How to score your quiz: Give yourself 3 points for every “A” answer, two points for every “B” answer, and 0 points for every “C” answer to our 12 questions.

If your score was:
31-36: Be happy! Your workplace is more functional than most. Your organization is trusting enough that you could even talk over your quiz results with your team. Wouldn’t that be fun?
24-30: Your workplace isn’t doing too badly, but like most organizations it could be more open or trusting or tuned in to its team. Maybe you can help your organization get better at these priorities in 2012.
18-23: You’re below the midpoint in your organization or clinging to the bottom end of normal—this isn’t good. Unless you have reason to believe your current employer is going to get noticeably better at leading people and managing in 2012, why does it deserve your talent?
12-17: This isn’t a good place to be, but you knew that. Your workplace doesn’t value its employees any further than it can throw them, so it’s time to get that old résumé up to date.
0-16: It’s dire; you need to flee these people at the earliest opportunity. What do you have planned for this weekend? Bag it, and get that job-search engine going. We’re not kidding.

Share Your Score in the comments section below. You can include your company’s name or not, and if you’ve got a story to share (to illustrate the level of dysfunction at your employer) we’d love to hear that, too.

Liz Ryan is an expert on the new-millennium workplace and a former Fortune 500 HR executive.

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