Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sitting at the mean girls' table

The hot topic on the employee discussion board at work this week has been "workplace bullying." It appears I'm not the only one to have noticed that the organizational culture at Large Nameless Agency tends to be a tad . . . cold? hostile? unpleasant? not particularly nice? It's one of those interesting contradictions -- Large Nameless Agency, which is supposedly a leader in promoting health and wellbeing and that has developed a much-publicized anti-bullying message for use with youth, apparently has a fairly nasty and unpleasant internal culture that provides fertile ground for workplace bullies. The topic of workplace bullying was suggested to the board's moderators, they put it up, and it looks like the volume and intensity of the responses has surprised quite a few people.

LNA always scores really low whenever they do government-wide surveys of employee morale and job satisfaction -- we're never quite as far in the toilet as Homeland Security, but we're remarkably far down the list. People aren't happy. Other topics on the discussion board have inspired numerous comments about unresponsive management, waste, contradictory policies (i.e., the official policy says one thing; the way it's implemented is the opposite). Lots and lots of the infamous "disgruntled employees."* Which, all things considered, is pretty strange given the perceived importance of the work the agency does. You'd think it would lead to job satisfaction to know that the public thinks you're doing something important. Apparently not, at least not when the internal culture isn't one that makes employees feel valued, or, even worse, helps foster a hostile work environment. And, going by the comments posted, quite a few people are experiencing or have experienced a definitely hostile work environment.

The comments fall into both of the obvious categories: the boss who is a power-hungry ogre who treats certain underlings like crap (e.g., picks out a scapegoat and encourages everyone else in the division to pick on that one person, too), and the co-worker who for some reason feels compelled to make other co-workers' lives wretched. Every work organization is bound to end up with a few examples of both, but LNA appears to have an over-abundance. In the not-quite-4 years I've worked at LNA I've witnessed more mean-spirited trolls in positions of power and more Heathers who refuse to grow up and play nice with others than I think I did in my entire previous, rather checkered work career. I've held a number of jobs over the years, in the private sector, in academe, and in government, and LNA sets some sort of record for lousy leadership and dysfunctional work groups. I've worked in places that suffered from a leadership vacuum, in places where one person had decided that he or she was Prom Queen forever, and in places where the boss was a megalomaniac micro-managing control freak -- but LNA is the only place I can think of where I've witnessed the trifecta. I like what I do for a living, but I don't particularly enjoy the environment I do it in. Hence, the countdown clock.

One thing the discussion on the board has made clear is that, even though I've had a few unpleasant experiences here at LNA and I've witnessed some others that boggled the mind, the weirdness I've encountered is absolutely nothing compared to the garbage some people have gone through. It almost makes the private sector look good.

My personal experience with LNA has been that it does what can only be described as a (and I'm being charitable) piss poor job of both orienting new employees to the agency and providing training for managers, a toxic combination that almost guarantees hostile work environments will flourish. The overall philosophy appears to be a combination of sink-or-swim and mushroom management (keep everyone in the dark and feed them bullshit). There are pockets that seem to function well, but overall? Not a pretty picture.

I really miss Omaha.

[*The use of this term to denigrate or discount people who aren't happy in the workplace has always baffled me. Doesn't anyone ever wonder just why the employees are disgruntled?]


  1. Actually, it is horseshit. I know my mushrooms. Sounds like where I worked in a provincial dept of agriculture. So why the extra 200 days? Masochist?

  2. Government is a tough place to work if you don't deal well with hypocrisy.

    Hang in there.

  3. I really need to work harder at the entrepreneurial thing. The idea of actually finding a job is hard enough to imagine, but a good job making what I used to? Never going to happen. I'd almost rather be broke than hating my job for a lot less than I used to make.

    Sorry that your place isn't happier. I don't understand why things have to be so damn difficult. Oh, right. People are involved.


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