The High Cost (And Best Cures) For Dysfunctional Company Culture

As Forbes readers contemplate the signs of dysfunctional company cultures, it is interesting to consider the toll these negative environments enact on employees and leaders. Of the insights in Arianna Huffington’s new best-selling book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success & Creating a Life of Well-Beingperhaps this statement is most compelling of all: “there is growing evidence that the long-term health of a company’s bottom line and the health of its employees are, in fact, very much aligned.” Yet only 35% of large and mid-sized U.S. companies provide stress-reduction programs of any kind.

It’s no secret that a large percentage of employee absence, illness and work-related problems originate with stress. Statistics from Gallup leave little room to doubt the accuracy of Huffington’s belief about the importance of stress management at work. Gallup estimates that lost productivity due to absence, illness and work problems costs U.S. businesses in excess of $350 billion a year.

05-23-2012 Arianna Huffington @ C2-MTL © CHARL...

The positive impact of stress management programs on the bottom line seem obvious. However, my friend, Business Psychologist and Corporate Culture Architect Dr. David Gruder warns that these programs don’t actually get to the root of what it is that perpetuates job stress. He observes that many companies offer stress management programs in order to help their employees get better at tolerating unacceptable work loads, misaligned work-life balance, or a dysfunctional corporate climate.

He likens this to companies that misuse their Corporate Social Responsibility budget to fund worthy community causes not as an external expression of healthy internal corporate values, but as an attempt to bribe the public into overlooking the company’s integrity deficits. For example, the company’s aggressive sales tactics get you into trouble with the Attorney General’s office in several states? Just commit to support for a philanthropy program that you mandate or strongly incent the company’s employees to join, and underscore it with a prodigious amount of PR (the ultimate integrity offense in my book).

Gruder maintains (and I agree) that authentic stress management begins with a healthy corporate climate: “The best stress management program is only as useful as a company’s culture is healthy,” he says. “Stress management programs begin with corporate culture, and can only provide the benefits they’re capable of providing when they build upon that solid foundation.”

He takes a stand that is even controversial: “When stress management programs are provided as a substitute for repairing a dysfunctional corporate climate, the programs are not helpful—in fact, they are a further form of abuse.”

So what are the steps to a better integrity culture that can genuinely alleviate the issues of work/life balance and stress? According to Huffington and Gruder, try these steps:

1. Create new habits. In Thrive, Huffington advocates taking a few simple steps at the personal level that can lead to dramatic effects on your well-being. “I personally start every morning with 20 to 30 minutes of meditation, and in Thrive I recommend very small, manageable steps, including introducing 5 minutes of meditation into your day and getting just 30 minutes more sleep than you are getting now,” says Huffington. “These small changes can open the door to creating a new habit—and all the many proven benefits it brings.”

2. Course correct quickly. it starts with breathing, according to Huffington. A moment of conscious reflective breathing can often be enough to put yourself back on a more appropriate course. Another means of course correcting is to consciously unplug from email and other connectivity devices to ensure that when you leave work you have legitimately left it behind, and are not continuing to engage through email, Twitter and IM.

Speaker and author Dr. David Gruder, Phd, DECP, via

Speaker and author Dr. David Gruder, Phd, DECP, via

3. Go public with your commitments. For Huffington, the fact that she has made public her declarations of commitment to better work/life balance has made it easier for others to keep watch and provide gentle reminders when needed. Dr. Gruder advises individuals and leaders to go even a step further by making a literal integrity pledge, out loud and on paper, to remind them of the principles that can help prevent intentions and actions from going off course. His own suggested pledge is available in full at this location and reads as follows:

  • Teachability: I pledge to remain open to new ways of understanding and acting that can expand my capacity for authenticity, connection and impact… even if they are substantially different from my pre-existing beliefs and habits.
  • Self-Care: I pledge to do what I must to maintain the life energy and organization I need each day to support all three of my core drives.
  • Discernment: I pledge to become excellent at blending keen insight, good judgment and strong intuition so I can distinguish fact from spin. I pledge to become good at knowing what fits and doesn’t fit for me regardless of whether this is the same as or different from what may fit for others.
  • Harvesting: I pledge to gather gifts from all of my life experiences, especially the ones I wasn’t expecting or wishing for, that help me become more authentic, more co-creative with others, and more compassionate in serving collective highest good.
  • Power: I pledge to deeply embrace and express the light I carry, to honor my limits, and to become effective at manifesting my intentions.
  • Synergy: I pledge to expand my capacity to treasure diversity and to compassionately co-create mutually respectful agreements and solutions with others.
  • Stewardship: I pledge to learn how to co-discover with others what serves our collective highest good and to serve collective highest good each day, in small everyday ways, and in larger ways as opportunities arise, especially when no one notices.

4. Speak up about social issues. This is important to do both privately with friends and publicly as a citizens and consumers.This does not mean that the organization wields pressure on its members in letting them know how to vote. But the organization and its leaders are willing to speak up on issues and principles that matter and to encourage deeper investigation and action by everybody involved.

5. Remain true to commitments you make to others. The commitment to mission and integrity that a company posts on its wall will never carry a weight as strong as the message it exudes from its leaders and members. If a company expresses support for a healthy work/life balance, the same should hold true in the actions it takes day to day (i.e. not ordering in dinner as a way to gently or even forcefully compel the engineers to avoid going home).

6. Consider the concept of 3D Integrity. The key to making integrity personal and practical, according to Dr. Gruder, is to understand the three core drives we all have: 1) The drive for personalAuthenticity; 2) The drive for fulfillingConnection with others; and 3) The drive to have a positive Impact in our world. Only when we honor all three drives can we be whole and complete. Integrity is not a one-dimensional notion and it is not a mix and match proposition, he says. Our authenticity drive translates into self-integrity. Our connection drive translates into relationship integrity. Our impact drive translates into societal integrity (also called collective integrity). True integrity requires living at the intersection of all three — thus the concept of integrity that exists in 3D.

7. Finally, be (and look for) great role models. You are a leader or an exemplary employee for one simple reason: you understand that we are role-modeling strengths and behaviors for others in all that we do, even when no one else is around. For example, every time one of us parks over the line in the parking spot we are role-modeling to others that it’s okay to disregard the collective highest good. We and they may never meet, and yet our actions have role-modeled something about our company culture to them. How well are you fulfilling your role? And who are your employees modeling their behaviors after?

How is your organization’s culture working for you at present? Are your company’s stated cultural goals and your actual decisions and actions one and the same? If they are not, the chasm is probably exacting a higher cost than you think. This is an arena where there is likely room for improvement by all.