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What Are the Most Common Organizational Culture Problems?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Common organizational culture problems can include ambiguity, poor communication, and inconsistency. These can contribute to the experience of a hostile and unpleasant workplace, which can make workers less loyal and may contribute to issues like harassment, bullying, and high turnover. Companies with concerns about their structure and organization can use outside consultants to get a fresh look at their culture, and may also want to consider the use of employee evaluations to get feedback from their personnel. These tools can help companies identify and address problems with organizational culture.

Ambiguity is a common issue. Employees may not understand what is expected of them, or could feel as though stated policies are in conflict with actual practices. For example, workplace policies may state that management supports a healthy work-life balance, but the company may only promote single people who are willing to work long hours without complaint. The stated claim is that the company is family friendly, but in reality, this is not the case.

Inconsistency can be another contributor to organizational culture problems. Employees may feel like policies are not applied evenly and fairly; managers may not be penalized for activity employees would expect to see punished, for example. Companies may also be inconsistent across departments, which can contribute to the development of resentment. People in human resources, for example, might want to know why the information technology department has better offices or always seems to be on vacation.

Poor communication is another common problem with organizational culture at companies of all sizes. Employees may not communicate well with each other and could feel uncomfortable about approaching supervisors with ideas, suggestions, and concerns. From the top down, companies might not clearly articulate expectations and goals, which can make staff members confused about what they are supposed to be doing.

Other organizational culture problems can include differences in priorities. Employees may feel that a company focuses too much on income and pushes them to work long hours, foregoing rights like breaks and overtime. Some companies have an organizational culture of guilt that forces employees to overstretch themselves to get work done. This can create backlash as resentful employees take out their anger about the organizational culture on each other or clients.

Poor leadership can be another issue. Employees may have trouble following people they do not respect, or taking orders from supervisors who do not appear to know what they are doing. If leadership is weak, inconsistent, or disreputable, it can contribute to organizational culture problems.

Companies that know they have organizational culture problems can define them, creating lists of examples to understand the specifics of the issues that must be addressed. With this information in hand, they can start to address the situation. For example, if a company's goals are ambiguous, leadership can meet up to discuss what the company wants to do and how it wants to accomplish it. This information can be communicated to company personnel so they feel more comfortable.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a SmartCapitalMind researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By donasmrs — On Jan 29, 2014

Ambiguity is an issue at the organization I work at. There are quite a few people in our office, who are not sure of what they are doing because they are not given proper directions and feedback. How efficient can an organization like this possibly be?

By fBoyle — On Jan 28, 2014
@ddljohn-- Conflict exists at all workplaces, but the administrators should have ways of dealing with it.

I think that conflict doesn't only arise from organizational policies. If an organization is competitive as you said, it can contribute to conflict. But I think the real reason behind conflict is poor communication. Employers and employees either don't talk to one another or don't understand each other.

I think that people who work together need to be able to talk to one another and share their opinions. But in some organizations, there is a very rigid, bureaucratic structure which prevents this. People are not very comfortable with one another and this is reflected in the organizational structure.

By ddljohn — On Jan 28, 2014

I think that workplace conflict is a major organizational culture problem. Some organizations are very competitive and employees are often pitted against one another. There are incentives for employees to outpace one another but that creates a lot of trouble in the workplace. People lose interest in working together and cooperating because things become personal. This was the case at my previous workplace. That's why I left and found a new job.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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