Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Your Company Could Be Driving Your Employees Crazy

Many years ago I worked at a mental health center in North Platte, Nebraska. I was a mental health educator and the public relations director for the facility.

While working there I spent a lot of time researching mental health issues so I could provide mental health information to the community. One day in my research I came across a model that identified why some people are more likely than others to become mentally or emotionally disturbed. This is the model:

Organic Factors + Stress

Coping + Support + Self-
Skills Network Esteem

The model suggests that people who have strong organic factors and excessive stress are more likely to become emotionally or mentally ill than those who have a lesser portion of these two factors.

Organic Factors are such things as a chemical imbalance, a neurological disorder, a psychosis, a history of mental illness in one’s family, or some other similar malady.

Stress is the sum of any combination of things that place a strain on a person’s mental, emotional, physical, social, spiritual, or intellectual well-being.

According to the model, if a person has a history of organic problems and a high degree of stress in one’s life, chances are this individual will experience emotional or psychological problems at some point unless that person has developed effective ways to counterbalance the organic factors and stress.

The counterbalances to these two elements are: Coping Skills, a strong Support Network, and a healthy Self-Esteem.

Individuals who have developed ways to effectively cope with the stressors in their life are less likely to have emotional or psychological problems. People who have supportive relationships with their family, friends or work colleagues are also less likely to become mentally ill. And, as one might expect, individuals who possess a healthy self-esteem are less likely to experience mental or emotional dysfunction.

This model was a theory in the mental health field. But, surprisingly, after leaving the mental health world and becoming an organizational development consultant, I realized my mental health background was extremely helpful in diagnosing the ills and dysfunctions that often occur in businesses around the world. I quickly discovered there are significant parallels between crazy people and crazy companies.

Crazy companies can be identified by their dysfunctional Organizational Factors and the voluminous amount of Stress with which they burden their employees. The intensity of the organizational factors and stress in “crazy” companies is heightened by an inability internally to Cope with the organizational problems. Likewise, in dysfunctional companies there generally is a complete lack of an internal Support Network where employees can talk through or find successful resolution to their problems. Finally, employees in emotionally unbalanced companies seldom exude pride in their organization and, in fact, usually display all of the characteristics of an organization populated with employees who have low in Self-Esteem when it comes to work.

Unfortunately, throughout my 30 years as a consultant I’ve found there are a lot of crazy companies in this world. And inside those companies are a number of formerly sane employees who have become emotionally distraught from the stress of working for a dysfunctional company. The Postal Service is a perfect example of a company that somehow seems to create more than its share of mentally and emotionally disturbed employees.

Several years ago I worked with a large health insurance company in Florida. It was one of sickest and craziest places I’ve ever experienced in over 35 years of being a business consultant. The CEO literally had to be insane. His behavior was extremely bizarre and definitely over the edge. He was almost abusive in the way he treated the executives, managers, and employees of the company.

The organization itself was structured in a way that guaranteed failure. Every internal process was bureaucratic and cumbersome. The place swarmed with cross-functional “teams” that were supposed to fix things, but instead spent hours in countless meetings pointing fingers, blaming each other, and fighting over turf and trivial issues. Not once, in the whole time the CEO had been in his position, had a problem solving team actually solved the problem the team was chartered to fix. That’s because every time a team got close to resolving an issue the CEO would stir the pot and blow-up the team with some arcane directive. He seemed to derive pleasure from seeing people endlessly struggle in chaos.

The stress in this company was so palpable one could almost see a black cloud hanging over every employee. Everyone looked and acted depressed. Managers barricaded themselves in their offices as a way to cope with the stress of their work environment. People smoked and drank coffee like there was no tomorrow. No one talked to anyone. There was nowhere to turn for support. People were actually criticized when they tried to share information or coordinate their efforts with other departments.

People hated working at this company. When asked by others where they worked, most employees were too ashamed to admit they were employed at this firm. The company’s reputation in the community was horrible. The negative company identity impacted how individuals perceived their personal identity and self-worth.

With no way to cope with the stress at work, nowhere to turn for support, and absolutely no pride in their company, it should be no surprise that many of the employees at this firm had severe emotional, psychological, and mental problems. Work problems went home with the employees and, in some cases, destroyed marriages. Once-confident managers frequently could be seen crying in their offices. Some became almost catatonic, incapable of making decisions. Many workers abused alcohol or other substances. The company and the employees were a mess.

I am amazed at how many managers use dysfunctionally crazy tactics in running their organization. I’ve seen executives who purposely pit managers against each other as a means to stimulate “creativity.” In actuality, all it usually creates is hostility, resentment, and ill-will in the workplace. I’ve also witnessed managers who use criticism, cynicism and insults as means to “motivate” their employees to perform better. It just makes them worse. Negative means never make people feel better about themselves, their boss, or their company. Negativity just destroys trust, respect, and confidence. It is impossible to bring about a positive outcome by negative means.

Just as one can predict whether or not a person will become mentally ill by using the mathematical equation in the mental health model outlined above, so too can it be determined which companies will drive their employees insane. You can diagnose the “sanity” of your company by asking these simple questions listed below:

Organizational Factors

  • Are there any organizational factors in your company that may be throwing the employees off balance emotionally?
  • Is the organization illogical in the way it is structured or run?
  • Do your strategies and tactics seem senseless or irrational?
  • Are the stated values and the company practices in disharmony with each other?
  • When changes occur, are they poorly thought-out and improperly executed?
  • Are the policies, procedures, processes and practices within the organization inefficient and ineffective? Do they make life tougher for the employees rather than easier?
  • Is the company organized in such a way that management cannot make fast, effective decisions?
  • Is there a lack of free-flowing information and correlation of work between departments?
  • Are there hierarchical barriers that inhibit a sense of unity and oneness in the organization?

Stress Factors

  • Do managers use an autocratic or dictatorial management style?
  • Are people confused about their roles and what it takes to succeed in their position?
  • Are employees over-burdened with a heavy workload because of insufficient staff?
  • Do employees lack the tools and resources necessary to do their jobs well?
  • Are there abnormal performance pressures and unrealistic production standards placed upon the employees?
  • Are there any other organizational pressures that may cause stress for employees?

Even if there are organizational issues and significant stressors within your company, it doesn’t necessarily mean your organization is dysfunctional or crazy. There are counterbalances to every organizational problem.

Unfortunately, some companies fail to develop the coping skills needed to deal with the stresses of the job. They neglect to foster a support network of cross-functional cooperation and collaboration. They allow employees to become isolated and territorial. Instead of reaching out and assisting one another, people in the organization hunker down, falsely believing, as do many mentally ill patients, that problem avoidance and shunning others will help them maintain their sanity in a stressful world.

There was a time when people’s self-esteem was strongly tied to their place of employment. They were proud to work at General Motors, IBM, Caesar’s Palace, or, perhaps, even your company. But many of today’s businesses have lost their positive self-image and strong employee affinity.

To truly succeed in today’s competitive markets, companies need to stabilize their enterprise in more than just the financial arena. They need to create a well-balanced, emotionally-healthy organization where employees want to and can commit themselves to being highly productive.

Companies can instill a renewed pride in their organization by having a clear vision of their future, by developing effective strategies and tactics to achieve that future, and by providing a secure role for their employees in that envisioned future.

Healthy companies create supportive networks within the enterprise by enhancing cross-functional communication, cooperation and collaboration. Managers within these companies do everything they can to make sure people talk to one another. Management is highly visible. They actively seek opportunities to solicit feedback from and “network” with employees.

Stable organizations help their employees cope with the pressures of work by properly orienting and training their workers so they don’t flounder in their positions. They make it clear what employees can do to succeed. They provide ongoing communication, support and feedback so employees know exactly where they stand and how they can improve if change is needed.

Finally, mature, well-adjusted companies know the importance of positive reinforcement in maintaining the confidence and self-esteem of their employees. They focus on achievement rather than failure. They state the positives rather than negatives. They build up rather than tear down.

People can tell when a company is healthy. Profitability is not the only barometer. Customers and employees can sense emotional balance and well-being in an organization. They can see, hear and feel the positive energy. They can see it in the workers appearance and behaviors. They can hear it when employees talk about their work. They can feel it as they walk into the business and interact with their fellow employees.

Positive companies produce positive employees, while negative, dysfunctional companies produce distraught and cynical workers. Where your company stands on the sanity-craziness scale is just a question of how it all adds up in the mental health equation.


Mac McIntire, President of Innovative Management Group, a Las Vegas-based training and consulting firm has been creating healthy companies for over 35 years. If you would like more information about how we can help your company, please contact us at 702-258-8334, e-mail to, or visit us on the web at