Supportive, apathetic, or obstructive?

stop go sign

When it comes to employment, I think that organizations fall into 3 general categories: supportive, apathetic, or obstructive.

Supportive organizations have structures in place that work. They are intentionally designed to empower employees to be successful. They often go out of their way to find mechanisms that make employees’ lives easier and better. There are constant internal messages of encouragement, risk-taking, and celebration. They invest heavily in employee efficacy and talent development, recruitment and retention.

Apathetic organizations kind of stumble along. They get some stuff done but they’re not exciting or invigorating places to work. They don’t invest much in employee success mechanisms (although they might say they do because they have similar positions or structures as peer institutions). If you do good work, great; they will kind of leave you alone to do your thing. If you’re not doing good work, it will take them a long time to find out and they may or may not do anything about it. They are thankful if poor workers leave but if good workers leave they don’t do much to try to keep them because ‘others will just come along to replace them.’ It feels like everyone is just kind of going through the motions. There’s no spark of energy or enthusiasm.

Obstructive organizations get in your way. They have layers of bureaucracy and policy in place that actively work against employee success. There often are multiple layers of ‘no’ that you have to navigate for even simple requests. No one is minding the ship so individual bosses have the ability to be as terrible as they wish. Vision and mission statements are meaningless because implementation is shoddy or nonexistent. Employee dissatisfaction and turnover are high, as is internal dysfunction.

I’ve worked in all three types. Supportive organizations are wonderful places to be. If you’re lucky enough to work in one of those, think hard before moving. Apathetic organizations are okay. They don’t actively support you but neither do they actively block you. The only psychic benefits that you’ll get from being there are the ones that you create yourself but you usually can carve out a space for your work. Obstructive organizations are truly awful, soul-sucking places. If you find that you’re in one of those, immediately begin making a plan for departure. They’re not worth the psychic costs of stress and loss of quality of life.

Climates and cultures are incredibly important to organizational productivity and success. As leaders, would your employees describe your organization as supportive, apathetic, or obstructive? Maybe you have elements of each? How could you find out?

Image credit: stop go sign, Joel Kramer

One Response to “Supportive, apathetic, or obstructive?”

  1. Since I am self-employed and have been for the past 17 years, I like to believe I work for an organization that is very supportive. It is certainly not apathetic nor obstructive. I have, however, worked for organizations in the past that were either or both. In one case, it was possible to help change the corporate culture and in another it was impossible, thus a rather early separation.

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