6 Jun 2022

Dealing with a dysfunctional workplace

Workplaces can become completely dysfunctional if team members are not working harmoniously together, or if staff lose confidence in their boss. Bullying, harassment, non-cooperation, lack of communication and undermining behaviour are all aspects of organisational discord, which can quickly turn poisonous. At this point staff members may well launch formal complaints against individuals, or the management.

It is always a good idea to have a known and established machinery for dealing with complaints in any organisation (a person to whom the complaint should be made, a committee that sits to hear complaints, an accepted practice of bringing both sides to the complaint together, etc).

Whether there are established protocols within the organisation or not, certain basic principles apply in dealing with any complaint:

  1. The sooner an attempt is made to handle a complaint, the better.
  2. Approaching the matter as though there is a problem here, and the aim of all concerned is to solve that problem, lessens the risk of a legacy of bitter personal animosity, either between the two sides to the dispute or between the ‘loser’ and the organisation itself.
  3. Every opportunity should be given to the two sides to find their own acceptable solution to the problem.
  4. People who complain should not automatically be regarded as troublemakers. There is such a thing as a justified complaint.

Most internal complaints within an organisation fall into one of two categories: performance and attitude. Performance complaints relate to not doing the job properly, passing work unfairly on to others, blaming others for personal failings etc. Behavioural complaints relate to how a person is treating his or her colleagues – showing too little respect, taking people for granted, being rude.

Making a Formal Complaint

A complaint about a colleague should be made to the right person and in the right way. Unless there are good reasons not to, it is best to let the culprit know that you are going to make a formal complaint: and why. It gives the culprit a chance to make an eleventh-hour improvement or at least to offer some kind of apology and make a promise to do better in future. If, however, there is no improvement and the promise turns out to be an empty one, then the culprit cannot say that he or she hasn’t had a fair warning.

Once you have said that you are going to make the complaint, you should go through with it. Although it’s very understandable that you should make a complaint when you are angry, you should try to do so coherently and with all signs that your patience has finally been exhausted and you have been forced to take this reluctant action.

It is important to remember to make the complaint reasonably, to avoid getting into a slanging match, to be specific as to what you are complaining about and to adopt a generous (or at least reasonable) attitude to any proposed solution to the problem.

Obviously, if you know of other colleagues who have been similarly upset or annoyed by the culprit, it is a good idea to ask them if they, too, would like to make a formal complaint. Take care that you don’t appear to be trying to stir up antagonism towards the culprit where none exists. This is a matter for careful thinking and considerable tact. In general, however, a complaint made by several people is treated more seriously than that made by a single individual. It is a good idea to make a note of any similar grievances that others expressed towards the culprit. This makes it much harder for those others to withdraw their support at the last moment.

Complaints against Management

There will be occasions when the complaints within an organisation concern the person or the management team that is in charge, and it is therefore imperative that there are procedures and protocols in place to deal with that scenario. There should always be a third party committee, with supervisory oversight, which can mediate and adjudicate in this situation. Nobody, however senior, is unaccountable, and ensuring that senior management is regulated and held to account will protect the integrity of the organisation.

Dismissals and Redundancies

It’s a sad day for everyone concerned when someone has to be sacked, or made redundant, but that doesn’t mean that all pretence of good manners should go by the board. A person who is being ‘let go’ is entitled to decent treatment. News of dismissal should be communicated by whoever is responsible, in private, face-to-face with the person being concerned. Certain points may be helpful:

  1. Sacking someone, or making them redundant, should be done humanely, without any blustering or bitter recriminations.
  2. A clear reason should be given for the dismissal.
  3. If whoever is being let go starts to argue, then the person in authority should try to avoid being drawn into that argument – it will only deteriorate into a row.
  4. Letting the person go should appear to be done more in sorrow than in anger, and it may be an appropriate moment to express general support or sympathy, or at least thank the person being dismissed or made redundant for their contribution (no irony or sarcasm under any circumstances).
  5. If someone is to be let go, they should be informed of this as soon as possible.

Leaving a job, especially unwillingly, can be one of the most traumatic things that can happen to anyone. Depriving that person of the chance to say goodbye to colleagues and work is as unkind as it is ill mannered. Such practices also breed fear in the rest of the workforce, and fear is never a good motivator.


MPA House
66 Baker Street
Weybridge KT13 8AL
United Kingdom
Get In Touch
Subscription Enquiries
+44 (0)330 3339699
General Enquiries
+44 (0)20 3950 5240
Join our weekly newsletter
Subscription Form
MPA House
66 Baker Street
Weybridge KT13 8AL
United Kingdom
Designed by Anna Ocipinska. Developed by BuiltByGo. © 2022 Debrett’s. All Rights Reserved
My cart
Your cart is empty.

Looks like you haven't made a choice yet.