Getting to the ‘Why’ of a Dysfunctional Workplace and Fixing It!

Employers generally know when something is not right in the workplace. They can feel it. They see it in the body language and attitudes of their employees. Increased complaints, high turnover, low productivity and continual conflict are only a few of the symptoms that indicate that the workplace is somewhat, if not completely, dysfunctional.

When this occurs, figuring out “why” things in the workplace are amiss and developing a plan to fix it can be difficult. A tool that can effectively identify why a workplace is not functioning at a high level and help improve the situation is a workplace assessment.

An Evidence-Based Assessment can Help Identify Problems and Develop Options to Resolve Them

A workplace assessment (also known as an organizational review, an environmental workplace assessment, or a climate assessment) is an evidence-based assessment process focused on identifying the cause of problems in the workplace and the development of options to address and resolve the issues identified.


The process employed for a workplace assessment is very similar to that of a workplace investigation of a complaint made by an employee. The difference is that there is no complaining party and no specific person is the target of the investigation.

A. The Scope of the Assessment

The first step in the process is the identification of the scope of the assessment. This involves the identification of the issues of concern by the employer. Generally, the scope of the assessment is developed through a collaborative process with the employer and the investigator. It is important for the investigator to have a complete understanding of the employer’s concerns and the situations that have previously transpired which have led to the assessment. The parties should also discuss expectations and limitations that could impact the assessment.

B. Evidence Gathering

As noted above, a workplace assessment should be evidence based. Thus, once the scope of the assessment is set, the next phase of the process is to gather evidence. This is generally accomplished through one-on-one interviews with the members of the work unit at issue, surveys, and/or group discussions led by the investigator. Other evidence, such as past complaints, performance evaluations and/or management reports may also be reviewed as part of the evidence gathering process.

C. Analysis of the Evidence

Once the evidence is collected, it must be reviewed and analyzed for trends, consistency, credibility, patterns, etc. In addition, the analysis may include the exploration of various options for resolution and the researching of different tools to implement possible recommendations. This process is completed by the investigator in preparation for the drafting of a written report.

D. Preparation of the Report

Following the gathering of evidence and its analysis, the investigator should prepare and submit a written report. The report should set forth the investigator’s factual findings, identify possible solutions and recommend options for addressing and resolving the issues that led to the investigation. The recommendations should be based on the specific factual situation that the investigator found to exist in the workplace along with the pros and cons of each option. The ultimate decision as to which recommendations to implement and how to do so is within the discretion of the employer, not the investigator.


During the course of the assessment, the investigator may receive reports of behavior that are potentially inappropriate or illegal, but beyond the scope of the assessment. When this occurs the investigator should report the information to the employer, but not include the issue as part of the assessment unless requested to do so by the employer. The employer may choose to have a separate investigation performed with regard to the collateral issues.


A dysfunctional workplace represents increased and unnecessary risk to the employer. Complaints, grievances, poor morale, reduced productivity, high turnover and many other problems all impact the efficiency, productivity and profitability of the workplace and make the workplace an unpleasant place to be. A workplace assessment can help identify the root causes of these problems and develop recommendations that can assist in creating a pleasant workplace for everyone.

by Dan Rowley