Can Culture be Blamed for Employee Unhappiness?


Jobs can extremely difficult, but not for the reasons you might think. It has nothing to do with the tasks assigned or the nature of the job. I know this first hand. I have been extremely qualified for a job, loved the learning potential, and just knew I would thrive in all the experiential goodness, until I realized I hated my job. At that point, I had no desire to go to work and immediately started looking for other opportunities.

If you have experienced this, or work in a leadership role and have unproductive employees who tend to complain about everything, it’s possible that there is some type of disconnect between the employee and the organization.

Why does this happen?

There are several reasons that employees decide they hate their jobs. While in very rare instances it is because of the tasks involved or monetary reimbursement, these normally do not lead a person to desire to quit. In fact, there is really only one thing that has the potential to make an employee hate their job – the culture of the organization.

Okay, I know, organizational culture encompasses a lot of different things, but it is often the overarching reason that employees are unhappy with their jobs and choose to resign.

What is organizational culture?

  • Shared values
  • Operational processes
  • Attitudinal norms
  • Behavioral norms

Ultimately, organizational culture is everything that makes the organization what it is. Any part of the organization that causes uncertainty for employees will make them unhappy, unmotivated, and unlikely to stay in their jobs.

You might disagree, but think about it. What happens if your values are in disagreement with the values of the organization? Or if the operational processes are outdated, take an excessively long time, or are just too confusing to follow? This can create a lot of unhappiness and sometimes the employee will lose desire to do their job, or at least to do a good job.

You might be thinking, so what? This happens sometimes. Employees might not be satisfied with their jobs and they leave, what’s the big deal?

It might not seem like a big deal, but what happens if more than one employee is unhappy, or if everyone is? At what point does the situation need to be evaluated to determine what is making the employees unhappy?

Several things can signal a problem with the organizational culture:

  • High turnover rate
  • Low productivity
  • High absenteeism
  • Decreased performance
  • Decrease, or no, innovation

However, even if the organization experiences these things, it often takes a good leader to know that there is a problem, not necessarily with the employees, but with the organizational culture. Once it is determined there is a problem, several things can be done.

Increase diversity

Having a more diverse organization can help the organizational culture. It increases innovation, performance, and creativity, but it also has the potential to cause friction between different employees.

Ensure appropriate operational processes

Having appropriate operational processes is important. Standard Operative Procedures (SOPs) are essential for organizations. These should be written in a user friendly way, with examples, and kept where all employees can find them. If something is outdated, update it. If something is confusing, fix it.

Open up communication

Communication is essential in any organization, regardless of size. It’s so important to ensure the knowledge is shared effortlessly, because this gives employees the opportunity to share what they know, as well as learn new things.

Incentives and reward policies

When in doubt, institute an incentive and reward policy for a job well done. This can help improve efficiency and help retain employees that you might regret losing.

Instituting any of these will change the organizational culture, which has the potential to improve employee happiness, productivity, efficiency and retention. Change is difficult and sometimes painful, but in the end, the organization will benefit.


About Author

Margaret Murrow

Margaret obtained her M.S. in Organizational Psychology and Nonprofit Management in 2014 after spending a decade focused on homeschooling her four children. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Health Psychology and has earned a certification in stress management coaching. When she is not studying, she spends time working as a freelance writer and a certified stress management and business coach for employers around the world.