How does one 'fix' the culture of a toxic office? How do you get employees with resentments and a variety of interpersonal issues to work together as a team?
posted by Tha Race Card to work & money (34 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry for the length, I'm writing this while frustrated. I work in a tiny, windowless office with seven ladies and my boss: the owner of the business and the architect of this hell. Four of the seven ladies as well as my boss are native Russian speakers (all speak fluent English), the remaining three (including me) are native English speakers and do not speak a lick of Russian.
I have been tasked with fixing the toxic office culture and creating/revamping policies that'll scale up smoothly as the company grows. The company is about five years old. I've been there for six months.
The current employees are negative, not at all invested in the company, and simmering with undisclosed resentments. Beyond that, many of them have trouble meeting the base level of expectations: e-mails to customers are riddled with grammar and spelling errors, they're rude and unengaged on the phone, last week and I had to walk an employee (who'd been with the company for a year and who used a PC daily) through how to add a BCC on an e-mail.
There are a TON of unaddressed interpersonal issues:
• The proportion of Russian speakers to native English speakers means that a lot of important information is communicated in a language that half of the office can not understand. Example: last week we had a (horrible) meeting. About half of it, a good twenty minutes, was in rapid-fire, clearly agitated Russian. I and the two other English speaking ladies just sort of sat there and stared uncomfortably into the distance.
• The majority of office communication happens over Skype. This includes questions about specific issues or policies but also bitching about what people are wearing, (not like, 'that's unprofessional,' but 'omg, can you believe she's wearing that!', gossiping about weight gain (really), tittering over another's employee's mistakes, and other unnecessary unproductive things. A lot of this happens in Russian.
• This seven person office is broke up into a number of "departments" with almost no intercommunication. If someone's gone, their work just doesn't get done. Someone may know how do it but it's not their job so they won't. Have a question about an issue in their department? Better wait till they get back. Hilarious, customer service torpedoing backlog ensues.
• The division of labor in the office is broken at a pretty fundamental level. There are two ladies on the phone who are incapable of managing our current call volume. Not incapable as in they suck a their jobs (they do a little), incapable as in we currently receive THOUSANDS more phone calls per week than two people are physically capable of taking. The two ladies on the phones are resentful and overwhelmed but one half of the office is extremely opposed to taking calls. Before I starting working there, my boss would be like, "How about getting on those phones, guys?" The response would basically be, "No!" and he'd be like, "Alright." The end. For years.
• Everyone is extremely touchy. No one can say, "next time, try this," or "Usually I do things this way," or "I've found it's easier to handle this this way," to a coworker without said coworker taking it really personally. Every suggestion, no matter where it's coming from[if it's not coming from my boss] and no matter how it's phrased, is an intensely negative statement about their job performance.
• No benefits and pretty low wages: I make 35K. In addition to having to deal with all of the above stuff, I am also responsible for: all the office IT (server administration, setting up and maintaining the work stations, managing the phones and in-house PBX, handling administration for our live chat software, managing e-mail and user accounts, and general tech support for my non-computer savvy coworkers), employee training, I'm creating an operations manual and an employee handbook from scratch, and I do all the copywriting for the company's website. I don't even have health insurance.
• The above combined with the expectation on my boss' part that employees (including me) be available at all times: after hours, weekends, etc. Basically, requiring above and beyond commitment for a job that gives back very little.
• Our office manager is my boss' sister in law. Our accountant goes to his church. Our "IT Manager" is his brother. In Russia. He's surrounded himself with people he knows personally that he's not willing to stand up to. This has lead to an extremely stratified company. Everyone's supposed to be on equal footing but there are clearly employees who feel that they are 'above' certain duties. This impression is reinforced by my boss (see next bullet point).
• I'm "Interim Operations Manager" however he doesn't back me up at all so I have essentially no authority. Example: last week, after about a month of e-mailing and discussion between my boss and I while we developed the plan, we announced at a meeting that because of the extraordinary number of missed calls every day, everyone would be taking calls (this was the meeting with the 20 minute tirade in Russian). The phone ladies were elated, the other ladies were displeased, one lady in particular (his sister in law) was ripshit and not having it. Fast forward to the very next day and my boss was like, "Phone ladies on the phones, the other ladies are back ups." Exactly how it was set up before. I pressed him on it and he said basically that we'd misunderstood each other. That over the course of dozens of e-mails and in person conversations about this topic wherein I had said, verbatim, "Everyone should answer the phones all the time," he thought I meant, "The phone ladies should answer the phone." I got the distinct impression that he was trying to get me to stop hassling him about it by pretending that he didn't know what I'd meant. I feel like he has issues with confrontation or with ladies being 'mad at him' if that makes sense.
It's just all around a deeply unpleasant place to work. I've brought up all of these issues to my boss and his response is "Fix it." That's it. I'm beginning to think that his intention in hiring was to have another point of contact for the angst so that he could check out.
Every bit of change I've attempted has been a failure. Every meeting has been a farce. I feel like the problem is my boss (also the fact that everyone hates each other and does not give a fuck) but I'm open to it all being me. I do not know if these issues are in my power to fix or how to even approach fixing it. How does one 'fix' the culture of an office like this? How do you get everyone on the same team?