Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Claire Halverson


Causes, characteristics, and dimensions of workplace dysfunction ("abnormal, incomplete or impaired functioning") are studied by synthesizing a review of the literature and interviews with members of three university departments. The research adopts a human relations school perspective, including theories which relate workplace dysfunction to neuroses, addictions, codependency, and dysfunctional family systems.

Causes of workplace dysfunction are found to include unmet needs for autonomy and participation, as well as dynamics associated with intra- and interpersonal pathologies. Characteristic behaviours and attitudes in dysfunctional workplaces are discovered to include various combinations of: boundary confusion, conflict avoidance, defensiveness, denial, dependency, detachment, rigidity, feelings of powerlessness and/or inadequacy, insistence on compliance and control, lack of vision, manipulation, paranoia, projection, and workaholism.

Dimensions of dysfunction include impaired processes for communication, coordination, decision-making, conflict resolution, delegation, performance evaluation, planning, goal-setting, dealing with diversity, dealing with change, and exercising power. Dysfunctional approaches to these activities are shown to impede participation and hinder motivation.

The individual responses of reflective, committed professions to dysfunctional workplaces are related to the particular type of dysfunction present in the work unit. Responses include withdrawal, defiance, and disillusioned resignation. Neither intra-departmental nor extra-departmental coping strategies appear to relate to particular types of workplace dysfunction. While these strategies are found to be healthy for the individual, few contribute directly to the enhanced function of the workplace.

This study has implications for individual professionals and for organizations. It identifies for them the features and dimensions of dysfunction. Individuals and organizations may use their increased awareness to prevent the loss of contribution which occurs when the fulfillment of individual needs is impaired or obviated.


Business Administration, Management, and Operations