How long will you tolerate dysfunctional behavior?

I heard a story recently about an executive displaying highly dysfunctional behavior. She is high enough in the organization to get away with not being disciplined or fired. But she’s not emotionally mature enough to understand how her actions have negative ramifications on those around her.

I was told that firing her was not an option. She had some valuable skills and there were other reasons not to fire her. Giving her a written warning was also not seen as a viable option. In the past talking to her only resulted in her getting defensive and not seeing that her behavior was disruptive.

So the organization seemed committed to keeping her. I wondered how long are they were willing to tolerate her dysfunctional and disruptive behavior. Because nothing seemed to work to help her change her behavior and they weren’t going to fire her. So that only left putting up with the chaos she caused.

All organizations more than a few people have some dysfunction, some more than others. I’m often hired to help solve these scenarios and even “fix” the biggest perpetrator as the internal managers either don’t have the skills or don’t want to deal with the drama. But they are dealing with drama anyway, they just aren’t willing to be the one who tries to fix it.

If you aren’t willing to create a shift, no matter how messy it becomes, you’re doomed to dealing with the ongoing mess the dysfunctional person perpetuates. This may go on for months or even years. Is that what you want?

No. You want the problems this person causes to go away. And that may mean the person goes away.

You may have empathy and understand the person has problems in his/her life which is why s/he keeps slipping deadlines, not communicating, or having outbursts at work. It’s fine to be compassionate and tolerate this short-term, but it’s best to at least call it out when this behavior first surfaces, but it functional, professional behavior doesn’t ensue, then don’t let it slide or it will get worse.

The impact of others having to put up with this behavior is often underestimated. Coworkers have to pick up the slack, causing them stress, overtime, disappointed customers, and/or poor quality work.

My first post-college job was working in a 2-person office with a highly dysfunctional person as the office manager. She called in late or sick at least once a week and often several times. At one point she had no more sick leave coming so my boss had to put her on leave without pay. Her home life was a mess. She often hosted late-night parties where drugs and alcohol flowed freely, thus leaving her in no shape to come to work in the morning. Her frequent absences meant I had to do her work as well as my own. Since there were only two of us covering 14 phone lines, when she was out, I didn’t get breaks. Her dysfunction caused the whole department more stress. Finally, she was fired. But the office professionals put up with her behavior for nearly a year before I was hired. I couldn’t understand why they were so appreciative that I showed up every day, on time, and uncomplainingly handled both our work loads. But as time went on, I saw that to my superiors, office staff showing up on time had been a rarity.

If you are dealing with dysfunction in your work, ask yourself if you’re willing to do something about it. If not, how long are you willing to put up with it? If you’re not willing to do anything, the answer is forever.