Avoiding responsibilities hurts overall organization performance, not just the goodwill of coworkers, according to a survey by AMA Enterprise, a division of American Management Association. The survey probed the organizational impact of a widespread "pass-the-buck" culture.
Executives, managers, and employees from more than 500 U.S. companies participated in the survey and were asked:
In your opinion, what is the impact of avoiding responsibility at your organization?
(Choose as many as apply)
It damages overall performance: 69%
It is resented by coworkers: 55%
It reflects a lack of shared responsibility: 50%
It diminishes a sense of engagement: 44%
It is seldom noticed: 8%
“Employees understandably become resentful when they see coworkers shirking responsibility without accountability—in such a situation, organizational morale and, ultimately, performance cannot help suffering,” said Sandi Edwards, Senior Vice President for AMA Enterprise, which provides organizations with assessment, measurement, and tailored training solutions.
According to Edwards, avoiding one’s responsibilities may be infectious. “A culture that tolerates ‘passing the buck’ alienates those employees who give everything to their job on a daily basis—these employees may rightfully feel they are being taken advantage of as they take on more and more responsibility to compensate for those who are not fully engaged.”
Edwards also warned that such a situation “risks the creation of a vicious cycle in which the fully engaged disengage, having lost the sense of shared responsibility critical to organizational success. A few shirkers can snowball until the dominant culture becomes one of risk-and- responsibility aversion.”
While avoiding responsibility is nothing new, the findings hint that the challenge may be getting worse, observed Edwards.
In your experience, how often do employees at your organization “pass the buck” and avoid responsibility?
More often than in the past.:28%
About as often as in the past: 49%
Less often than in the past: 22%
Don’t know: 2%
Although Edwards believes accountability must be a guiding value for any enterprise when dealing with this issue, she also encourages organizations to use a positive approach when reengaging specific employees. “Of course people need to be held to account, but at the same time they should be encouraged and supported as they face the risks inherent in taking on greater responsibility.”
At the same, added Edwards, “Management must examine and take responsibility for the messages it sends out. If the culture is all about avoiding risk, the employees cannot be blamed for being likewise.” In this kind of situation, according to Edwards, “before employees can be held accountable and re-engaged, the culture has to change, and that initiative must start at the top. Top management must develop and model a culture that supports and rewards those who take responsibility. The ideal is genuine collaboration, innovation, and accountability. And great organizations demonstrate all three.”
The survey was conducted in the spring of 2013 and consisted of 562 senior-level business, human resources, and management professionals, as well as employee contacts drawn from the AMA database of contacts.
With more than 90 years' experience and headquartered in New York, American Management Association is a global leader of comprehensive talent development. AMA Enterprise, a specialized division of AMA dedicated to building corporate and government training solutions, transforms enterprisewide talent to fuel a culture of innovation, high performance, and optimal business results.
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