Dysfunction in the workplace gets a lot of attention and analysis. After all, when hiring managers refer to their companies as "being like a family" to job candidates, dysfunction should be expected.
All families (including work families) experience some dysfunction because all families consist of people. With this consideration, some workplace dysfunction not only seems natural, but also inevitable.
Family dysfunction is rooted in parents failing to adequately provide for their children's emotional, psychological and/or physical needs. The members of these dysfunctional families take their unmet needs into the workplace.
Companies hire people. Employees work with personalities.
This is the reason why tests such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator Tests (MBTI) have become a staple in large organizations. They assume that the right collection of employees with the right combination of personality traits will work harmoniously together. But in psychology, we know that personalities withstanding, it's our unmet needs that really drive us; influencing both conscious and unconscious behaviors.
Dysfunction in the workplace is always preceded by disruption of some kind, and disruption tends to stem from personalities, or personality conflicts - the main reason people are fired from their jobs.
Because it takes an unusually adept manager with very high emotional intelligence to recognize and extinguish dysfunction in the workplace, dysfunction will always exist, since most of the causes of dysfunction are more attributed to personalities (or personality disorders) and lack of values, than policies that can actually prevent the dysfunction.
The key (and true focal point) for managers is not to allow the dysfunction to progress to malfunction; a state where employee productivity is impacted by conditions not properly monitored or managed, which become the company's culture by default.
Ultimately, dysfunctional families are stuck with each other. Employees are not. When we say that the people we work with are "like a family" we need to be mindful of that simile and the comparisons that it draws. It's not being a "like a family" that matters to employees, but what type of family.