I'm looking for a way to describe a workplace where the employees end up having to manage their own manager. This takes the form of employees having to ask for work, constantly check work has been signed off, check staff rotas have been written, etc. This is happening because of incompetence and/or indecisiveness on the managers part, not because this is an agreed system of working.

I want to use it in the phrase along the lines of "Employees are having to take on managerial tasks not in their job role because it's a ________ workplace." I want to describe the system, not the individual if possible.

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    Related: the Peter principle. Commented Jan 10, 2021 at 11:57
  • Isn't badly-run sufficient? (No hyphen if used predicatively.) I'd feel that this answer, though appropriate, makes for a rather simplistic 'answer' on ELU. Commented Jan 10, 2021 at 14:48
  • @Edwin Ashworth— I don't think badly run should be hyphenated.
    – user405662
    Commented Jan 10, 2021 at 15:06
  • 1
    @user405662 Always best to check. I'd found << run verb... B1 [ T ] [be in control of something [manage]] ... a well-run/badly-run organization/business/course >>[Cambridge Dictionary] Note that I'm not saying the unhyphenated version is incorrect, and as I say, there should be no hyphen in say 'The course is badly run'. Commented Jan 10, 2021 at 15:23

4 Answers 4


This dynamic is called Managing Up.

Bad bosses are the stuff of legend. And too many managers are overextended, overwhelmed, or downright incompetent — a topic that HBR has covered extensively over the years. Even if your boss has some serious shortcomings, it’s in your best interest, and it’s your responsibility, to make the relationship work.

HBR recently ran a special series on managing up, asking experts to provide their best practical advice for navigating this important dynamic.

(From What Everyone Should Know About Managing Up by Dana Rousmaniere, Harvard Business Review, January 23, 2015)

Employees are having to take on managerial tasks not in their job role because it's a managing-up workplace.

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    I guess "inmates running the asylum" is no longer PC?
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Jan 10, 2021 at 16:07
  • You found the best answer. However, I find it a pity that you do not provide a source explaining exactly what it means. You can include this link if you wish.
    – fev
    Commented Jan 10, 2021 at 16:35
  • @fev I think that the definition was better covered in section I quoted in from the Harvard Business Review article. I chose the HBR over your link because it is recognized in the business world.
    – rajah9
    Commented Jan 10, 2021 at 17:12

One word which might resonate is dysfunctional:

Not operating normally or properly.

Government stonewalling and a dysfunctional justice system also jeopardized the case.
It's not a threat to write a book about a dysfunctional intelligence organization.


That particular dictionary is happy to describe physical objects which don't work as "dysfunctional", but I'd prefer to reserve it for systems which don't work well (like the way a company should be managed).

  • I thought of this is too but it does have the downside of also meaning any other faulty workplace. Such as where employees are slackers unless constantly watched, or the company gossips get the people who actually do the work rated badly because of their lack of "collegiality."
    – Mary
    Commented Jan 10, 2021 at 17:23
  • @Mary Perhaps one might adjust the sample sentence to say "because of the dysfunctional management".
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jan 10, 2021 at 18:31

This is one of the many possible answers: rudderless

Lacking in direction, control, or coherence

the confused and rudderless financial markets; characterized the administration's Central American policy as rudderless.

[American Heritage Dictionary]

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    Yes. This both captures the spirit of what the OP was trying to convey and fits in his example sentence quite aptly.
    – anotherDev
    Commented Jan 10, 2021 at 14:44

If there is a desire to be scathing, then existing answers like "dysfunctional" or "rudderless" will do.

However, consider alternatives like resilient, co-operative, or non-conforming, since the workplace appears to consist of many workers capable of performing managerial tasks, and the work is substantially getting done despite the claimed incompetence of the formal management.

The apparent problem is not that the workplace is failing to function, but presumably only that actual duties are not reflected explicitly in job titles or pay, or that power and skill exist in an arrangement which differs from stereotype.

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