Lack of Accountability in Remote and Hybrid Workplaces [How to Fix It]

Seeing signs of a lack of accountability in your workplace? Whether you’re running in-person, hybrid, or remote teams, everyone's vulnerable to this problem. Here’s how to define lack of accountability, what causes it, and how the Responsibilities Chart in Ninety can help you improve accountability within and across teams.


How to Identify and Fix Lack of Accountability in Workplaces

This is an in-depth guide to help in-person, hybrid, and remote team leaders identify and fix a lack of accountability at work.

If you want to know:

  • What causes a lack of accountability and how to spot it
  • How to improve team accountability
  • And how to build a culture of accountability in your organization

…then you’ll love this guide. Let’s get started.


What’s Covered in This Guide

Click on each link to jump to that section.


What Is Lack of Accountability?

A lack of accountability at work is when someone does not take ownership of an unproductive situation that results from their own actions and subsequent choices.

When a team member:

  • Isn’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing when they’re supposed to be doing it
  • Acts as if the bad results are not their responsibility
  • Plays the blame game whenever stuff doesn’t get done
  • Makes excuses for not finishing a task or hitting a goal
  • Doesn’t live up to organizational expectations

…there may be a lack of accountability.

Some experts think lack of accountability is a condition that occurs when an organization does not clearly communicate, reinforce, and build trust around the value of accountability.

People who take responsibility for their roles at work are answerable and amenable to owning up to their obligations. Accountable people also take ownership of results, helping to increase overall performance. They are liable for any consequences when things go wrong, so they don’t break that trust.

Especially in hybrid and remote workplaces, leaders want to know how they can hold people accountable at work even if they can’t see them working. Understanding accountability (and spotting a lack of accountability) is key for both employees and leaders.


What Does Lack of Accountability at Work Look Like? [Examples]

What causes a lack of accountability? These signs of lack of accountability illustrate what it can look like at work.

1. Issues are intensifying.

When teams start dealing with issues that snowball, it’s a sign that accountability is weak. Things that stay unresolved for too long could delay entire projects. If one person doesn’t complete their task, others will be impacted.

2. Frustration is showing.

If team members are affected by a lack of accountability within the organization, they could get irritated and lash out. They could lose confidence in their coworkers, leaders, and company. Especially if someone else is not being held accountable.

3. Expectations are not met.

It’s a red light when people stop meeting objectives effectively. Something as simple as showing up for work late all the time becomes accepted behavior. Ignored To-Dos pile up. Discipline wanes, and chaos could ensue.

4. Morale seems low.

Low morale in the workforce can result when people:

  • Aren't clear on what their organization wants to achieve overall
  • Aren’t sure if they’re making the right contribution or making any headway in achieving team goals
  • Are constantly making revisions to their projects due to changing or unclear priorities

It’s more difficult for leaders to hold people accountable for results if they haven’t clearly communicated what Roles and Responsibilities look like or how results are measured.

5. People are no longer engaged.

When team members seem disconnected and not invested in their work anymore, they’ve likely lost that sense of purpose inspired by aligning daily work with organizational goals. They may be experiencing a lack of consistent feedback and a lack of accountability, which is draining their engagement.

6. Trust is diminishing.

If relationships among coworkers or between a leader and a team member are suffering, it can contribute to bad attitudes and unproductivity. Trust is lost when people don’t deliver as promised, where a lack of accountability is to blame.

More Lack of Accountability Examples

  • Company leaders are not personally accountable.
  • Leaders just don’t care how their actions and decisions affect the rest of the company.
  • Leaders fail to prioritize accountability for their teams.
  • Organizational expectations are not defined.
  • Poor work practices become the norm because standards are unimportant.
  • Unprofessional or bad behavior is tolerated.
  • Companies reward team members for being less than accountable.
  • Team members are punished for being accountable.
  • The company does not have a culture of accountability.


What Are the Business Impacts of a Lack of Accountability?

Here’s how the consequences of lack of accountability can cost you strategically:

1. Time gets wasted.

It’s difficult to move your company forward when people are allowed to ignore strategic decisions meant to accomplish the important stuff. In addition to wasted time, a lack of accountability could also cause a lack of:

  • Focus
  • Productivity
  • Performance
  • Value

2. Credibility is lost.

Experts say as much as 80% of internal challenges an organization faces are due to strained relationships among leaders and teams caused by accountability issues:

  • Teams lose respect for their leaders.
  • Collaborative problem-solving gets harder.
  • Decisions are put off.
  • The company’s reputation is damaged.
  • No one is working better.

3. Culture suffers.

No accountability means people can develop a victim mentality. Transparency shrinks. People shove others under the bus when things don’t go well. It becomes “us” versus “them” instead of one team, aligned and productive.

4. Work gets missed.

People take more time off to recharge from working in a culture that supports “less than accountable” as the standard. This could mean a huge interruption in company growth over time.

5. Quality slips.

Why bother producing superior products or services when there are no clearly defined standards for excellence?

6. Turnover increases.

Unclear expectations drive great performers elsewhere.


How to Boost Accountability in the Workplace

Change always starts with leaders. Here are four tactics that will help increase workplace accountability.

1. Hold yourself accountable.

A great way to advocate for taking ownership of results in any type of workplace is to develop and strengthen your own personal accountability.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many people were unfamiliar with remote or hybrid operations. At first, you may have realized that your understanding of being accountable was informed by compliance — to other people’s wishes, to operational demands, to someone else’s idea of what you’re supposed to be doing. Making decisions on your own that affected when you worked, your workload, and how you communicated with leaders and fellow team members might have felt liberating.

You may have been introduced to initiative-based work, which enables accountability to yourself: You research what you need to know. You act without being told. You answer for your own actions. You’re able to see opportunities and create value from them. When things get difficult, you take ownership of results and find a way to move forward.

After having this experience, it’s probably easier to see how a lack of accountability at work is the opposite of taking the initiative. It creates a way of thinking that can limit you: Your energy. Your positive attitude. Your follow-through. Your optimism for work well done. Your trust in yourself and others.

According to the book The Oz Principle, accountability is “a personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving key results.”

You can improve your personal accountability by:

  • Updating your thinking. Shift your perspective to nurturing integrity rather than chasing rewards or consequences for your decisions.
  • Setting your limits. Avoid overloading yourself with things you can’t achieve. Get clear on your priorities, so you’re spending your time and energy on them.
  • Practicing follow-through. Ready yourself to keep the promises you make. Use facilitators like calendars, reminders, and other tools, or find a like-minded colleague to collaborate with.
  • Using deadlines. Never underestimate the influence self-implemented limits can have on your behavior. It’s a way for you to visualize your timeline that’s meaningful only to you when it comes to staying on track.
  • Learning from outcomes. Many people use failure as a change agent to improve their decision process, why they act, and how they hold themselves accountable.

2. Always set clear, measurable goals.

It’s easier and more effective for people to take ownership of results when they clearly understand goals and their roles in achieving them. If everyone knows the overall goals and their role in achieving them, it will be easier to hold them accountable.

3. Give feedback regularly.

Regular one-on-one meetings for mutual feedback are the platform for two people to build a stronger working relationship. The feedback should be comprehensive. Use clear, concise words for expressing constructive criticism as well as encouragement. Base feedback on agreed-upon goals, priorities, to-dos, metrics, roles, and responsibilities.

4. Practice team accountability.

Everyone on your team should hold you and everyone else accountable. When leaders have regular meetings with their teams, action items are assigned and discussed. Everyone knows who’s accountable for what, which helps drive personal accountability for their specific responsibilities.


4 Ways Leaders Can Improve Team Accountability

These four accountability-boosting tips may surprise you.

1. Realize that accountability doesn’t rely on control.

When leaders push rules on teams to measure accountability, it could backfire badly. Imposing things like mandatory work hours, strict production requirements, and tight key performance indicators (KPIs) won’t necessarily influence people to take ownership of results.

Mostly, accountability is a personal choice. It’s something leaders want to nurture rather than control.

When people lead by example, they can influence others by being accountable to themselves and their teams. In turn, they can encourage others to be accountable to each other.

2. Enable everyone to take ownership.

Instead of focusing accountability at work on those individuals who are not getting things done short term, involve everyone in an accountable approach to productivity and performance.

The entire business operating system matters when it comes to team accountability. Take a look at core goals, processes, and priorities, metrics tracking, task assignment, which people are in what Seats, and the technology you use to enable better performance. Any one of these elements can cause people to be less than accountable for results.

3. Revisit what it means to be clear.

It’s more effective to communicate expectations directly with clarity. But what does that mean?

Clarity means simple, lucid, clear, comprehensible, and free of ambiguity. Clarity also enables transparency, a critical factor in building trust. This is what happens when leaders set clear goals and expectations for their teams. Clear communication considers the differences people have in processing and responding to information. There’s no mystery about what directives mean. It makes it easier for people to be accountable for outcomes.

4. Let emotional intelligence be your guide.

People don’t always realize how their behavior affects others, especially when accountability is in question. A person’s ability to know when to be kind, empathize with others, and communicate effectively goes a long way when defusing conflicts and coming to mutual understanding.


How to Fix a Lack of Accountability in a Hybrid and Remote Work Model

Even though nearly 90% of people say their productivity stays constant or improves due to working on their own, leaders are still concerned. Considering how a lack of transparency and accountability can affect relationship-building in an organization, the fix is simple:

The quality of hybrid and remote working is elevated by cultivating trust, transparency, and accountability.

It’s the combination of trust, transparency, and accountability that’s the sweet spot.

When leaders: 

  • Are transparent
  • Provide teams with clear expectations for achievement
  • Give consistent feedback on performance
  • Create a safe environment

…people can freely share their ideas and opinions and ask questions without fear. They feel supported by the clear direction they need to thrive in a culture of accountability.

Leaders who trust people to work effectively as hybrid and remote workers can benefit greatly. Research says that in comparison to workplaces with a low-trust, low-accountability culture:

  • Trustworthy leaders achieve lower turnover, improved levels of accountability, and greater team member satisfaction.
  • Trusted team members are 76% more engaged, 50% more productive, take 13% fewer sick days, and experience 40% less burnout.


How to Build a Culture of Accountability

The Roles and Responsibilities Chart in Ninety is an effective tool to help you build a culture of accountability with ease. It’s designed to improve how people hold themselves and others accountable within teams and across the organization.

When roles and responsibilities are clearly defined and agreed to by all, it’s easier to:

  • Communicate a purpose for company-wide accountability as a culture-builder.
  • Remove questions and confusion and replace them with transparency and trust.
  • Hire the right person who wants to be held accountable for the right Seat.
  • Focus on solving issues when an expectation is not met, instead of trying to fix the team member.
  • Be kind, empathize with emotions, and make a plan to move forward rather than handing out penalties for unmet goals.
  • Avoid sending the message that unaccountable behavior is okay.
  • Develop a healthy culture of accountability that leaders and teams will be grateful for.


Create a Culture of Accountability with Ninety

Now that you’ve learned how to fix a lack of accountability, it’s time to put your knowledge into practice: Create clear roles and responsibilities for your team now in Ninety.

Ninety helps leaders build clear accountability, so you don’t have to worry that your teams aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be. Sign up for a free trial with access to all Ninety functions, features, and support.

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