Picture this: It’s time for your weekly team meeting, and only half your employees are there.

You get started anyway, only for two more employees to pop in five minutes late.

As you finally continue, yet another employee strolls in.

It’s disruptive to you and your entire team, making your meeting drag on longer than usual.

In a workplace like this, it’s unlikely being late to meetings is the only problem. Chances are, you’ve got missed deadlines, pointing fingers, and low productivity too.

All of these issues stem from one key workplace problem: a lack of accountability.

In a team that lacks accountability, work is subpar and often late. No one takes responsibility for their actions, leading to poor outcomes across the board.

To help you identify and address a lack of accountability on your team, we’ve created this complete guide. We’ll talk about what accountability means at work, the problems a lack of accountability causes, and how to address these problems on your team.

What does accountability mean at work?

In a work environment, accountability means taking ownership of a project, deliverable, or process. The person accountable for a task presents and justifies the results — and faces the consequences if the deliverable is not up to par.

Being accountable at work also means you understand that other people are dependent on your work. You’re part of a larger team working toward a common goal.

what is accountability checklist including taking ownership, justifying results, and working toward common goal

When there’s a lack of accountability on your team, employees often become self-centered and self-serving. They can lose sight of what’s best for the company, leading to significant issues with workplace processes.

5 workplace problems caused by a lack of accountability

When work processes break down, you’ll see the negative impact in every aspect of your organization. A lack of accountability affects everything from your team culture to your customer experience to your profitability.

Here are five major workplace problems caused by a lack of accountability and why they have serious consequences for your business:

problems caused by a lack of accountability

1. Poor quality work

When team members aren’t held accountable for their project, the quality of the team’s work suffers first.

Typos, inaccurate data, and other small issues start to pop up. As the lack of accountability continues, these issues can snowball into major problems with the overall standards and quality of your work.

Clients, vendors, and other business relationships can start to decline as the quality of your company’s work does.

It’s clear that poor quality work or service is just the beginning of a myriad of business problems, all stemming from a lack of accountability.

2. Inefficiency and decreased productivity

A lack of accountability also causes issues with project timelines and other deadlines.

When team members don’t adhere to deadlines, the entire organization works more slowly. Deliverables are late, and less work gets done, leading to lower productivity — and lower profits.

Because a lack of personal accountability on your team can also lead to interpersonal and management problems, decreased productivity becomes an issue all the way up the chain of command.

In fact, senior business leaders estimate that they spend 61% of their time resolving people problems. Establishing a culture of accountability on your team reduces these issues and helps everyone spend their time more productively.

There’s one more way a lack of accountability impacts your workplace productivity: employee engagement.

When no one is held accountable, it’s easy for team members to check out and become disengaged. Actively engaged employees increase productivity by up to 18%, and you can motivate and engage your employees by focusing on accountability.

3. Decreased employee engagement

Let’s take a closer look at employee engagement problems stemming from a lack of accountability.

When employees aren’t held accountable for work norms like meeting deadlines, attending meetings, and producing high-quality work, it becomes easy to believe that no one cares.

And if employees feel that their manager or other leadership doesn’t care, they can stop caring about their work very quickly.

This is a pervasive problem: it’s estimated that just 36% of employees are engaged at work. That means there are likely disengaged employees on your team.

infographic showing that 36% of employees are engaged at work

There are plenty of ways to increase employee engagement, and it’s with your effort that this can happen. After all, engaged employees help businesses increase profits by 23%. Start by looking at your team’s accountability and how you can improve it.

4. Low morale

Disengaged employees and a lack of accountability can foster a toxic workplace culture. If team members feel like no one cares or nothing matters, it’s easy for that attitude to spread.

Low employee morale essentially creates a downward spiral of low productivity, low employee engagement, and other workplace problems.

5. High employee turnover

When you consider the problems listed above, it’s no surprise that employees are quick to leave workplaces with these issues.

Work culture issues like low engagement, bad morale, and other toxic traits nearly always lead to high employee turnover. Unsurprisingly, a lack of accountability is a major contributor to all of these issues.

By creating a positive culture of accountability and engagement, you can reduce your turnover by up to 43%.

How do you know there’s a lack of accountability on your team?

Accountability is deeply tied to workplace culture, so it can be hard to identify the problem from the inside.

If you’re wondering if there’s a lack of accountability on your team, consider the problems above and identify concrete issues like missed deadlines, low attendance, or high turnover.

warnings signs of a lack of accountability, including missed deadlines, poor quality work, unhappy customers

You may need to set up systems for tracking accountability before you can hone in on the exact problem. For instance, if you don’t have a project calendar to track deadlines, how do you know when deliverables are late?

Here are a few ways you can identify accountability problems on your team:

  • Use a task manager to track employee productivity: A task manager helps you set deadlines, monitor deliverables, and do more on a team and employee basis.

With insights into each employee, you’ll be able to see if accountability problems are department-wide or lie with just a few workers.

  • Create and share work quality standards: Unclear expectations are a major contributor to poor accountability in an organization, so take some time to be clear about how your team should operate.

Consider standard operating procedures, brand and style guides, and quality assurance checklists to measure accountability by a business-wide standard.

  • Develop employee engagement and customer satisfaction surveys: A great way to identify key issues related to accountability is through surveys. Both employees and customers can provide valuable insight into issues with your team.
  • Meet with employees one-on-one: Spending time managing your employees individually goes a long way to developing a culture of accountability.

Your team will feel that you’re personally invested in them, increasing their engagement. For highly unaccountable employees, you’ll have a set time and place to coach them.

  • Review the consequences for work issues: Part of accountability is, unfortunately, facing consequences.

If you don’t have a clear outline of the consequences for accountability issues on your team, then you’ll need to create and communicate one. Consequences can range from verbal coaching to written warnings and performance improvement plans.

Share these protocols with your team so that everyone understands the process. Then track how often they’re implemented and who has faced which consequences to help identify where issues lie — and how successful your consequences are at improving accountability.

If a lack of accountability is deeply entrenched in your workplace culture, it may take time to establish these practices. In the next section, we’ll look at some actionable ways to overcome the lack of accountability on your team.

5 ways to solve a lack of accountability on your team

While a lack of accountability and its consequences can take many forms in an organization, there are a few things you can do right away to start building a culture of accountability on your team.

1. Set clear expectations and goals

The first step in resolving a lack of accountability is to set clear expectations for your team. All employees should understand their roles and responsibilities on an individual and team level.

To help everyone see exactly what they are accountable for, consider using a project management tool or task tracker. You’ll have one place for everyone to reference, and as a manager, you’ll get valuable data into your team’s performance.

Project Management Tool Example from Asana

(Image Source)

Make sure all employees understand the team or company-wide standards for quality of work and service. You should also be clear about the consequences or repercussions if they fail to be accountable for their work.

Depending on the dynamics of your team, you could set these expectations at a team-wide meeting or in one-on-one sessions. Just be sure everyone is on the same page regarding accountability.

2. Hold yourself accountable first

As you set clear expectations for your team, it’s important to set clear expectations for yourself, too. Then, hold yourself accountable to set an example for your employees.

You’ll earn more respect from your employees when you practice what you preach. In turn, they’ll be more willing to be accountable to you and the team.

3. Have difficult conversations with employees

One of the hardest parts of building a culture of accountability is having difficult conversations and handing out consequences when employees fail to be accountable.

Keep in mind that you don’t need to jump right to disciplinary action. You can use regular feedback meetings, performance reviews, and coaching-style conversations to help your employees get on track.

However, if problems persist, you’ll need to uphold the consequences you laid out for your team — even if this includes written warnings, performance improvement plans, or termination.

While this might feel confrontational, it doesn’t have to be. Be clear and honest about your expectations and the consequences, but do so considerately.

ways to check in with employees

4. Act promptly

When it comes to having difficult conversations with employees, the sooner you provide feedback, the better.

This helps employees recognize the problem quickly and avoids reinforcing a lack of accountability.

You don’t always have to provide feedback on the spot, although some situations may call for that. A follow-up email or quick meeting may be a better option to allow for privacy, or you can wait until your employee check-in meeting if it’s within a day or two.

Remember that enforcing accountability is going to be a gradual process. While you should act promptly, you don’t need to jump to the most severe consequences right away.

Talking about a work issue soon after it takes place gives the employee a chance to consider what they could have done differently and take action accordingly.

5. Collaborate with and listen to your employees

While accountability starts with you, it doesn’t end with you. You’ll need to work with your employees to create accountability systems throughout your organization.

A key way to do this is by asking for employee feedback. You can ask them how they feel the team works together and give them an opportunity to give you feedback on your management style and how you can best support them.

You can also set guidelines for how employees can appropriately hold you accountable.

For instance, should they follow up on emails or other requests if they haven’t gotten a response from you in one day? Three days? Clear direction on accountability in both directions strengthens the entire system.

Lastly, work to foster a collaborative environment. With a collaborative culture, everyone is more invested and takes more pride in their work, leading to natural accountability among your team.

Start building a culture of accountability on your team

A lack of accountability can cause a myriad of workplace problems, such as high turnover, low morale, and decreased productivity.

Address the lack of accountability on your team by setting clear expectations and providing prompt feedback to your employees. Set an example by holding yourself accountable and following through on consequences when necessary.

With a more accountable team, you’ll see increased productivity, engagement, and profit.

For more help getting your team on the right track, check out Pareto Labs’ course on how to manage people.

Pareto Labs offers engaging on demand courses in business fundamentals. Built to help you elevate your game at work, our courses distill complex business topics — like how to read financial statements, how to manage people, or even how to value a business — into digestible lessons. No business background required. Our library of 200+ lessons will teach you exactly what you need to know to use it at work tomorrow. Sign up for a free trial today to start watching.