Employers may hire empathetic or compassionate employees to create a positive, high-functioning workplace.

How can a workplace be high-functioning?
Is high-functioning idiomatic?
The adjective is appropriate for a system or people. (I think.)

  • 1
    I don't see a problem. There are plenty of written instances of "high functioning workplace". Would you like a positive, fully-functional workplace better? Sep 5, 2023 at 17:48
  • @FumbleFingers a place where people work is high-functioning mean??
    – Sam
    Sep 5, 2023 at 17:51
  • 3
    I think you're just nit-picking. Obviously both forms are in use, and easy to understand. Both phrasings in my comment link to matches in Google Books, and the first one seems to have far more hits. Sep 5, 2023 at 17:51
  • @Sam [What does X mean? Please review your grammar.]
    – Lambie
    Sep 5, 2023 at 19:56
  • The collocation high-functioning was first recorded by the full OED in 1916 (I am proud of our high functioning art). Just because it was co-opted by the medical profession in 1987 (with citation High-functioning patients (i.e., able to take care of the range of life activities, not very hampered by their psychological problems) doesn't mean it can no longer be used in a broader sense. Sep 6, 2023 at 10:18

2 Answers 2


'High-functioning' is an idiomatic term, but this is the wrong context. It normally describes people who have some kind of impairment but still manage to 'function' in daily life to a reasonable degree. For example, a 'high-functioning alcoholic' is someone who is perhaps able to mask their alcoholism in their daily life, carry out a job, maintain relationships etc. Although other terms are now preferred, 'high-functioning autism' was once used to describe milder autism spectrum disorders that do not severely impact social interactions.

You can see why it isn't really appropriate for your context. It doesn't usually mean that something is functioning exceptionally well - just that it is functioning despite problems.

I think the term that should have been used in your example is "high-performing office". This is commonly used in connection with businesses, or areas of business, that are performing well.


workplace is a synonym for "worksite" or "office" and includes the people working there together to produce desired results. So when they are cooperating with each other and getting things accomplished with few interpersonal problems the workplace can be called "high-functioning". It's a bit of jargon that has entered Human Resources lingo.

"Highly functional" would be another way to say it.

HR, especially in large organizations, is big on blending people of different personality types to produce a smoothly functioning team, each personality type contributing to the success of the team and offsetting or counterbalancing the extremes of the other types. So there is an underlying sense that a workplace can become dysfunctional.

P.S. "high-functioning" is used in mental health contexts very frequently but it isn't limited to that context:

Therefore, a well-functioning team within an organization results in not just a high functioning team, but also a high functioning organization.


  • Strongly disagree. Aside from the fact that 'workplace' can describe any area of work of any size, as well as being used as a generic noun for all places of work, changing this noun doesn't make "highly functional" any more correct in this context. It is the wrong idiom.
    – Astralbee
    Sep 6, 2023 at 16:10

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