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Healthcare Companies Can Combat a Negative Workplace
Wednesday, June 15, 2016
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Healthcare workers are inundated daily with reasons to be emotionally and physically stressed—and, as a result, they are often cited as being some of the most unhappy employees in any industry. One key to changing this is to help managers and employees obtain the tools needed to create a positive workplace. Administrators and managers want to increase staff morale, lower staff turnover, and have an overall healthier work environment, but often don’t know what can be done.

Additionally, the demand for quality healthcare is increasing, as is the need for workers. So the stress experienced by managers and staff will increase, unless preventative steps are taken.

The stress experienced in healthcare-related jobs is complex—and it is on the rise due to the increased use of technology, the multitude of rules and regulations, and changes in the insurance industry. Obviously, the quality of workplace communication and relationships is greatly affected by this turbulent environment.

My professional expertise is in helping workplace environments become more positive and healthy, so I am fully aware of the negative, damaging communication that occurs in many work settings. In fact, sometimes I am appalled at the stories I hear from employees, supervisors, and managers (the dysfunction affects all levels of an organization) and the damaging statements and actions that occur in work-based relationships.

But I firmly believe employees are not passive victims who don’t have the capability to affect those with whom they work on a daily basis. There are steps healthcare companies can take to make their workplace less toxic.

First, companies should have employees do a self-assessment. This could include both actions (complaining about a co-worker to another colleague) and attitudes (harboring anger and grudges for past offenses). Consider the following terms that might apply to everyday interactions in the workplace:

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  • grumbling 
  • irritable 
  • complaining 
  • quick temper 
  • unpredictable 
  • territorial 
  • impatient 
  • quick to find fault 
  • rarely compliment anyone 
  • gossiping 
  • uncooperative 
  • withhold information 
  • unreliable 
  • noncommunicative 
  • “it’s their problem” attitude.

The second proactive step employees can take is to actively disengage from participating in negative interactions, such as gossip or constant complaining. Note that this does not mean that staff should keep quiet about basic workplace needs going unmet, such as not having enough staff or managers available, unreliable equipment, or insufficient breaks. These valid concerns can be addressed in more appropriate ways.

Companies should also focus on training employees to communicate positive messages to others. A survey by the Boston Consulting Group found that the number-one factor for employee happiness on the job is to receive appreciation, and for healthcare care staff, this has been shown to be true. Often, the easiest way is to verbally share your appreciation for your teammates and the work they do. A simple “thanks” can be meaningful—especially if it’s specific (“Jen, thanks for taking on that extra patient. That really helped me focus on the difficult situation I was dealing with.”) This can be effective in “softening up” even those colleagues who seem fairly hardened and angry, though it may take some time.

We know that stressful healthcare environments comprise many components, but one of the key aspects is that the accumulated negative communication (and lack of positive messages) feed off each other and become like a poisonous gas that suffocates those working in it.

Also, we know that when individuals start taking responsibility for themselves and their actions, they begin to have a sense that they can make a difference. Then change starts to happen. Positive change is desperately needed in this field, for the sake of patients and staff, now and for the future.

Interested in learning more? Join me November 13-15 in San Antonio at ATD's Healthcare Executive Summit.

About the Author
Paul White is a psychologist, author, speaker, and president of Appreciation at Work. He is the co-author of three books, including The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, and he has shared his expertise with Bloomberg Businessweek, CNN.com, Fortune.com, Entrepreneur.com, Fast Company, FoxBusiness.com, Huffington Post LIVE, U.S. News & World Report, and Yahoo! Finance.
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