Don’t let these 5 toxic workplace dramas hurt patient safety

A doctor at a desk holding up his hand to say stop
Healthcare organizations need to address bad behavior before it damages patient safety. (Medioimages/Photodisc)

You may not think so, but slackers, difficult colleagues, timid supervisors, arrogant doctors and managers who play favorites can reduce patient safety and quality of care.

A survey of more than 1,200 physicians, nurses and staff, led by Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield of the training company VitalSmarts, identified five common behavioral problems that more often than not go unaddressed in hospitals and other healthcare settings.

“Healthcare is not immune to workplace drama,” says Grenny in a study announcement. “If anything, the stress and complexities introduced by long and difficult hours, power differentials among colleagues and mounting regulation ensures healthcare professionals will face interpersonal strain and frustration at every turn. What this research confirms is that if you can’t talk about high stakes staff issues, you can’t deliver great healthcare.” 

Here are the five workplace dramas to not let fester, as failure to address these behavioral problems puts patients at risk:

People with poor initiative. While 61% of respondents said slackers are common, the result if it goes unaddressed is a widespread belief that laziness is acceptable. Don’t put up with staff who take shortcuts and excessive breaks and do not take on their share of the work.

Difficult peers. This behavior—from gossip, spreading rumors, being rude and sarcastic—has damaging effects, according to two-thirds of respondents.

Failure of managers to hold others accountable. Three out of four respondents said persistent management weakness undermines safety and quality. Make sure managers hold staff to required safety and culture standards.

Unresponsive physicians. The problem of arrogant doctors who ignore calls and are often late doesn’t get resolved because 70% of respondents said it is an issue that is never discussed.

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Managers who play favorites. Healthcare organizations need to take action when managers give better hours, assignments and opportunities to their select favorites on staff. The best managers, who can also help prevent staff burnout, can work with a diverse staff and make everyone feel included, according to Mayo Clinic research.

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The real problem is when these behaviors don’t get talked about, the survey concluded. Poor communication can be costly to medical practices, as staff waste time each day when there is ineffective communication between managers and staff.