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Workplace drama affects patient care and is seldom addressed

Research shows workers feel they can't discuss workplace problems, but that good management helps.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

A new study by VitalSmarts shows that workplace drama, and the fact that it is seldom addressed, is yielding substantial reductions in patient safety and quality of care.

"While most employees and physicians frequently witness these interpersonal concerns, few address the problems," the company said.

More than 1,200 physicians, nurses and staff were asked to identify "how common, costly, undiscussable and unsolvable five interpersonal challenges were in their teams and organizations."

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Five major issues emerged as "pervasive and destructive." 

First, team members who take shortcuts and excessive breaks and don't do their fair share of the work are a problem. Despite 61 percent citing poor initiative as common, and nearly three-fourths saying it significantly affects safety and care, 75 percent described it as "undiscussable," which leads to the belief that laziness is OK.

Difficult peers, defined as co-workers who gossip, spread rumors, give people the cold shoulder, and are rude, sarcastic and mean, are contaminating workplaces too, the study said. More than half of respondents called these bad actors common and two thirds described their detrimental effect, but 78 percent this too was undiscussable in their workplace.

Managers who fail to hold workers accountable to the required safety and culture standards are also apparently common, with three out of four respondents saying "persistent management weakness" undermines safety and quality of care. Two-thirds said this couldn't be discussed.

[Also: Managing workplace stress]

Physicians who ignore phone calls, pagers, emails and are often late are contributing negatively to healthcare environments. While only only 38 percent called this issue common, 70 percent called it undiscussable and therefore an issue that can't be solved.

Managers who play favorites and give their chosen ones better hours, assignments and opportunities rounded out the list, with about a third of respondents calling this a frequent occurrence in their workplace. However, nearly three fourths of those said this topic was also hush-hush.

However the research also showed good management can make a big difference in curtailing these issues and improving the work environment.

[Also: As unions grow, healthcare execs need to know how to handle them]

"It turns out, having a manager who demonstrates strong and positive interpersonal skills can eliminate the impacts of workplace drama," Maxfield said. "Employees with skillful bosses rated their departments higher on patient safety, quality of care, patient and family experience and staff and physician engagement."

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