Finally, healthcare’s dirty little secret is out: an epidemic of incivility infects most healthcare workplaces. The problem is so widespread that The Joint Commission issued a statement about disruptive behaviors in the workplace and recommended civility training for every healthcare employee.
Incivility among nurses is nothing new. Nearly every nurse I know has a story about being belittled, disrespected or pushed around on the job.
For me, it happened at my first job as a graduate nurse–on a busy hematology/oncology unit at a large teaching hospital. In addition to providing basic care to very sick patients, the nurses were responsible for drawing blood, starting IVs and pushing chemo. The unit had been short staffed for some time and the nurses were tired. I was inexperienced, intimidated and in need of a thorough orientation.
Did I receive it? Nope.
Instead I was thrust into a full caseload while my “preceptor” carried on with her own patients. When I voiced my concerns to her, she replied, “Look, you’re not much good to us because you aren’t certified to start IVs or give chemo. But, you’re a warm body to fill a spot on this shift. Just do the best you can because none of us has the time or the desire to help you.”
What happened? Well, fortunately, I avoided causing harm to any patients! But, my stress level soared; I felt alienated from my co-workers; and I spent my days off dreading work. After a month, I transferred to another oncology unit where the nurses valued teamwork.
So, guess what? Once again, the heme/onc unit was short staffed! Their attitude toward me cost them another “warm body.” As time went on, I discovered that this was a pattern; very few nurses wanted to work on that unit. The culture of incivility among the staff harmed everyone: supervisors, staff and patients!
Embrace workplace civility for a better atmosphere
Civility training has the potential to improve patient care, strengthen team relationships and create an atmosphere that energizes and inspires those who are in it.
Healthcare professionals who embrace civility are less apt to quit or “job hop,” and are less likely to burn out, bully or “eat their young!” But don’t wait for your workplace to institute civility training. The solution to the incivility problem lies within each of us.
Make a difference starting today by remembering that the first step toward civility is self-awareness. You are responsible only for yourself and your own behavior. So, keep asking yourself these questions until you can answer with an honest “yes”:
- Can I feel and express anger or frustration without hurting others—and then let it go?
- Can I accept (and even appreciate) that other people have needs and opinions which are different from my own?
- Can I encourage and enjoy the successes of others?
- Do I actively seek out ways to feel personally empowered and avoid trying to dominate people whom I perceive to be weaker?
- Do I avoid participating in dangerous gossip and bullying behaviors?
- Am I able to recognize when someone else feels angry or frustrated and keep myself from reacting impulsively in response?
The current widespread lack of civility adds to medical errors, poor patient satisfaction, higher employee turnover, stress, burnout, bullying and higher healthcare costs for consumers. If we really want to be a part of creating a culture of civility at work, then it HAS to start with each of us. By becoming more self-aware and managing our moods and behaviors, we can harness the power of civility—as a team.