Workplace Culture – What to Do in a Toxic Situation
Published on the 16 October 2016
Published on the 16 October 2016
Describing your workplace culture can be very difficult. It would be like expecting bees to describe the workings of the hive. They can’t, we can’t, it’s just there, we’re surrounded by it, and we behave and work in it according to all the unspoken rules and codes.
At best, here’s what you might say when someone asks what it’s like working at your facility:
Sadly of late we are seeing the proliferation of the latter – “bad workplace cultures” or toxic cultures – where personal and professional growth is hindered, aspirations can’t be realised, and self-esteem is slowly eroded.
One thing we do know is how a toxic workplace affects us. For example we might:
It is sad if it’s come to this, and if you have to go, you have to go. But how can you be sure you’re not jumping from one frying pan into another? You will go to your new workplace unhealed, on guard and wary. Your new workplace will be denied the confident professional that you really are.
As the old saying goes, if you can’t beat them, join them. At least you’ll be left alone, but you will be compromising your integrity. You will be suffering a debilitating degree of cognitive dissonance when your newly-formed conformist survival values are in stark contrast to your inner values, and the values of the facility or organisation as a whole.
Don’t think you had something to do with this. You are witnessing people behaving badly and you’re not responsible for them.
You’re there to care for patients/residents, not to make best friends (although I agree that forming close workplace relationships is a bonus). Remember that your patients/residents deserve your positive best. They do not need an overly cautious, worried and distracted nurse looking after them.
You were employed to do a job to the best of your ability in order to earn your wage. Keep your head down and backside up. Don’t get involved in tearoom gossip or store room backstabbing. Don’t discuss work on social media. You may be on the outer for a while, but do you really need to associate with negative people to be accepted into the work group? If you keep busy, ‘knock-off time’ soon arrives.
Whatever level nurse you are, you are in a great position to learn from those toxic people on how not to behave. The physical and psychological upset you are experiencing is not what you want your managers or colleagues to experience.
As boring and bothersome as this may seem, you must keep a diary of dates, times, the shift, what happened, who witnessed it and what you did about it, and importantly – how it made you feel. For example: not “… I felt ignored at the staff meeting…” (which can easily be referred to as bad manners), but “…being ignored at the staff meeting made me feel isolated and humiliated…” (which can only be referred to as a form of bullying).
Additionally, complete staff incident reports and lodge them, and keep yourself a photocopy.
By being seen as keeping out of the toxic goings-on, you may eventually draw people to you that are feeling the same way. You will now have support, and as a group you have a louder voice to make your concerns heard.
There must be someone or some department that will hear your concerns. Look around your facility for posters displaying health and safety information, anti-discrimination information, bullying and harassment and workplace violence information, find out who is head of your HR department, and who are your work health and safety representatives.
Long-term toxicity can lead to the ‘death’ of an organisation, but there will come a time when the senior executive staff will pick up the warning signs like increasing staff absenteeism rates, poor patient outcomes (increase in falls and/or pressure injuries), poor consumer feedback, staff reporting cases of bullying and so on.
Try to stay strong, keep yourself at a level above the goings-on, and ride the rapids, because there’s usually calm waters ahead.
Christine (RN, BN, MPHC) is an RN with 40 years experience, traversing the profession as an AIN, EN, RN, RM N.ED. to DON. She is currently in transition-to-retirement and working as a casual RN on the floor in a small rural hospital with an aged care facility attached. Her interests are aged care and particularly nurses; their working relationships, team dynamics and how nurse leaders and managers deal with the day to day complexities of leading and managing.