Vol. 17 Issue 24
Is Your Workplace Sick?
An unhealthy environment gives you no immunity to unhappiness. Here's how to recognize and treat the symptoms.
Here's a test. Take a look at your hospital or facility's mission statement. Now, compare the mission statement to what actually occurs in your department.
Do the two reflect each other?
If the mission statement describes a functional, happy workplace, but the reality is that your department wastes too much time backstabbing and keeping secrets, then you may be exposed to a sick work environment.
A sick work environment is characterized by a variety of symptoms that make going to work every day a painful experience. It may also leave you wondering, "If I think everyone else is crazy around here, maybe I'm the problem."
Rest assured. Most likely you aren't, said Bill Callaway, author and speaker. But Callaway said recognizing the symptoms is an important step on the way to the ultimate goal–curing the sick situation and increasing your happiness at work.
Sick work environments are as common as a cold during the winter. "Unfortunately, the problem is very widespread," Callaway explained. "Many times, it's not necessarily an entire organization that is affected." It may be just the laboratory department or even just a section of the department.
The cause may be traced back to the person in charge, the individuals that work in that area or just one bully. "Other times, it can be the entire organization. It's possible," Callaway said in an interview with ADVANCE.
Diagnosing the Illness
The most notable symptom of a sick work environment is a general state of denial that anything is wrong. The organization does not want to talk about the problems or issues going on in the work environment. And they certainly don't want to address people's feelings on the issues, Callaway noted.
"A big giveaway is the employee-of-the- month plaque. See how far behind that is. That will tell you a lot about how a company treats its employees," he said.
Common phrases that are normally heard in a dysfunctional work environment are, "If you don't like it, just leave" or, "Don't ask questions. Just get the job done."
Perhaps the only communication that occurs within the organization is negative. Instead of receiving praise or gratitude after a med tech works a hectic, long shift, a supervisor may criticize the technologist for a minute aspect of her job. Or a coworker will chide another coworker by saying, "I could have done it better."
The workers immersed in the sick environment often will experience the "NETMA" symptom–or Nobody Ever Tells Me Anything. NETMA is spawned by secrecy in an organization: different groups keeping secrets from one another, secret meetings or secret favors.
The secrecy usually is linked to another sign of a sick work environment: game-playing.
"Somebody has an agenda. They are either after power or they are trying to usurp someone else's power," said Callaway. For example, a supervisor may become intimidated by a staff member's knowledge and try to downplay that tech's abilities.
The game-playing also is intrinsically related to jealousy. That jealousy can escalate into a terminal illness for a work environment. If one employee is getting something that another is not, rightly or wrongly, the jealous employee will create conditions whereby the other employee can no longer have it, or he is going to be miserable that he does have it, explained Callaway.
Often, jealousy and game-playing lead back to preferential treatment, whether it's employees getting preferential treatment over others for no reason or friends getting favors. Another example includes temporary workers with no loyalty to the company getting paid more than permanent workers.
One or two of these symptoms may happen occasionally in all workplaces. That doesn't automatically translate into a sick work environment.
"When this stuff all adds upNETMA, secret meetings, behaviors that don't match the mission statement, backstabbingthat's a dysfunctional environment," said Callaway.
It's when all of these things boil over in a feverish frenzy that a diagnosis can be made and treatment administered.
It is possible for a sick work environment to become healthy on its own. But it's a slow process. As new people are hired, they refuse to participate in the dysfunctional environment, and the climate slowly begins to change.
There is hope for a sick work environment to become healthy. But to cure the working wounded in a sick work environment, their happiness must be restored. In order to do that, the working wounded are going to have to learn to take care of themselves. And the cures are not easy.
The single most important one is to realize that you are not the problem. The working wounded must recognize the situation for what it is and confront it. "Don't be afraid to say, 'This is wrong and I'm being mistreated,'" Callaway said.
Maintain professionalism at all times, at all costs. By maintaining professionalism, it leaves the staff untouchable by a sick work environment. "Never, never sacrifice that. It may not always be easy, but you've risen above what's going on," said Callaway.
Choose not to participate in the dysfunctional environment. "Come to grips with the power plays and sick behavior," he said.
Don't hesitate to seek professional counseling to help mentally and emotionally deal with the problem. If you do not feel professional counseling is appropriate, find others experiencing a similar situation and vent.
If anything illegal is occurring, such as sexual or racial discrimination, seek professional advice.
Do everything possible to build your own self esteem. "Feed your mind and emotions positive things," both inside and outside work, said Callaway.
The ultimate cure for a sick work environment is to divorce the job. Some technologists may wonder why they should leave if they are not causing the problem. The goal is for the working wounded to stay mentally healthy and emotionally happy. That may require recognizing a work environment that will never fulfill that need.
Lauren Pigeon is on staff at ADVANCE. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you part of the working wounded?
A sick work environment makes the innocent employees think they are the problem.
Those laboratorians will go to work every day and try their hardest to do the best job they possibly can, but someone or something is preventing them from doing that. These people become the working wounded, explained Bill Callaway, author and speaker.
"The working wounded aren't necessarily the target of a sick work environment; they are just immersed in the culture," said Callaway.
The severe work atmosphere may take a toll on the mental and emotional health of the working wounded, making them increasingly unhappy at their job. Unfortunately, this unhappiness may spill into life outside work.
"If you are the working wounded, you are probably mentally healthy, you're just stuck in a sick environment," said Callaway.
The fever of a sick environment breaks when the working wounded recognize the problem and realize that they are not a part of it.
"It goes on for so long with [the working wounded] thinking, 'It must be me. I must be doing something wrong. I am so unhappy here.'" said Callaway. "The point finally comes when they realize one day that they are not the problem."
Signs and Symptoms
Do these characteristics of a sick work environment sound familiar?
• Someone repeatedly comes in late with no consequences or repercussions.
• New techs and old techs butt heads because of differences in age, maturity and attitude.
• Temporary staff with no loyalty to the organization get paid more than permanent staff.
• A supervisor forgets that he was ever a technologist before moving into management.
• A supervisor is intimidated by others' knowledge and expertise.
• Someone who grew up in a sick family brings his background to work with him.
• Someone has a chemical dependence problem that is affecting his work and coworkers, but the problem is not discussed.
• Employee confidentiality is violated.
• Sexism or racism occurs, but is not discussed.
• One individual is simply a bullyphysically, mentally or emotionally.
• Everyone smiles and denies there is a problem.
• The healthcare team projects a team image to outsiders, but behind the scenes, the departments and coworkers fight.
• The supervisor smiles and nods while his technologists are speaking, but never actually listens.