Long-term care workers are inundated daily with reasons to be emotionally and physically stressed—and, as a result, they are often cited as being some of the unhappiest employees in any industry. One key to changing this is to help managers, as well as employees, obtain the tools needed to create a positive workplace. Administrators and managers want to increase staff morale, lower staff turnover, and have an overall healthier work environment but often feel at a loss for knowing what can be done.
Additionally, the demand for long-term care is increasing, as is the need for workers—millions more elderly individuals are projected to be in nursing facilities, assisted living and home care services by 2050. So the stress experienced by managers and staff will increase unless preventative steps are taken.
According to a study by the American Health Care Association, annual turnover rates among direct-care workers (nursing assistants and aides) are approximately 70 percent. In other words, two out of three nursing home or long-term care workers leave their jobs in the course of a year. The point? Getting a handle on reducing staff turnover is going to be critical for any long-term care facility to begin to improve staff morale.
In a series of NHPCO studies, peer support, strong teams, and high staff morale have been shown to be important factors for team members to cope with the stress they experience. Another is for healthcare teams to learn to communicate appreciation to one another in ways that are meaningful. Having good relationships with team members plays a significant role in the degree of job satisfaction for long-term care professionals.
My professional expertise is in helping workplace environments become more positive and healthy, so I am fully aware of the negative, damaging communication that occurs in many work settings. In fact, sometimes I am appalled at the stories I hear from employees, supervisors and managers (the dysfunction impacts all levels of an organization) and the damaging statements and actions that occur in work-based relationships.
But I firmly believe we are not passive victims that don’t have the capability to impact those with whom we work on a daily basis. If you work in a toxic workplace – one which is poisonous, damaging, and even potentially dangerous to the mental and emotional health of those who work there – there are steps you can take to make your workplace less toxic. You are not just a helpless by-stander.
First, do a self-assessment. As I remind those groups to whom I speak, being dysfunctional is not limited to everyone else – we often contribute to the sickness of the system in which we work. (Surprise! You are not perfect and you are not right all of the time!) Ask yourself, “What am I doing that really isn’t helpful in creating a positive workplace?” This could include both actions (complaining about a co-worker to another colleague) and attitudes (harboring anger and grudges for past offenses). Consider the following terms, and see if any might apply to you:
Grumbling Irritable Complaining
Quick temper Unpredictable Territorial
Impatient Quick to find fault Rarely compliment anyone
Gossiping Uncooperative Withhold information
Unreliable Non-communicative “It’s their problem” attitude
The second pro-active step you can take is to actively disengage from participating in negative interactions. This can mean – quit complaining, (remember the saying, “If you can’t say anything positive, don’t say anything at all”?). Also, when you are involved in a group discussion and it turns negative, excuse yourself. You don’t have to say anything or judge others. Just quietly excuse yourself and don’t contribute. Your leaving will send a message – and may lead to a follow-up discussion with one of the team members (“I noticed you left when we started griping about management’s lack of communication.” “Yea, I’ve decided to try to not engage in that type of discussion. I’ve found it really isn’t helpful.”)
Beginning to communicate positive messages to others is the third simple step we each can take. A survey by the Boston Consulting Group found that the number one factor for employee happiness on the job is to receive appreciation. Often, the easiest way is to verbally share your appreciation for your teammates and the work they do. A simple “thanks” can be meaningful – especially if it’s specific (“Jen, thanks for getting your report to me on time. That will help me get the information together for the manager’s meeting without having to rush at the last minute.”) This can be effective in “softening up” even those colleagues who seem fairly hardened and angry, though it may take some time.
“That’s it?” you may ask. Quit being so negative and try to be more positive?
Yes, that is the starting point. We know that toxic workplaces are comprised of many components, but one of the key aspects is the accumulated negative communication (and lack of positive messages) feed off of each other and become like a poisonous gas which suffocates those working in it.
Also, we know that when individuals start taking responsibility for themselves and their actions, they begin to have a sense that they can make a difference. Then change starts to happen.
So even though you may work in a really toxic environment, don’t succumb to the belief that it is all just happening to you. Figure out what you can do to not add to the trash, and help clean up the air a bit.
This article was written by Paul White, Ph.D. Dr. White is a psychologist, speaker and consultant, the author of The Vibrant Workplace, and co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, Sync or Swim, and Rising Above a Toxic Workplace. To learn more about creating better workplaces through authentic appreciation, visit appreciationatwork.com.