According to some very interesting new research by a Stanford University professor, toxic workplaces are the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. Which means it ranks even higher than Alzheimer’s disease.
Over my 40-year career, I’ve worked in more than my fair share of toxic environments…
For example, between 2002 and 2005, I ran the Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. The center, which was located right inside the hospital, aimed to integrate natural approaches — such as acupuncture — into mainstream medical care.
With the way things were organized, I was actually a part of the hospital administration. It allowed me to “lobby” the government for special program funds, which wasn’t permitted by regular medical staff. I also lobbied the hospital to offer the center’s mind-body services to staff.
Early on in my stint there, we proposed that stressed-out hospital staff members come right into our center once or twice a week to get a massage, a stress reduction session, a mind-body technique, or a group yoga or mindfulness meditation session. We suggested the hospital pay a flat fee directly to our clinic so we could offer it.
The staff was completely on board with the idea. In fact, the nurses said it was their number one benefit they wanted to add, while hospital administrators say their number one personnel problem is recruitment and retention of nursing staff!
Of course, the hospital administration turned us down flat — repeatedly.
It was a real shame for many reasons. For one, it could have been a model program for our dysfunctional healthcare system. Second, all hospitals scream about recruiting and retaining nurses. And this was the real benefit the nurses wanted. Third, the various facets of the employees’ health would have benefitted tremendously from the services we offered.
5 signs of a toxic workplace
As a patient, you might think of medical clinics, medical offices, and hospitals as healing environments. Or, at least safe places.
But for employees, it’s often a complex, highly demanding, and stressful environment. Especially if you work in a large specialty or multi-specialty group practice.
Of course, toxic workplaces can occur in any industry. Not just in health care. And the Stanford professor, who I mentioned at the beginning of this Dispatch, outlined five basic characteristics of a toxic workplace:
1.) You can’t really speak your mind to the boss
In hospitals or healthcare settings specifically, the egocentric physician or surgeon is “always right.” So, it doesn’t leave much room for discussion of other ideas.
2.) Only those with a certain “style” get promoted
In my experience, medical workplaces expect and exact conformity. And people who ask too many questions or look for different solutions often get shut down, silenced, or pushed into a corner — or pushed out altogether.
3.) Taking risks is not rewarded
Of course, you can’t take risks with patient care, at least more than is already built into standard medical practices. But taking a risk professionally, such as stepping forward to champion a new idea, or a better, safer approach to health, typically isn’t rewarded either.
4.) Employees can’t get “airtime” in meetings
As I found when running the Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, there’s hardly any time that works for everyone to get together for a meeting. And without a place to connect or share ideas, and plan “integrative care for patients, distance often grows between co-workers. Which negatively impacts team bonding and morale. And of course, not getting any meetings takes away just one more opportunity for newer employees to make an impression. It was the opposite of “integrative” care, since there was no time or opportunity to do so. And it’s one reason why I can’t take seriously the medical marketing hype about “integrative medicine.”
5.) Employees must draw attention to themselves to get ahead
Because all the attention goes to prima donna practitioners (again, doctors and surgeons), other employees must go to extreme lengths to get noticed in health care settings. Which can create a hostile, competitive culture among the so-called worker bees. Plus, bosses are quick to criticize, but slow to praise staff members.
As you might expect, these toxic workplaces lead to employee burnout. It can even lead to burnout and suicide among physicians, as I’ve reported.
To help you deal with the stress and demands of your workplace, I highly recommend trying out some of the mind-body approaches we wanted to offer the staff at Thomas Jefferson Hospital.
To find out which approach will work best for your personality type, take this short quiz on my website.
And if you’re currently in retirement, incorporating some of these practices into your daily routine will improve your health, increase your happiness, and extend your longevity.
P.S. In the upcoming February 2019 issue of my Insider’s Cures newsletter (“The 3 biggest threats to safe, holistic health care”), I’ll be continuing the discussion about how toxic workplaces can affect your overall health… And what you can do about it. Subscribers can access the article on February 1st by logging in to www.DrMicozzi.com.
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“5 Unspoken Rules That Lead to a Toxic Culture,” INC. (inc.com) 6/6/2018