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Toxic Employees in Healthcare: Who They Are and How to Deliver the Cure

Christine Corning RN BSN

Director, Healthcare Vertical at Cornerstone OnDemand

Toxic employees. We’ve all worked with them – but can one bad apple really spoil the whole bunch? Having toxic behavior at any company yields bad results. But having it on the hospital floor can have serious consequences. According to a study by Mitchell Kusy, forty-nine percent of nurses that reported toxic behavior by team members said that it has resulted in them wrongly administering medication. And 25% of practitioners in the healthcare industry believe disruptive behavior is directly tied to patient mortality.

So what does this look like for an RN that’s worked on the floor? A former colleague of mine was sharing about a nurse that was difficult to get along with. She constantly picked up extra shifts, worked long hours and never quite seemed happy about her job. Her peers would help her out where they could, but she never wanted to pitch in when the rest of the team needed help with a patient. Her patients seemed relieved when her shift was over and they got a new nurse. When a team that is there to care for people is divided because they are avoiding someone on staff, mistakes are made, patient satisfaction goes down and the care we promise as nurses inadvertently suffers.

1. What is a toxic staff member?

A toxic worker is one who engages in bad behavior while on the job, often to the detriment of the team. And in healthcare specifically, one result is usually poor patient care. Examples of toxic behavior include having a bad attitude, whining, sabotaging others’ work, yelling, and more. Their conduct isn’t done maliciously, but it can still be harmful to their colleagues’ reputations.

2. Can anyone be toxic?

Yes. Everyone from the janitor to the CEO has the potential to be toxic. Whether they feel unappreciated – "I’ll show them for not giving me that promotion!" – or don’t work well with others, no one is immune. In fact, according to that same Kusy study, 80% of doctors have displayed toxic behavior towards staff, and 33% say disruptive physician behaviors occur weekly. No growth opportunities and being overworked are the two biggest ways to create toxics.

3. How do toxics affect my hospital?

So what else does the Kusy study tell us about having toxic staff members in your hospital? Well, for starters, toxic staff wreak havoc on retention, performance, and clinical care outcomes. Among the victims of toxics, 12% end up quitting, (and replacing them can cost over $57k per role!), 38% felt their work quality decreased, and 78% said their organizational commitment declined. For every 10% of unsatisfied nurses, patient recommendations drop 2%.

So what can you do about this in your care center? Cornerstone recently came out with a brief on toxic employees in healthcare that offers some suggestions on how to address this on your team. If you would like to dive further into what you can do to address this in your care center, you can download the rest of the brief here.

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