“The day this person left our company is considered a national holiday.”
This quote from a participant in our national research study is illustrative of the considerable attention and pain associated with toxic behaviors in healthcare workplaces. While bullying has been a common topic, less known are those behaviors that do not reach the threshold of bullying—often referred to as “toxic behaviors.”
Our survey and interview study consisted of a sample of more than 400 leaders (39% from healthcare). We asked leaders about their experiences in working with individuals demonstrating toxic behaviors, defined as a pattern of counterproductive work behaviors that seriously debilitate individuals, teams, and/or the organization over the long term. Some 94% said they worked with a toxic person.
Three types of toxic behaviors were discovered: shaming, passive hostility and team sabotage. These behaviors are subtle and hard to identify, therefore, many leaders do not address them in performance-management processes or formal disciplinary systems. Consequently, they can slip under the radar until they have greatly affected team performance.
Dr. Alan Rosenstein's research involving medical professionals (American Journal of Medical Quality, 2011) discovered that participants felt a strong correlation between disruptive behaviors and the occurrence of medical errors and compromised quality (71%), adverse events (67%), compromises in patient safety (51%), and a contributing factor to patient mortality (27%). The Joint Commission in its analysis of sentinel events found that nearly 70% could be traced to communication problems, many of which are a reluctance to interact with physicians or other healthcare professionals who are considered to be “toxic.”