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Staff Morale:

Getting it Out of the Pits

Low morale in any industry is a drag on almost every aspect of the business. When the business is healthcare, it's impact can seriously impact patient care. The Center for Phlebotomy Education interacts with thousands of healthcare professionals every year, hearing their stories, frustrations, and problems, and offering solutions. One customer's account on the depth to which low morale and a dysfunctional environment impacted patient care was stunning.

The employee reached out to us desperate for answers and strategies to turn around the downward spiral of spirit and harmony in her workplace. She shared an incident in which the staff was so mean to eachother that one phlebotomist would sabotabe the samples another phlebotomist collected and brought to the lab by changing the labels, mixing up the samples from one patient to another. Her objective was to get her coworker fired for misidentifying a patient. That's what happens when morale is allowed to plummet and bullies are allowed to prosper. (For more on handling bullies, see "Is There a Bully in the House?" in the January, 2020 issue of Phlebotomy Today.)

Contributors to low morale include negative talk, gossip, passive-aggressive behavior, dysfunctional managers, deciet, and demotivation interactions. Gossip is among the worst. When you hear it, remind co-workers to refrain from negative talk. Negativity is poison in the healthcare setting, sends patient satisfaction rates plummeting, and contributes to high staff turn-over rates. Over the years, we've included case studies in our newsletter, Phlebotomy Today, from emails we've received from our readers and gained permission to publish. Here's an example, and one that sums up what can be done to bring staff morale back from the pits.

One reader writes: We have a group of new laboratorians who were put in with others who have worked together for a long time. The new hires are treated very rudely by the established employees and not given much support. When the established staff must do their own work and are asked to assist the new ones, there is much swearing, fit throwing, etc. Where does one go when the new supervisor turns a blind eye to such hostility?

Our Response: What you have is what’s called a "rat pack." Your employer has hired a solid new pool of employees, but the rat pack feels threatened and tries to run them off. We’ve seen this time and time again with our own students going to clinicals, but it happens with new hires too frequently as well.

Here’s how this will play out unless someone with authority steps up. The new hires, fresh with optimism, new ideas, energy and potential, will soon become frustrated, discouraged, and disillusioned by the way the rat pack is being allowed to treat them. They may complain, but will ultimately take their gifts to another employer, and the rat pack wins. The shunned employees find a fertile working environment elsewhere and the old guard gets to continue doing things the same way they always used to.

This is a death spiral for laboratory morale. Eagles don’t want to fly with turkeys and thoroughbreds don’t want to run with donkeys. Unless something is done, your staff will never reach their potential, your lab will never appeal to high-caliber personnel, and the dollars wasted to train new employees who won’t last will continue to drain away your lab’s resources.

What needs to happen here is for the manager to manage. Someone with authority needs to have the backbone to stand up to the rat pack, draw a line in the sand, and put them on notice that not even a whiff of hostility will be tolerated. It may not be that the laboratory management lacks a spine, but lacks the skills to manage out hostility.

Note: for a short inspirational video on the important role phlebotomists play in patient care, view I'm a Professional, a Professional, a Phlebotomist!.

More materials to immunize yourself or your staff from inflicting a phlebotomy-related injury:

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