We often discuss staffing issues within the bubble of our laboratory routine. In this context, we discuss the need for timely training and competency assessment and the problems that ensue when these are not fulfilled; we are concerned when behavior affects work performance, cooperation and team spirit; and we act when there is dissatisfaction with the work environment and routine. However, this has been a most unusual, even tumultuous year, and events outside the bubble may be impacting the cohesiveness of our laboratory team.
Over the last 12-18 months we have seen unprecedented public involvement in our electoral process and, as a result, intense political, cultural, religious, economic, class, geographic, and demographic discussions. I have heard anecdotally that the strong feelings that these issues engender have spilled over into the workplace, and in some cases, affected how staff relate to each other.
For our profession in particular, this stress is compounded by all the rapid changes we have to deal with that accompany the introduction of new technologies, new specialties, new regulations, and new requirements. An indication of the almost revolutionary changes occurring in laboratory medicine are what were a short time ago new buzzwords, and are now established terms routinely in use: Genomics: Molecular Diagnostics: RFID; ACO; Direct Access (Test Results); IQCP; Value-based Medicine; Mobile Technology; and Personalized Medicine. We now routinely note the growth of retail medicine; and the steady loss of physician office labs. It is notable, particularly as laboratory professionals, that the healthcare profession as a whole, is at the intersection of both technological and political change. Wait until next year!
Given the prevailing power of the internet and social media, is it any wonder that some of these feelings would spill over into the daily discourse among our staff? Of course, in general, open discussion of any change coming is to the good; the more information available about changes to our profession or more specifically to our laboratory operation, the better prepared our staff will be to adjust. Transparency regarding the laboratory operation is a must to achieve and maintain laboratory quality. Laboratory management should always encourage this.
But what do you do when external issues create rifts within your staff? How do you handle political, cultural, and generational differences? What happens when strong opinions expressed result in less tolerance, more partisanship and hurt feelings? These emotions cannot always be kept out of the workplace; some staff bring their feelings into the workplace; others keep silent about their opinions; yet we must all work together for the benefit of the patient. Where do you draw the line between self-expression and workplace propriety? After all is said and done, the work of the laboratory must be done, the quality maintained, and patient care not compromised.
The “first responders” to any indication of disruptive behavior must be laboratory management. The astute manager will be able to identify who is a disrupter; and who is feeling intimidated, either directly or thru the comments of other staff; and if this is disruptive to the laboratory operation and the team structure.
What steps can a manager take?
- Inform the employee(s) involved about the impact their behavior is having on coworkers
- Set guidelines for acceptable behavior, enlisting Human Resources if needed
- Stress that the quality of the laboratory work must never be compromised to personal differences, regardless of how strongly felt.
We live in a far more intense time, perhaps more than at any time since World War II, and laboratory management must be vigilant and aware that everyone is entitled to their feelings and opinions, but not at the expense of laboratory teamwork or quality.