Red Ink Behavior and Zapping Conflict in the Health Care Workplace

Brenda has been late for her shift at least once a week for the past six months; Patricia knows just about everything possible about a patient’s family; Dennis doesn’t respond to any issue until it becomes chaos; Caroline consistently withholds information from her coworkers; Martha is cryptic in her communications, leaving her colleagues to “guess” what she really means; Tom waits to the last minute to do any project then gets others to drop whatever they are doing to assist him; and Bertha is just cynical about every new idea that is presented at a staff meeting. Does any of this sound familiar?

Welcome to Red Ink Behavior, a key section in the new book, Zapping Conflict in the Health Care Workplace (Mile High Press, Ltd., 2003) by Dr. Judith Briles. What are Red Ink Behaviors? Simply this—the working manners, habits and styles that can directly and negatively impact the bottom line of a unit, department, the entire organization. Sometimes these behaviors are unconscious—people are truly not aware of what they are doing and what the impact is on others. Most times, though, the creator understands that her behaviors irritate coworkers and disrupt the ‘normal’ flow of the workplace. In either case, productivity suffers.

In some workplaces, the Domino Factor surfaces when issues aren’t confronted directly. Employees chat them up and dissect them until everyone gets caught up in the latest escapades of a coworker or manager. The results? More Red Ink Behavior as productivity is reduced and most organizations are not aware of the money lost as a result.

Are there telltale signs of this destructive environment? Yes, complaints are usually at the top of the list. Managers and employees grumble about staff and coworkers. Employees quit and go elsewhere. The primary reason? Their workplace environment is toxic. Poor and abrasive managers or bullying and non-collaborative coworkers are also at the top of the list. Briles calls it the Toxic Workplace Syndrome, a chronic disorder that costs money—overtime; using temps, replacement costs including signing bonuses, orientation, etc. Her studies for several of her business books have shown that almost half of all surveyed in the past five years have left their employment due to abusive and subversive behaviors.

Is Red Ink Behavior in your midst? Ask yourself these questions: Is there excessive overtime and if so, why? Is productivity lower in your department or office than in others? Is work just not getting done? Is there chronic complaining? Is there someone who everyone avoids dealing with? Are deadlines repeatedly missed? Is absenteeism and tardiness high?

For many, going to work is not a joy; it’s the pits. The sooner Red Ink Behaviors are recognized and the ones who create them confronted and dealt with, the workplace can detox itself. If not, good employees leave, marginal ones remain. There’s far less hassel selling shoes at Nordstrom’s than dealing with ongoing rotten behavior . . . be it generated from a manager or a coworker! The real choice should be to keep the keepers and lose the losers. The end result is a healthier workplace for all. This book is a great resource for hospitals and units everywhere.