I’ve seen it so often it becomes routine: Your coworkers complain about everything, they keep complaining, you start complaining just to join in, and soon you’re involved in Complain-Fest 2017. The negativity and discontent feeds on itself and it’s not long before the residents start to notice, because they’re directly or indirectly affected.

The resident rings her call light and the response comes from her nursing assistant who just walked out of a conversation where he and a friend were discussing how much they’re not getting paid. He approaches the resident and instead of saying “How can I help you”, he says “What do you want now?” 

How does the 83 year-old resident react? She decides to take herself to the bathroom next time because, apparently, she’s a nuisance. And then she falls.

Many of our residents are at our mercy. They wouldn’t be with us if they didn’t have physical, emotional, or mental needs that we are trained to address. When our staff spends their shift commiserating about their pay, their hours, their supervisors, or their caseloads, the residents will notice and they will suffer.

The resident knows when you’re short-handed, because a staff member told them you were. The resident knows when you haven’t been able to reach the doctor, because you just got done snapping at another nurse, and you told them. The resident knows when your boss didn’t give you that raise, because you told them.

We’ve all heard about facilities that suffer from poor morale. Where does it come from? Is it because they’re really working in a sub-standard facility or because they work with a pot-stirrer who is a malcontent and the contagion spreads as those who work with her decide they’re unhappy too?

How do you fix this?

  • Stop blaming, start helping. Those who are unhappy and spread their discontent have a million people to blame. When the complaints are deflected with a response of “How can you help change this situation?” it gives the complainer an opportunity to change the outcome.
  • Stop complaining and take ownership. The caseload is too heavy because there are too many call-offs? Call your reliable friends to take positions in your facility.
  • Stop putting your facility down. The more you tell your friends in and out of the building that your workplace is terrible, the more you believe it and it affects your outlook, your performance, and the care you deliver.
  • Stay out of the vortex. We all know that one person who turns everything, good or bad into a soul-sucking vacuum of despondency. Deflect the complaint with a positive. “I hate that patient, he gives me such a hard time,” can be turned into “That patient is difficult because he’s having a really hard time.”

I’ve had residents or families who approach me with the same complaint every day. It’s usually something that’s un-fixable, e.g. there’s no salt on the dining room table, there’s no frosting on their diabetic dessert, their insurance isn’t paying for enough therapy. 

How to deflect these very valid gripes? I listen, I empathize, and then I ask if they’d like to see the most recent pictures of my grandchildren. Seems odd, right? So far, this has worked every time, and they walk away with a smile, because who doesn’t love a cute baby?

Every one of us has an angry or negative response at any given time for any given reason. It’s healthy to react in anger or negatively when it’s appropriate. What we need to learn is that acting in anger or in a negative way can be poisonous for our practice and our environment, and our residents deserve better.

Jean Wendland Porter, PT, CCI, is the Regional Director of Therapy Operations at Diversified Health Partners in Ohio.