You arrive at work and see you’re paired up with Bess for the first time. You ask a coworker you trust if they know anything about her. As they start to speak, you quietly hold your breath, hoping they don’t use words like backstabber, gossiper, or slacker.
It’s safe to say that finding a good coworker in healthcare can be a challenge. As a CNA, you’ll work with all kinds of people. Some will work hard and even become your friend outside of work, while others will stress you out and make you want to run for the hills.
Here are the most common difficult coworkers you’ll work with in healthcare and the best strategies you can use when working with them.
Traitor or hypocrite might be used to describe a backstabber. This coworker says harmful or hurtful things about you when you aren’t there to defend yourself. They might act like you’re friends to your face but tell others the opposite. It’s thought that people who participate in backstabbing may feel left out or insecure about their work status or job performance. So, they try to make themselves feel better by pointing out your shortfalls and telling others about them.
An example of typical backstabber behavior might be to tell you that they love your new scrubs but then run into the nurse’s station to tell everyone how ugly your uniform looks. Backstabbers are also known to take credit for work they didn’t do, just to try to get ahead.
How to Handle the Backstabber
Since backstabbers often feel left out, a great way to handle them is to include them at work. For example, try inviting them to eat lunch or take a break with you and other coworkers. Once they start feeling more secure about their place on the team, they will likely curb some of the backstabbing behaviors.
The gossiper can’t keep a secret and loves telling pretty much everything they know. For example, they might share details about patients, coworkers, or workplace politics. Gossip in healthcare might damage relationships between staff but can also create possible HIPPA violations depending on the topic.
Unfortunately, having a gossiper on the team adds to a hostile work environment and culture. Most gossipers engage in these activities because they feel insecure about themselves or want others to see them as someone “in the know.” Others might gossip when bored or anxious to fill the time and feel connected.
How to Handle the Gossiper
First, you need to understand the difference between gossip and valid information. For example, someone telling you that the new nurse manager runs the team differently than the last manager but still effectively shares information and their opinion. However, they are engaging in gossip if they tell you that the new nurse manager is always at work and must not have a social life. Once you know the difference, you can decide how to proceed.
If you’re sure you’re dealing with gossip, tell the person you’re not comfortable with the conversation. You can say it nicely by trying something like, “I’m sorry, but I’m not really comfortable with talking about the manager this way.” Then, change the subject to more critical work topics or even something neutral like a local sports team or the weather. By telling them you aren’t interested in their gossip and then changing the subject, you’re sending a clear message about what you will and won’t tolerate at work.
“I hate my job” is a typical anthem sung by most complainers. But, of course, they might also complain about their schedules, coworkers, managers, and other work and non-work topics.
Complainers might feel stressed about things at work or home. They may be tired or frustrated about their situation. However, instead of changing whatever is the root cause of their unhappiness, they complain about everything and everyone around them.
How to Handle the Complainer
You should never take a chronic complainer too seriously. If you must work closely with a complainer, be sure to acknowledge how they’re feeling and then excuse yourself. You might say, “I’m sorry you feel like you always get the worst assignments. It must be frustrating. I wish I could talk more about it, but I need to check on Mr. Jones.” This strategy creates boundaries between you and the complaints and lets them know you won’t engage in this behavior.
It’s critical to understand that misery truly does love company. You will probably start complaining if you hang out with complainers at work. Even if you don’t begin complaining, you might notice that others lump you in with the complainers. So, be careful of the company you keep.
Every unit has a slacker who knows how to get out of work. Unfortunately, slackers often slide under the radar by performing the bare minimum required. For example, they might do all required tasks like bathing or dressing but just not do them well. Or, they might do a good job but not go above and beyond by restocking closets or taking out all of the trash. They might also put you, other coworkers, or patients at risk when they cut corners.
Some slackers lack the motivation to do a good job. Others don’t like being a nurse aide, so instead of finding a job they want, they just try to do as little as possible. Other reasons some people slack at work are boredom or burnout.
How to Handle the Slacker
If you work with someone who isn’t pulling their weight, approach them directly. Tell your coworker not doing their work and just sliding by creates more work for others. You should also tell them that it can put the safety of others at risk. Remain calm and professional when you’re talking to them. Give them time to tell you how they’re feeling or why they might be slacking on the job. If your talk doesn’t help, quickly let the charge nurse or supervisor know about the behaviors so they can be addressed.
The Mean One
Have you ever worked with someone who enjoys putting you down or breaking your confidence? Mean coworkers might also shout or curse at you. They aren’t only challenging to work with but can create a hostile work culture. Most mean coworkers are struggling with poor self-esteem or feeling out of place. Putting others down is a way to feel better about themselves.
How to Handle the Mean One
Don’t give a mean coworker the time of day. Instead, focus on your work and don’t participate in conversations they control. This strategy removes any competition they might feel with you.
If working with a mean coworker becomes aggressive, stand your ground by telling them how you feel and ask them to stop. If this doesn’t work, report the behaviors to the supervisor or human resources for help.
When to Talk to HR
Sometimes workplace confrontations with coworkers become more than you can handle on your own. If you’ve used the strategies in this blog and others and you still can’t seem to find common ground with your coworker, it might be time to reach out to someone in human resources. Here are four indicators that you need to escalate the situation:
- You’ve witnessed activity that’s illegal or abusive toward a patient or resident
- You’re experiencing workplace harassment or discrimination
- You feel mentally, physically, or psychologically unsafe around a coworker
- You can’t do your work because of the coworker