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Problem Personalities can Lead to Workplace Turmoil

Published April 29, 2008 12:58 PM by Brian Garavaglia

We are all quite different, and all of us come to the workplace setting with different personalities.  Long-term care is no different. It brings individuals of different skills, education levels, temperaments, and in particular personality types to the organizational setting. Some individuals come in with a more introverted, placid personality, while others come to the milieu with a more extroverted, gregarious personality. 

Furthermore, the adjustment level of certain individuals also demonstrates great levels of variability.  Some individuals come to the workplace with a very stable personality while others have highly volatile, unstable personalities. It is addressing this latter element that will briefly be focused on in this paper. Whether we have come to be aware of it or not, many of the issues that are found in long-term care deal with addressing different personalities with varying levels of stability. So it becomes important to understand how certain personality characteristics can lead to problems that are found in the long-term care environment. 

One personality type that often is found in organizational settings that leads to many problems are individuals that have a passive-aggressive personality type. In reality, this is not a current diagnostic classification in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. However, behavioral scientists are well aware of this personality and administrators and other long-term care professionals, some of whom may also harbor this personality, have witnessed the impact of this type of personality. 

In fact, this is actually a type of aggression that is one of the most dangerous forms of aggression. This person is often the individual that is often agreeing with you while circumventing the organizational climate any time they get the opportunity. They will demonstrate a façade of feigned compliance when in reality they are contravening the organizational climate in their own manipulative ways. They are destructive to the team structure that is needed in a health care setting by superficially stating they are team players while they are at the same time attempting to split staff and drive a wedge in the team environment. The underlying aggressive nature of their personality is so insidiously subtle that is destroys the morale of others, fostering a consecution of destructive emotions in others in their immediate environment.     

With the passive-aggressive personality instead of expressively asserting their aggression, they do their destruction by failing to do many things instead of actively or directly engaging in aggressive behavior. In long-term care environments these individuals assert their aggressive nature through being tardy or showing up late for work and their assignments, procrastinating on particular projects and tasks that need to be completed, or engaging in intentional forms of inefficacy. Since their passive-aggressive tendencies inflict pain to others that have to cover for them in their work, do the work that they continue to put off, or enhance their performance to make up for the reduced efficiency of the passive-aggressive person, it quickly leads to an epidemic dissatisfaction found among other workers.        

The narcissistic personality is another personality that can wreak havoc among a long-term care team. Generally speaking, successful work teams in long-term care settings have to subordinate their own needs and interests to the interest of the larger team environment. This is very difficult, if not impossible, for the person who has highly narcissistic personality traits. The major reasons relate to the fact that the very traits that make up this personality type run counter to successful team building. These individuals often hold a grandiose view of their own self-importance. They are very individually centered, consumed and preoccupied with attaining their own success. They often hold strong feelings of entitlement, and furthermore they have an insatiable need to be admired. Moreover, their tendencies to exploit others to advance their own self-interests, express themselves in an arrogant manner, as well as being deficient in their ability to empathize with others, make them the ideal "anti-team" member.          

As many of those who have worked in long-term care have witnessed, these individuals are also quite destructive toward enhancing a stable organizational environment. In any health care environments, where the emphasis has to be on the patients or residents, these individuals are so involved in their own self-aggrandizement that they lose sight of those who they are serving, as well as those that they have to work collaboratively with to achieve the results of the organization. Many of us have met physicians, nurses, administrators, therapists, as well as nurse assistants that have held this false sense of self-importance. Furthermore, many of us have witnessed the difficulty in working with individuals that exude such an exaggerated sense of self-worth. 

Finally, many of those in long-term care have been on the receiving end of the narcissist's wrath when they have criticized these individuals. Because of the importance they place on their grandiose view of self-importance, they are very sensitive toward criticism that is directed toward them. 

The last personality that will be discussed here is the paranoid personality. As is evident by its name this person has a widespread suspicion of others and their behaviors. They have great difficulty feeling secure and building a sense of trust with others due to their suspicions. They feel that others may be belittling them or engaging in unwanted attacks against their character. Often normal behavioral interactions that others place very little emphasis on will spur ruminations among the paranoid personality that individuals are targeting them in some manner. Their pervasive suspicion leads to feelings of resentment, ill-will, and a general unease with others, who are often viewed as a threat to them in some manner.        

Here again, one can see that these individuals can be quite destructive to a long-term care environment predicated on cooperative team efforts and trust. These individuals are often unable to invest the significant level of trust needed in cooperative team efforts and this in turn leads toward the paranoid personality frequently isolating themselves from the larger social environment.  In an environment predicated on social interaction with workers, residents, and family members, these individuals stick out like a sore thumb. Their destructive nature rests on the inability to trust others and react against those that they perceive are attempting to attack their character.           

Although only three personality types were examined here, there are others that can be instrumental in destroying staff morale and inhibiting team development. However, this paper only focused on these three types of personality. It should also be mentioned that these are not the norm and most individuals, even those that are frequently labeled as "trouble-makers" hold more stable personality traits. Nevertheless, it is important to take note of those individuals that may hold passive-aggressive, narcissistic, and paranoid personality traits.  I

ndividuals that have these types of personality traits can be quite damaging to the organizational environment. In addition, because these features are enduring by the very nature of personality, they are often not just your ordinary trouble-makers or discontented worker. They hold a persistence toward disruption that continues to interfere with the functional nature of the long-term care environment.          

Therefore, although this paper did not speak about intervention, which is a much more sophisticated issue, it is important for long-term care professionals to understand the personality makeup of certain individuals, and in particular, those individuals that may hold a persistent disregard for the workplace and team environment and lead to a contagious turmoil that contaminates the morale of the long-term care environment. Although these individuals are more the exception than the norm, when they do make their appearance, they often hold a detrimental and destructive impact on the organizational behavior of the long-term care environment.  



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About this Blog

    Brian Garavaglia, PhD
    Occupation: Long-term care administrator
    Setting: Sterling Heights, Mich.
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