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The complacency contagion: the downward spiral that becomes organizational apathy

This is a follow up from my previous post, “The high cost of complacence: addressing systemic turnover in healthcare.” 

As we navigate our way out of one pandemic, there is another equally toxic and volatile, permeating healthcare: complacency.  Is complacency contagious?  I would argue that it is.  Consider the powerful cocktail of neurochemicals that promotes health and well-being, or frustration, stress, and even depression.  The good news: there is simple solutions to help with this pandemic, it’s called the daily DOSE. 


Well-being neuro-chemicals – or the daily DOSE include the following:

·       Dopamine: the reward chemical

·       Oxytocin: the love chemical

·       Serotonin: the mood chemical

·       Endorphins: the pain-killer chemical


The absence of happy chemicals actually promotes an attitude that can create a depressed mood, crankiness, or just overall apathetic behavior:  

  • Cortisol is the primary stress hormone that increases glucose in the bloodstream, enhances the brain's use of glucose and increases the availability of substances in the body that repair tissues.

  • Low serotonin levels in the brain can lead to anxiety, irritability, and sleep disorders that are normally associated with depression.

  • Reduced levels of norepinephrine can lead to fatigue and a general depressed mood


Basically, once this downward spiral of bah-humbug begins, everyone is swimming –or drowning-- in the sea of negativity.  We see this through a multitude of behaviors: snippy verbal or written responses, gossip, an erosion of trust, the proverbial “throwing someone under the bus,” remember – hurt people, hurt people.  Perhaps its these same behaviors that provides hurt people with its very own dopamine effect…in some strange way.


Is there a simple solution to turning around complacency in healthcare or any organization for that matter?  I believe there are simple things that all of us can begin to do immediately.  While it may not be a long-term strategy or programmatic solution, it’s simple, effective, and best of all: free! 


Be the first to throw a floatation device into that sea of negativity.  Here are some quick things that everyone can do to support others and shift the negative spiral into an upward, happy one:

  • Dopamine: the reward chemical – celebrate something, anything! Start and end your meetings on a positive note.  I think this is difficult for many in healthcare where we see so much pain and suffering.  There is no guilt in putting on your oxygen mask to care for yourself in order to care for others.  Doing something positive actually provides a dopamine and serotonin effect for the giver as well as the receiver.

  • Oxytocin: the love chemical.  Engage with a colleague in a positive, personal conversation.  Take time to go for coffee or even lunch.  Yes, this is hard.  I know from my own time working in a hospital that lunch-hour is just an excuse to get through emails.  Spending time with team members, however, allows you to get to know them a bit better, you’ll boost trust and enhance the relationship, which promotes feelings of wellness and happiness.

  • Serotonin: the mood chemical.  Give a colleague the powerful blessing of a thank you or compliment.  The practice of gratitude not only stimulates serotonin for the giver; sharing gratitude with others boosts their serotonin and dopamine as well.  Don’t stop with sharing that gratitude with the receiver, express that gratitude with  others as well.  This is the type of excitement that can really have a powerful effect on the happiness of others.

  • Endorphins: the pain-killer chemical. Pain comes in many ways, not just physical.  Mental/emotional pain is known to promote compassion-fatigue, or limiting our ability to feel empathy and compassion for others.  Take a walk in healing garden (many hospitals have these healing or meditative spaces), enjoy some dark chocolate, or watch a video about babies, cats, or dogs all of which generates laughter, producing endorphins that reduces pain.


If complacency is contagious, can’t happiness be equally contagious?  Be the first to cast a line and pull someone out of the sea of negativity with the daily DOSE.  Yes, it’s hard in a challenging environment, but perhaps we’ve been treading water in the sea of negativity for so long that we’ve forgotten how to get to the shore.  One time isn’t enough. We need to be practicing, giving, and receiving feelings of well-being everyday so that the feelings of negativity don’t have the opportunity to creep back in.  It is the daily DOSE, we’ve got to make it a daily practice and begin a new supportive climate.


Join the ProNexus Advisory team as members of our team discuss the current environment of turnover in healthcare.  Our retention roundtable conversation, “Turnover in Healthcare: is it just the reality or are there real solutions”?  will discuss some of the root causes of turnover, effective leadership behaviors, and some real solutions to reduce the high-turnover.  Hope to see you there: Tuesday, March 12, 2024 | 11:00am (PST). Joi us via Zoom:

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