Eye-catching experiment reduces rudeness in operating theaters

Eye-catching experiment reduces rudeness in operating theaters – A simple but powerful intervention: “Watching eyes” curb negativity in surgery

Operating theaters, with their life-or-death stakes and intense pressure, can unfortunately foster a culture of rudeness and bullying. Australian researchers aimed to tackle this issue through a surprisingly simple solution: placing “eye” images in surgical rooms.

The experiment at an Adelaide orthopedic hospital yielded remarkable results. Staff, particularly nurses, reported a significant drop in offensive and disrespectful behavior after the “eyes” appeared. Lead researcher Professor Cheri Ostroff attributes this to the subtle feeling of being observed, even though the eyes were mere images.

This three-month trial addressed a widespread problem across various industries, but particularly acute in high-stress environments like medical facilities. Prof. Ostroff highlights the detrimental effects of incivility: not just on staff morale and productivity, but also on patient care. Teamwork is paramount in surgery, and poor communication fostered by incivility can lead to worse outcomes.

The consequences of incivility go beyond immediate frustration. High staff turnover, declining job satisfaction, and compromised safety procedures are all potential ripple effects. Traditional interventions like workshops and training haven’t always been effective, making this “eye” experiment particularly encouraging.

Initial surveys among various staff members (surgeons, nurses, anesthetists, etc.) revealed the extent of the problem. After placing the “eyes” and conducting a follow-up survey, the reduction in reported negativity was undeniable. Notably, it was the nurses who felt the most significant improvement.

Surgeon Dr. Nicholas Wallwork, who participated in the study, sees this outcome as proof that even subtle psychological nudges can influence behavior. The high pressure and intense focus of the operating room contribute to incivility, he explains, but a reminder of potential observation can prompt a shift in attitude.

Dr. Wallwork further underlines the complexities of power dynamics within surgical teams. While surgeons hold clinical control, their lack of direct managerial authority outside the operating theater creates friction. He believes addressing this leadership structure is crucial to combatting burnout and turnover in the long run.

Prof. Ostroff emphasizes the takeaway: simple interventions can change negative workplace cultures. She stresses the importance of senior management acting as role models and fostering respect, along with valuing employees, encouraging open communication, and clarifying roles and responsibilities.

Published in PLOS ONE, this study offers a promising approach to improving communication and professionalism in high-pressure environments, ultimately benefiting both staff and patients.

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