Bullying in the Workplace

Article Categories: Environment & Legal and Ethics

It doesn’t take much effort to make a google search about personal experiences of bullying in healthcare. The search will churn out several hundreds of pages. Reading each account is discouraging to the point of horrifying.

Here is some trivia about workplace bullying in general and in healthcare:

In the US, the prevalence of bullying in the workplace is 72%

About 37 million workers in the US have experienced bullying

More than half of bullies are a rank higher

72% of employers deny or discount that bullying is happening in their institution

One in every five of registered nurses and nursing students have been physically assaulted

More than half of registered nurses and nursing students experience verbal abuse in a given year

The most common victims of violent injuries are psychiatric aides, nursing assistants, and registered nurses

The information above tells us one story: Nursing assistants are in the bottom of the ‘food chain,' and there is a big chance that they will either be victims of bullying or will be a witness to bullying behavior.

Here are forms of bullying to watch out for:

1. Signs of verbal abuse are yelling, criticizing, and talking negatively about a co-worker within hearing distance

2. Deliberately damaging another employee’s work or reputation

3. Pushing and shoving and other signs of physical assault

4. Overworking a colleague and setting unrealistic goals for them

5. Highlighting mistakes and withholding due recognition

6. Exclusion or isolation

7. Mobbing

8. Intimidation or gossip by mouth or through emails, texts, or social media

9. Not giving due credit

10. Withholding valuable information

If you have experienced any of the above as a victim, here’s what you can do:

- Examine the situation with objectivity. Is it because you are being too sensitive? Does it happen only once in a while? Is it possible to just turn a deaf ear to it when it happens? If you answer no to these questions, then follow the next steps.

- You have to have a word for the aggressive behavior. Call it bullying, harassment, or lateral violence to legitimize your experience. It confirms that bullying is indeed happening to you.

- Seek behavioral services and support. Your experience as a bully target can have life-changing consequences, probably for the worse.

- Recognize the effects of bullying on you. Being a target of bullying can cause you much physical, emotional, mental and even financial stress.

- Use other means to get the bully’s attention away from you. Try gratitude and compliments for starters. Maybe a ‘Thank you very much for your help’ can dissipate the hostile looks. Do not overdo it though.

- Take time to off to heal and recharge if needed. The stresses brought about by bullying can take their toll.

- Confront the bully in private. It may be a good idea to have a colleague with you to support you. Take this chance rather than letting the situation continue. The idea is to help stop the vicious cycle of bullying.

If all else fails:

If you decide to make a brave stand and take this several steps further, you have to prepare for the worst. The result may or may not turn in your favor. In any case, be prepared to be reassigned to a new department or change employment altogether.

Seek institutional policies and follow protocol on how to handle these situations. Bigger institutions have an officer in charge to handle conflicts and hostile behaviors.

When you are bringing the issue up to HR or higher management, be careful not to tell a story of emotional torments because there is a possibility that your story may be interpreted as just an over-reaction. The Workplace Bullying Institute recommends making a business case. Present how the person and the behavior are lowering morale and productivity.

Bullying is a problem that has plagued healthcare for many years. It is quite disheartening to know that as we care for patients, there is much incivility happening in the background. The unending loop of bullying must stop. Although at the individual level the fight is difficult, the higher management must be pro-actively involved to impose a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy and take other concrete steps to address bullying.


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