5 ways to combat workplace bullying in healthcare

Bullying has become a common concern for healthcare institutions, that many institutions have implemented workplace bullying initiatives. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, bullying comprises of repeated mistreatment from others caused by physical and emotional harm. Bullys often subject to victims to verbal, nonverbal, psychological, physical, or abuse.

Examples  of Workplace Bullying

  • Aggressive Communication: Verbally yelling at a worker, sending demeaning emails, or using aggressive and intimidating body language, i.e., leaning over and asserting power over a worker. 
  • Humiliation: Constantly berating workers in front of other employees or patients. Sending emails that include that find fault without solution and also coping all coworkers on email as you continue while negatively criticizing worker, i.e., of their working style, physical appearance, etc
  • Manipulating or Withholding Information or Resources: Not allowing workers to communicate or connect with the team on specific issues, withholding vital information, i.e., about meetings, role responsibility, patient care. Making the worker feel as if the fault is their own while displaying micro-aggressive behaviors.

Bullying not only affects job performance, patient care, and recruitment and retention of talented healthcare workers but also has mental and emotional aftereffects. The trauma of toxic workspaces and environments carries deep scares once the individual or group leaves the department or institution. So how can we eradicate bullying in healthcare institutions?

Here are five ways you and your team can combat workplace bullying in healthcare.

Institutions should review current policies and implement anti-bullying language

Policies often make it difficult to report or define workplace bullying. In an industry like healthcare, the patient’s come first, often workers to find it challenging to speak out because it may interfere with patient care or lack of supportive language.

Bullying in the workplace can affect patient safety and individual wellness.  The worker may not focus on patient needs, resulting in a medical error, i.e., bodily harm or death. Bullying also negatively affects mental wellbeing victims.  Therefore, institutions must clearly state their stance on workplace bullying. 

Things to implement policies and procedures

  • Reinforce that you support victims by developing support systems, i.e., hotline, surveys online recording sessions
  • Add the definition of bullying into your policies, i.e., including zero-tolerance policies that follow the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses’ healthy workplace standards
  • Provide clear expectations regarding how coworkers should interact with one another

Train managers and supervisors 

Often, institutions do not train managers and supervisors on work-related conflicts or bullying behavior. Institutions should develop curriculums and programs that focus on training managers to handle conflict in the workplace.

Remember, managers and supervisors can be bullies (and bullied), so include steps for bystander managers and healthcare workers to identify and deal with supervisors misusing their powers.

Note for healthcare workers: If you feel comfortable talking to your manager about this issue, please do so. You should document that you have spoken with a manager and their response.

Hire a team to evaluate workplace behavior

Healthcare institutions must take bullying behavior seriously. Leadership can support healthcare workers by hiring consultants or individuals connected to human resources to educate staff and managers to recognize and handle bullying behaviors. 

Consultants and healthcare workers can develop scripts and models on bullying and what to do when they encounter or are victims.
The team should be trauma-informed and understand the effects of workplace bullying behaviors. They should assist or guide/redirect healthcare workers to practitioners and resources that may help them.

For Healthcare workers experiencing bullying and/bystanders

Document the Abuse and Situation

Documenting the abuse is helpful; it allows you as the bullied or bystander to record the situation.  If the bullying is happening through email, make copies of those emails and messages, including date and time. You can also document through journal writing, including time, date, who, what, where, and whether there were people around during the incident. When you are ready, submit the evidence to the human resource or appointed person in charge.

Note: You can seek legal advice on whether your situation constitutes as abuse or harassment, including the next steps.

Reach out for support

Your coworkers can be your greatest asset. If you have coworkers that you can trust, communicate with them about the incidents and harassment happening. They can be your support system. If you’d like to confront the bully, having someone there as a witness and support can help you talk while you talk to the bully. 

Connecting with a hotline, therapist, or even a supervisor is another way to combat bullying. Not only are you sharing your issue, but these individuals may help you come up with a plan on dealing with the bully’s behavior or cope with the aftereffects of bullying behavior. They can also be witnesses, as they may have documentation that can help you. Bystanders can also use support this time to help themselves and their bullied coworkers.

Note: Do not confront the bully (s) if you do not feel comfortable, mainly when the incidents have occurred multiple times. Do what is right for you in your situation.

Takeaway

Bullying in the workplace, especially in healthcare, can have detrimental effects on patients and healthcare workers. The care and safety of staff are as critical of those they are caring for. Institutions must be able to work together with employees to combat bullying in the workplace. If bullying in healthcare continues, losing talented healthcare workers, as many workers will experience trauma because of a hostile working environment

Please let us know in the comment section if some of these ways surprised you or suggest ways to combat workplace bullying in healthcare.

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About the author

Joycelyn Ghansah

Joycelyn Ghansah is a former Healthcare Organizer with a background public health, include reproductive and sexual health. When she's not freelance writing, she's transcribing interviews and researching ways to strengthen healthcare labor laws.

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