Workplace bullying has become a serious problem in healthcare. HCPs across the country are subject to abuse by their peers. These experiences inflict lasting psychological and physical damage, reduce job satisfaction across the board and can even drive away promising healthcare talents, before they have a chance to reach their full potential. If hospitals want to succeed in keeping their best HCPs, they need to tackle the workplace bullying problem head on.
What is workplace bullying?
During its campaign against nurse abuse, the American Nurses Association (ANA) defined bullying as “unwanted, repeated and harmful” acts that are done to distress, embarrass, and offend the receiving party. Meanwhile, “bullying” per the Merriam Webster web dictionary, is defined as mistreatment of a vulnerable individual and group that is inflicted by stronger people, or people in positions of power.
How prevalent is bullying in healthcare?
A study in 2021 found that 48% of Registered Nurses have been bullied within the last 6 months. Another study cited in the article had the figure as high as 72% of correspondents. Rookie HCPs are the most common victims, as the bullying is excused away as “hazing.” Marginalized groups, such as LGBTQ+ individuals, or people belonging to racial or religious minorities, can also end up experiencing inexcusable abuse.
Though these numbers are staggering, they may not adequately reflect the scope of the issue. Bullying cases can end up underreported. HCPs may end up too intimidated to report abuse, or they do not want to mess with the status quo and team chemistry. In reality, bullying is likely a greater issue than even the numbers suggest.
What are the risks of workplace bullying?
Across multiple levels, workplace bullying is a problem and its consequences could be disastrous. If left unchecked, bullying victims could end up developing negative psychological conditions such as depression, stress, and anxiety. Because of these ailments, HCP productivity is stymied as they are too distracted to focus on their work, resulting in potentially costly errors and misjudgements.
Such a negative environment lowers overall job satisfaction, as well as overall retention. Eventually, HCPs can end up leaving the facility or profession altogether. This can become incredibly costly for healthcare facilities. Finding, recruiting, and training replacements will be a time-consuming and costly process.
What can be done?
Bullying is a culture problem. Stopping bullying is not as simple as a company wide-reminder at the end of the month. To effectively tackle workplace abuse, facilities need to make a commitment to creating a warm, welcoming workplace culture. From the moment an HCP arrives, it needs to be clear that your facility holds bullies accountable, and protects the weak and abused. These beliefs must be expressed and observed by the leaders, before it trickles down to every level of the organization.
Culture alone will not suffice, however. There has to be a detailed policy and procedure on how to address bullying. Human Resources and the organizational leaders need to be decisive with stepping in, whenever potential cases of abuse arise. The policy needs to make clear what constitutes as workplace abuse, what channels HCPs must go through to report these cases and what consequences will arise for guilty parties. If the punishment is harsh but fair, and the process is observed, this will discourage workers from bullying their co-workers or patients, in time.
Finally, it is important to educate the staff about the issue. Some bullies may not be aware of the consequences of their actions. Others may have an idea, but do not care either way. Integrate anti-bullying into workplace training and orientations. Make clear why bullying can negatively affect the co-workers around them, and what repercussions the bullies could suffer, if they are caught.