Uncovering Bullying in the Workplace

Written by a Nurse for Nurses

In order to go undercover and determine if there is bullying in the workplace, we must first understand what a bully is. According to Merriam Webster, a bully is, “…one who is habitually cruel, insulting, or threatening to others who are weaker, smaller, or in some way vulnerable.” Nurses are educators, advocates, counselors, researchers and so much more, however we can certainly add spies to the list. Why is that? We can determine that nurses are spies because we see everything that occurs on the unit or floor whether you work in a hospital or nursing home setting. A spy is, “a person who keeps close and secret watch on the actions and words of another or others”, according to dictionary.com.

Nurses are at the forefront and we interact with one another more than any other member of the collaborative team. If we understand that bullying occurs in the workplace and we understand the characteristics of a bully, the question then becomes, how can we determine if this is taking place within your facility? In an article by Washgler et al., Healthcare staff is one of the professional groups that suffer the highest exposure to sources of occupational stress such as hostility from coworkers and superiors.” I am here to tell you that it does in fact happen and upon further research, I will determine that this is indeed a worldwide occurrence.

Bullying occurs between any members of the collaborative team. How can we uncover bullying in the workplace? We can do this by just simply paying attention. Bullies can either be passive-aggressive or blatant in their actions and ways. Different characteristics of bullying can include; being constantly critized about their work, being falsely accused of not doing their work or not doing it correctly, being gossiped about, spreading false rumors, isolation, being picked on for personal attributes, belittling comments, stolen credit for their work, different rules being in place for one person, being excluded or ignored and many more.

As nurses, it is important to provide comfort to patients and their families, but what about our co-workers? It is important to communicate with your fellow nurses. It is not important solely to just clock in and clock out; I believe one must put their whole heart and soul into their work. It is important to have passion along with compassion for your work, your patients along with their families, and your fellow co-workers as well. Pay attention to how your co-workers behave especially if you have the role of charge nurse. Sometimes when someone is being bullied, the way they care for their patients and how they perform will be affected. They may not be vocal, but you can pick it up in their actions. Be someone that others can speak with. If someone comes to you in confidence, it is important to speak with the supervisor, union, or manager about what is taking place within the workplace while maintaining said person’s privacy. It is also important to document what is taking place. Nurses have great communication skills and this is another place where it can be used.

The work of a nurse is already challenging, but who would’ve thought that bullying would be a topic of discussion? We definitely can say bullying is a challenge that most healthcare workers have to face. It imposes on each of our lives, whether you are a part of it, the reason for it or looking on the outside, each and every one of us becomes involved one way or the other. It also impacts the lives of our patients. The point is to look at the psychology of its occurrence. Many bullies are not aware they are doing it or they are aware and it’s due to mental and physical stressors from their home or work environment. It may event be their way of coping. Our job is to call out a bully when you see one and not just call them out, but speak to them, usually said person just wants someone to speak with and listen to their problems. If you cannot get to them or they refuse to stop, the next step is to contact your manager, HR or union representative if you have one. You can stop bullies in their tracks.

In order to provide the best possible care to our patients, we MUST eliminate this factor called BULLYING! Anyone can be a target of bullying. This does indeed affect quality patient care and we will see that with further research, but for now, having the basic knowledge of identification will set things into motion. Institutions must implement a zero tolerance policy, provide education, and procedures to protect their employees and prevent bullying occurrences. It is the responsibility of management to provide a safe working place for its employees. It is important for legislation to pass laws in reference to bullying and workplace safety. It is very important to implement policies and guidelines.

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