Schools throughout the country have placed a new emphasis on the prevention of bullying. It’s a well known fact that children who are bullied at school suffer significant and lasting emotional consequences. As important as the school focus is in raising the next generation, it’s just as important to be mindful of bullying in the workplace.
When bullies grow up, you aren’t likely to find them stealing lunch money or blatantly shoving you in the hallways at work, although you might. In the workplace, the grown up bully is usually verbally abusive or can be a saboteur. Regardless of the overt behavior, the nature of the bully is the same. It involves controlling others by what they do and say. This can be overt verbal humiliation or threats or more passive aggressive in the form of withholding vital resources or information.
Historically healthcare organizations have taken steps to prevent and deal with disruptive behavior from physicians. But what about the others? When leaders are the bullies, staff may feel humiliated and threatened. The same goes for peer to peer bullying. “Nurses eat their young,” is an old stereotype that implies a history of bullying within a profession that’s also lauded for compassion and trust.
I recently had a discussion with a nurse leader who is emerging from a toxic environment controlled by a bully. He had harassed, humiliated, and threatened her to the point of her departure. This person had dedicated decades of her life to her profession and confided that she is now broken and will never be able to offer her profession what she once did. Earlier in my career I personally encountered significant bullying in the workplace and can attest that the scars are deep. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Bullying in the workplace must be recognized and dealt with in order to keep it from eroding an intended culture of excellence. If allowed to persist, it will cause decreased employee engagement and morale, increase turnover, and damage the employer’s reputation in the community.
Is your organization positioned to deal with bullies? Are leaders and staff trained to spot and address bullying? Is there a confidential process in place where anyone can turn for help? If we want to bring our best to our patients, we must consciously work toward a culture of excellence where everyone feels engaged and empowered.