Workplace bullying among colleagues in the healthcare industry often goes unreported, but the behavior can be widespread. Whether the issue relates to physical threatening or verbal harassment, bullying should not be tolerated.

According to the American Nurses Association (ANA), all nursing personnel have a right to work in an environment that is free of violence, lateral abuse, intimidation, hostility, sexual abuse and abuse of position/authority.

What is considered bullying and what are the implications?

Occurring quite frequently, bullying tends to continue over a number of years. The oppressor’s aim is to get control and power over the affected individual, thus having long-term psychological effects. In a large number of cases, the person being targeted will voluntarily walk out of their job as a result of the patterns of bullying behavior.

Incidents happen not only between people who are on the same hierarchical level, such as nurse to nurse, but also between those at different levels such as medical director to staff. Physical abuse is rare, but verbal and mental abuse are much more common and just as bad, with continual criticism destroying confidence and making the individual feel isolated. As a result, bullying can impact the individual’s ability to provide quality care, meet the needs of the patient or grow within their career.

Some examples of bullying behavior in a healthcare environment include:

  • Undermining of work
  • Fabricating complaints with sometimes false accusations
  • Interfering in patient care practices
  • Physical and verbal abuse
  • Sarcasm and demeaning behavior

Triggers for workplace bullying in healthcare

Someone who deals with bullying and harassment in the healthcare industry may gain little or no satisfaction from their job. The highest incidences seem to occur in the following environments:

  • Operating rooms
  • Psychiatric departments
  • Emergency departments

Some common triggers of workplace bullying include stress, low staffing, disengaged staff, changing environment (introduction of new technology), long-term staff unwilling to support new staff, weak leadership or lack of accountability. Both men and women are equally prone to discrimination at work, with some groups (e.g. student and junior employees) seen to be more vulnerable.

Are there security risks associated with bullying in a healthcare environment?

Not only does workplace bullying have adverse psychological impact, it adversely impacts organizational performance and creates major patient health and safety risks. Role conflict can provoke dangerous accidents, some of which have even been known to result in death. Bullying should be treated with the same seriousness as other workplace hazards, because patient safety is the tantamount goal and bullying inherently creates unsafe environments.

Bullying and violence has been documented extensively and disruptive behavior, whether it is rolling eyes in disgust, refusing to mentor, ignoring attempts at conversations, humiliating someone in public or physically assaulting a team member, has a negative impact on the care of a patient. Potentially disruptive actions must be examined to prevent the onset of security risks in the healthcare environment.

Some of the most frequent consequences of disruptive behavior include:

  • Medication errors
  • Delay in care
  • Reduced quality of care
  • Poor teamwork
  • Poor organizational commitment

If bullying behavior is not brought to the attention those in a leadership role, emotional issues may manifest, resulting in unnecessary absences and turnover. When staff are not available to complete duties in a timely manner, patient safety is put at risk, and the results are detrimental to staff and patients. Even those not directly involved can become ancillary casualties of the animosity between those directly involved.

How is the issue being tackled?

The Joint Commission has instituted standards to ensure healthcare facilities address disruptive behavior with all staff. This includes training staff on disruptive behavior (including bullying) and how to respond appropriately in reporting disruptive behavior, and requiring immediate action be taken when incidences arise. This is in addition to the behavior standards already in place at most healthcare facilities. Facilities can take steps to address this issue, such as:

  • Conduct thorough background checks to ensure they understand each applicant’s history (the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior)
  • Conduct training on professional standards of behavior and how to handle disruptive behavior
  • Hold staff accountable for their behavior in the workplace
  • Conduct regular workplace safety training and keep workplace safety in the forefront of everyone’s mind

This will ensure everyone has the necessary tools to handle difficult situations.

By requiring training and background checks, hospitals can leverage a comprehensive compliance management system to decrease bullying. With assistance from trained staff knowledgeable on the topic of workplace bullying, non-compliant personnel who don’t follow hospital policies can be monitored and addressed. This provides an effective solution that will become an asset to the facility, because it establishes a higher level of awareness and increases the safety of the entire facility.

Adverse events cost an average hospital over $5.1 million per year.  Can your hospital really afford not to have a credentialing program?  Click here to download our white paper to learn more about the cost of not credentialing. 


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