According to the National Institute on Health, “Bullying most commonly occurs in the health care sector…” It seems counterintuitive. How could people in the helping professions be unkind to each other? Compassion, care and kindness are the stock and trade of people who work in healthcare.
Is It Really That Bad?
First, let’s look at the data. The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) tells us that 27% of workers have experienced bullying across industries. When you look at the numbers in healthcare, you find that 44% of nurses, 39% of managers have experienced bullying. And by the time physicians finish medical school, 81% of them have experienced bullying in a system that still uses fear as a motivator. Put all of those people together in a high stress, high stakes environment and its no surprise that there is some bad behavior. Bullying happens in all directions too — manager to subordinate, peer-to-peer and even subordinate to manager.
There are, of course, distinctions to be made when talking about unkindness at work. We all have grumpy days, but if we are generally treating people well, we will likely be forgiven. Negative behavior rises to the level of bullying when it becomes an on-going pattern and includes things like insults, outbursts, avoidance, humiliation, manipulation and sabotage. Most often, persons doing the bullying are lashing out due to their own stress and really don’t know the damage that they are doing. Though some bullying is predatory and deliberately designed to take down another person.
Does It Really Do That Much Damage?
The consequences are real for the person targeted and the organization. For the individual there is the psychological impact of depression, anxiety, panic attacks, isolation and loss of self-esteem. Sadly one in four people who are targeted will consider suicide. There is also an increased rate of stress-induced illnesses. For healthcare organizations, the cost of turnover, decreased productivity, increased errors and lost customers is estimated to be $4 billion yearly.
What Do We Do About Bullying?
People will enact narratives that have cultural support. WBI also tells us that 72% of employers deny or support bullying. It’s the culture that will permit or prevent negative behavior from happening. In order to create a healthy workplace, you need to support positive behavior and have consistent consequences for negative behavior. In next month’s newsletter, I’ll talk about who bullies, who gets bullied and what you can do about it.