Most people attracted to working in the health professions do so because they have a genuine concern for other people. Their caring natures mean they choose to dedicate a large part of their lives to ensuring the wellbeing of others.

It comes as a shock then to learn that workplace bullying is a serious problem among those who work in the healthcare sector.

A survey of nursing staff in Victoria found that 52 per cent had had witnessed some type of bullying behaviour.

So serious is the problem that the Australian Nursing & Midwifery Foundation has felt the need to issue a specific ‘Bullying in the workplace’ policy.

The UK’s approach

A survey of staff at the National Health Service in the UK has found that nearly one third – 28 per cent – of staff were harassed, bullied, or abused by patients or relatives in 2017.

A quarter of staff – 24.3 per cent – were bullied by other members of staff during the year.

Disappointingly, less than half of those surveyed reported their most recent experience of bullying.

Bullying has become such a serious problem in the UK, it is being proposed that hospital managers could lose their jobs if they are not seen to be trying to combat the problem. Those who don’t try to tackle bullying would be deemed not a ‘fit and proper person’ to hold the role.

The ‘fit and proper’ test was introduced for NHS directors in 2014 in an effort to stamp out harassment and discrimination, but now there are calls for the rule to have a wider scope.

Bullying at work: what form does it take?

Bullying can take many forms in the healthcare workplace. It may be overt and obvious to all, but more often it is subtle. Bullying at work may include:

  • humiliation and mockery
  • spreading rumours about the person at work
  • sabotaging another person’s career
  • withholding patient information
  • unacceptable criticism
  • ignoring and excluding

To be considered ‘bullying’, these types of behaviours must occur regularly over time.

Bullying can cause victims to lose confidence in their abilities, and feel anxious about going to work.

Research has also shown that high rates of bullying in healthcare leads to higher rates of staff turnover.

How to combat bullies at work?

Firstly, try to stay calm about what is happening. Try not to show the person who is bullying you that you are upset.

Keep of record of the incidents. If you plan to report a case of bullying, you will have to be able to back up your claim with information about specific incidents. Keep a note of the date and time the incident took place, who was involved, exactly what happened and where it happened, and how the incident made you feel.

Speak up for yourself. For example, if the bullying is unnecessarily criticising you work, call them out on it.

Find out what bullying policies are in place at the organisation where you work.

Speak to someone about what is happening to you, whether it be a colleague, someone in human resources, or a manger.


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