Hospitals – very few people like them, yet many of us will be a resident at one time or another. Even though hospitals can be sources of great joy, places where babies are born, miracles happen and lives are saved, they also represent sickness, injury, death, and some pretty ordinary food!
The people who work in them – the doctors, surgeons, nurses, aides, assistants, administrators and catering staff – perform difficult work in an extremely stressful environment. Imagine the potential consequences when the added stressor of workplace bullying is added to the mix.
Factors which facilitate bullying in this environment
Hospitals and the healthcare sector remain a particularly hierarchical environment – carers need to get sign-off from nurses before passing out certain medications, nurses confirm recommended treatments with doctors, doctors and surgeons rely on their own pecking order.
This hierarchy, and the importance of culture and following rules, automatically puts certain workers in a subordinate position relative to others.
Lateral violence, verbal, physical and psychological bullying among peers, can also be an issue in the health services.
Combined with the stress of having to deal with time-critical emergencies, becoming involved in physically and mentally straining situations and dealing with the trauma of patients suffering, hospitals are the perfect breeding ground for hostility, anger and frustration.
Prevalence of bullying
Bullying in the healthcare sector is an under-recognised but pervasive problem. Hospitals often have scant or limited resources and staff are under significant pressure, which may contribute to the prevalence of workplace bullying.
The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine surveyed its members in 2017 and found 34% had experienced bullying, 16.1% had experienced harassment and just over six percent had been victims of sexual harassment. A landmark 2015 report commissioned by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons showed that almost half of all surgeons had experienced bullying, discrimination or sexual harassment.
The Victorian Auditor General Office, in its 2016 report to the Victorian Parliament, ‘Bullying and Harassment in the Health Sector‘, stated
“The Health Sector is unable to demonstrate that it has effective controls in place to prevent or reduce inappropriate behaviour, including bullying and harassment. Key controls that would effectively reduce this risk to employee health and safety are either inadequately implemented, missing or poorly coordinated.”
However, by its very nature, bullying in this type of workplace can be particularly difficult to detect and manage.
Consequences of bullying
The potential consequences of bullying are significant. In addition to litigation arising from the bullying and costs associated with worker’s compensation or other payouts, a number of issues can arise. These include:
- High turnover amongst dissatisfied staff
- Presenteeism – where staff turn up at work, but are unhappy or stressed and perform inadequately, which is particularly dangerous in a hospital environment.
- Increased absenteeism
- A poorly functioning team environment that can adversely affect staff and patients.
are there solutions to bullying in high-stress environments?
Key strategies to help solve the problem include:
- A focus on workplace culture, including by conducting regular cultural audits.
- Encouraging a ‘mentor’ or ‘buddy’ system (in consultation with unions where appropriate), or otherwise provide a supportive environment whereby staff are encouraged to vent or ask for assistance with any matters they are struggling with.
- Facilitating easy access for staff to obtain confidential counselling, or advice services.
- Fostering an environment where staff feel comfortable raising concerns and complaints with their peers and management.
- Having clear zero tolerance policies regarding workplace bullying and harassment, which are easily accessible to all staff
- Ensure that this zero tolerance policy, is demonstrated by senior management, so there is a top down recognition of adherence to the policy from all staff.
- Staff need to be regularly reminded of the consequences of any poor behaviour in the workplace and this should be reinforced during staff meetings.
Bullying or harassment – in any workplace – is simply unacceptable. Many incidents of bullying or harassment may be unreported for fear of reprisals. All staff should be encouraged to report any incident.
If your organisation needs any assistance in this area please contact WISE to arrange a no-obligation appointment or otherwise contact us to discuss how we may assist you. Our services include investigation, training, provision of a whistleblower facility (which can be tailored to suit your reporting needs), and review of policies.