Do you know if your hospital has a problem with workplace bullying among staff? If you think not, you may be surprised, given the results of a recent survey.

Much has been reported about bullying and intimidation among hospital nurses. But judging by the responses of a variety of healthcare pros, the problem is more widespread, with doctors being the most common culprits.

The survey, from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, asked thousands of healthcare staffers, including nurses, pharmacists and doctors, if they’ve noticed disrespectful behavior from colleagues.

Their answers showed that workplace bullying is prevalent. Seventy-three percent of respondents said they heard negative comments about colleagues and leaders at least once. A fifth of participants witnessed this happening often. And 68% of staffers surveyed experienced condescending language or demeaning comments at least once in their organization. Fifteen percent dealt with this problem often.

Other intimidating behavior found in healthcare organizations included:

  • Shaming, humiliation or spreading malicious rumors (46% at least once)
  • Insulting or slighting an individual due to race, religion or appearance (24% at least once)
  • Thrown objects (18% at least once), and
  • Physical abuse (7% at least once).

Certain disrespectful behavior patterns healthcare staff reported seeing had a direct effect on communication, including problems such as:

  • Reluctance or refusal to answer questions or return calls (77% at least once, 13% often)
  • Impatience with questions or hanging up the phone (69% at least once, 10% often), and
  • Reluctance to follow safety practices or work collaboratively (66% at least once, 13% often).

While doctors were cited by survey participants as the most likely people to be bullies, other healthcare professionals also behave this way. Even worse, it’s usually not just one person: 36% of those who responded said that between three and five staff members behaved disrespectfully toward colleagues.

The harmful consequences of workplace bullying

If your staffers exhibit any of these behaviors, it can compromise the quality of patient care. Those who feel intimidated by their peers are less likely to speak up if they see any issues. It’s even worse if they’re actively discouraged from doing so by an abusive or uncommunicative bully.

And staff members who are constantly belittled can become disengaged from their work, which could lead to errors that affect care quality – or cause harm to patients.

So it’s best to take a proactive approach in dealing with this behavior. Instead of waiting until it’s brought to your attention by an upset staff member, take steps to ensure it won’t be a problem.

Head it off at the pass

The Joint Commission released a report with standards hospitals should put in place to reduce the likelihood of workplace bullying. Here are three suggestions from the report:

  1. Create a code of conduct addressing bullying. Have a specific policy in place to handle workplace bullying, including the types of behavior that are unacceptable and the consequences for this behavior. Enforce the policy consistently for all staff members. Document any violations appropriately and take the required steps to correct them.
  2. Host regular training sessions. Periodically, staff should be coached on the proper way to communicate. This is also a chance to remind them about the best ways to interact with one another, emphasizing the importance of respect. Training on business etiquette skills, such as phone skills and dealing with difficult people, may be helpful here.
  3. Encourage staff to speak out. If, despite your best efforts, someone’s still being bullied, creating an environment where the person feels comfortable enough to report the behavior is the only way to stop it.  Make sure staff members know who they can talk to about bullying and what steps they should take to resolve the situation.
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