School children are often told to stand up to bullies and speak up about their behaviour – whether this is in the playground or via the internet. But what if the bullying is happening in the workplace and you find yourself the victim of it? And what if you are afraid to stand up to the bully and the bureaucracy of the NHS organisation you are working in?
The 2017 NHS Staff Survey, published by NHS Employers and completed by 487,227 NHS staff, shows that bullying and harassment remains an issue in the NHS. One in four people – that’s 25% of NHS staff – reported that they have experienced bullying. Community trusts report the lowest incidence at 19% and ambulance trusts report showing that 26% of ethnic minority employees have been victim.
Alarmingly, BME staff are more likely than white staff to experience harassment, bullying or abuse from colleagues – with figures from the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) report that shows it is at 26%.
Figures from ACAS reveal that bullying at work costs the UK economy £18bn a year in terms of time off, staff turnover and reduced efficiency.
In recent months the mainstream media has carried the story of Rhian Collins, a psychiatric nurse at Cefn Coed Hospital in Swansea, Wales. She was just 30 when she hanged herself in her home, leaving behind a fiancé and two children. A five-month investigation concluded that her death was the result of issues in the workplace, especially bullying co-workers who, the report said, made her time at the hospital ‘very difficult’.
I wonder: how many NHS workers are in similar difficulties but do not make the headlines – or even get noticed?
Every NHS employer has policies that make bullying a disciplinary offence. Let’s start with the basics. What exactly is workplace bullying? The definition is difficult, but the general gist is ‘a pattern of mistreatment’. It does not have to be face to face. Workplace bullying can also be done via e-mail.
There is no doubt that speaking up when you are being bullied is difficult and sometimes this can help the situation but sometimes it fails. If you confront a bully and it doesn’t go the way you planned, you need to understand that someone else’s poor behaviour is not a reflection of the person you are.
And on the flipside, if you know of someone who is being bullied, tell your manager so that something can be done – don’t let them suffer alone. Bullying can have devastating effects, as we have seen, but if you speak up you could help stop the situation.
The NHS workforce endures many pressures and stresses.
Managers in the healthcare service need to create a ‘non-bullying’ culture to prevent making the situation worse.
Angela Sharda is deputy editor of Healthcare Leader.