If you are being bullied at work, you’re not alone. Many talented nurses have found themselves on the receiving end of emotionally and professionally hurtful personal attacks, and the consequences for the victim can be far reaching.
‘Everyone should be treated with dignity and respect at work but the sad fact of bullying is that it undermines physical and mental health and can impact on patient care,’ says Kim Sunley, Senior Employment Relations Adviser at the Royal College of Nursing.
Many nurses are reluctant to complain. They worry that they won’t be believed, that the problem won’t be dealt with sensitively, or that complaining will only make the situation worse. But nurses don’t have to suffer in silence, says Kim.
‘Employers are responsible for preventing bullying and harassment. Organisations should have a policy on dealing with bullying and harassment at work, and they have a duty to take whatever precautions are practicable.’
What constitutes bullying behaviour?
Each victim of bullying will experience it differently. In all cases, bullying is a misuse of power in which the bully deliberately attempts to remove personal power from their victim. Targeted attacks can be both personally and professionally hurtful, undermining a nurse’s ability to do their job, damage their reputation, or undermine their self-esteem and self-confidence.
According to the RCN, it can include:
- Sadistic or aggressive behaviour over a period of time
- Humiliation or ridicule
- Criticism in public designed to humiliate
- Persistent, unwarranted criticism in private
- Exclusion from opportunities or privileges offered to others
- Exclusion from decision-making
- Treating colleagues or students as if they were incompetent
- Changing work responsibilities unreasonably or without justification, and altering deadlines or work guidelines without warning
- Deliberately withholding information which will affect a colleague’s or student’s performance.
- Withholding of support in the academic or workplace environment
Keep a record
If you are being bullied, don’t feel you have to wait until you are at breaking point before taking action. Kim suggests keeping a written record of incidents. ‘As well as being therapeutic for you, it can help clarify exactly what’s happening and provide vital evidence if you decide to make a formal complaint.’
Make a record straight after the incident, when the event is fresh in your memory. Notes should be short and to the point and include the following information:
Date and time of incident Location Nature of incident Your response Your feelings at the time Whether you took any action, and what it was The names of any witnesses
You could speak to the person and explain how their behaviour makes you feel and ask for it to stop – they may not be aware of the effect their actions are having on you. If you take this route, it’s better to focus on one or two incidents, detailing the facts without emotion as much as possible, rather than make general accusations. Keep a record of the conversation, in case the situation does not improve.
Understandably, many victims of bullying do not feel comfortable approaching the person directly.
‘It is often helpful to talk informally to friends, family, trusted colleagues or a workplace counsellor about how you are feeling,’ says Kim. You can also ask for advice from your manager or another senior colleague. They may be able to approach the bully following guidelines from the organisation’s bullying and harassment policy in a process of ‘conciliation.’
If these approaches prove ineffectual, you may wish to make a formal complaint.
‘If you do choose to make a complaint, check your policy and find out who to talk to. If your employer is unresponsive, contact your RCN representative who can help you to pursue your complaint,’ says Kim.
Your complaint statement should focus on facts and include full details of the bullying – who, what, when etc, the effect the situation is having on you and your work, and any previous attempts to resolve the problem informally. Enclose any relevant supporting information or evidence.
The written complaint should be registered formally – check the bullying policy to see who it needs to be registered to. You should receive a reply acknowledging your complaint, along with what you can expect to happen and when. You may have to attend an interview as part of the investigation process.
Once the investigation has been carried out, it may be decided that there is no case to answer and no further action is required, or the investigator may say that the matter can be resolved through mediation. If you’re happy with this, the other party will be informed and discussions held to rebuild relationships. Alternatively, they may decide that disciplinary action is appropriate, in which case there may be a disciplinary hearing, and the bully may be given a warning prior to dismissal from the workplace.
If you’re unhappy with the outcome, talk to your representative about what action you can take. If you don’t have a representative, contact RCN Direct on 0345 772 6100.
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