7 Actions to Take if You Witness Workplace Bullying

Have you ever wondered what you should do if you witness bullying?

Many of us have witnessed bullying and/or incivility against others but have kept silent. Sometimes, we’re just thankful the bully’s focus is on somebody else and not us! Other times, we are caught off guard or simply don’t know what to say or do. However, by our silence, we unwittingly condone and contribute to a culture of bullying and incivility.

When we're silent we condone and contribute to a culture of #bullying and #incivility. Click to Tweet

Did you know…

  • 73% of all nurses have either experienced or witnessed bullying behavior by other nurses.
  • 40% of all targets never tell anyone they’re being bullied.
  • 50% of all bullying incidents occur in front of other people.

The most powerful intervention to stop the cycle of bullying is for the WITNESS to speak up, so it’s time we start raising our collective voices to eradicate workplace bullying and incivility, one incident at a time.

Follow the action steps I’ve listed below to help do just that! 

1. STEP UP

The reality is that we live in a world in which good people remain passive in the face of bullying and injustice.  A few years ago, a study of 1700 healthcare employees revealed that 90% would stay silent if they witnessed bad practice or bad behavior, even in life and death situations!

Why is that?

Sometimes it’s because we think it’s someone else’s responsibility (like the boss), we’re worried about how that person will respond, or we’re just caught off guard and don’t know what to say or do.  Knowing this can help. From now on, make a conscious decision to confront any acts of bullying behavior immediately when you see them happening. It’s about stepping up by sending a message that bad behavior won’t be tolerated anymore.

Not here – not now – not ever!

2. FORM A POWERFUL COALITION

Chances are, you’re not the only one who is sick and tired of the phrase, nurses eat their young. Find others who are just as fed up with the bad behaviors and are willing to confront and support.  What I know for sure is that there is strength in numbers. Remember, there are more of you than there are bullies! Once you’ve all agreed that you want to create a professional, nurturing, and supportive work environment, it’s easy to influence others to do the same. Then the bullies stand out like a sore thumb.

3. CONFRONT BAD BEHAVIOR

When nurses share experiences where someone ripped their coworker a “new one” in front of others, I always ask, “Well – what did everyone do?”

Crickets.

Everyone looks at each other as if I was asking them if they gave up their first-born child. What I’ve found is that nobody is speaking up IN the moment when they are witnessing a coworker being tortured. That ends today! When you witness an act of bullying, you need to step up and confront! The easiest way to do this is to just name the behavior. For example:

When you witness an act of #bullying, you need to step up and confront! #speakup Click to Tweet

Coworker says to new nurse: “You won’t last a week here.

You should say this: “Whoa Whoa. Time out. Telling her she won’t last a week here is inappropriate and inconsiderate.

Coworker is yelling at a nursing assistant.

You should say: “Stop it. You are yelling at <insert name> and you need to stop.”

4. DOCUMENT THE INCIDENT

One of the most powerful weapons we have against bullying behavior is our ability to document. Seriously, as they say in legalese – if it wasn’t documented, it wasn’t done. Document any acts of bullying you witness with the date, time, person, and facts. To strengthen your documentation, align the behavior to a patient safety, patient quality, or patient satisfaction concern! Think…how did this person’s behavior impact patients?

5. TELL AN ADMINISTRATOR

Once you have sufficient documentation, share the information with a trustworthy person in an authority position. If possible, begin with your manager. Don’t assume that management knows what’s happening. Tell them.

6. FILE A FORMAL COMPLAINT

If your attempts to confront the bully and alert an authority figure do not result in positive change, consider filing a formal complaint with an HR representative. While a formal complaint is an extreme step, the culture of your unit is at stake. If a bully culture isn’t impacting you today, it may do so tomorrow.

7. SUPPORT THE TARGET

Any time you witness your coworkers being treated poorly, help them!

Let them know that the way they were treated was inappropriate and unprofessional. It’s so reassuring to them to know that others recognize it too and that they aren’t just being too sensitive. Ask if they are okay and offer encouragement. Never underestimate the power one person has to make a difference in someone else’s life. This person may be on the verge of quitting or may be suffering physical, emotional, and mental stress. Offering them your support can make all the difference!

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JOIN THE MOVEMENT TO A HEALTHY WORKFORCE

One person who stands up to the bully can inspire others to do the same. The world will not end if you stand up to a bully. In fact, others around you will see that an assertive response is possible. A mirror phenomenon can occur where others start to model or “mirror” your assertive behaviors. Not only will you be providing a role model for professional behavior, but you will be sending a message to others that bullying doesn’t have to be tolerated.

It only takes ONE person standing up to a bully to #inspire others to do the same! Click to Tweet

Take care. Be kind. Stay connected.

Helping you cultivate a healthy happy workforce,

 

About Renee Thompson

Dr. Renee Thompson is a keynote speaker, author and professional development/anti-bullying thought leader. Renee spends the majority of her time helping healthcare and academic organizations address and eliminate bullying behavior. To find out how you can bring Renee to YOUR organization or nursing event, visit www.healthyworkforceinstitute.com

There are 9 comments on this post
  • Renee Thompson
    Sarah Hayes
    Jan 26, 2019 Reply

    I'm a nurse and I spoke up when being bullied and when patient's were being bullied by my manager. My life was made extremely difficult after putting in a formal complaint. I then had to work with my manager for 15 months while it was investigated ( the investigation went on for over 3 years!) After 15 months my manager was moved to another department due to further allegations of bullying. I was then asked to act up to her role without any training or any nurse help. I ran clinics and visited patients over a large area and couldn't do everything myself. I was then criticised for the things I couldn't do as it was too much for one person. I then became very stressed and depressed and was off sick for several months. When I went back I had a new line manager who picked faults with everything I did. She was not a nurse but overstepped professional boundaries by carrying out some nurses tasks. I was then accused of a causing a serious incident and after being verbally attacked by the head of service about me not taking responsibility for the incident, the head of service telephoned me three days later to say there wasn't an incident and not to worry about it. By then after my union rep advising me to leave as it is toxic I decided I could not go back. By speaking up I was pushed out of my job and my profession. I was a single parent and the only breadwinner. Thankfully the patient's are no longer being bullied. I can see why people are afraid to speak up. The money worries and stress following this lead to severe depression. I am amazed this goes on after I spoke up about unfairness.

    • Renee Thompson
      Renee Thompson
      Jan 27, 2019 Reply

      I'm so so sorry you experienced this at work. Should never happen. However, as you know, cruelty exists - even in healthcare - an industry dedicated to caring and compassion. I'm glad you didn't go back but so so sad you left our profession. I'm doing everything I can to make sure we stop this cruelty!!! Sending you air hugs - so sad.

      • Renee Thompson
        Chris
        Jan 28, 2019 Reply

        Sarah, I'm glad you got out of there. Sometimes the workplace IS the problem.

        I msg with a Facebook group of nurses who've experienced workplace bullying. Many of us are strong, competent people, targeted for speaking up.

        We all have diagnosed mental health issues in the aftermath of bullying : Anxiety, depression, even PTSD. Some on compensation.

        I hope you don't feel alone. You're not (unfortunately) x

        • Renee Thompson
          Renee Thompson
          Jan 29, 2019 Reply

          Yes!! You're not alone. There are many more of us nurses who actually support each other! Find us.

    • Renee Thompson
      Chris
      Jan 28, 2019 Reply

      Sarah, I'm glad you got out of there. Sometimes the workplace IS the problem.

      I msg with a Facebook group of nurses who've experienced workplace bullying. Many of us are strong, competent people, targeted for speaking up.

      We all have diagnosed mental health issues in the aftermath of bullying : Anxiety, depression, even PTSD. Some on compensation.

      I hope you don't feel alone. You're not (unfortunately) x

  • Renee Thompson
    Christine
    Sep 06, 2018 Reply

    Thank you for motivating me. I've been a witness. Was lost for words, then let it slide.

    After 25 years nursing, I became a target. It opened my eyes! It can happen to anyone.

    I am now on leave under workers compensation. The Insurer accepted liability, but still management seem to have heads in sand. I truly wish bullying was taken seriously!

    • Renee Thompson
      Renee Thompson
      Sep 07, 2018 Reply

      Thanks Christine. I've been silent before too. The key is to NOT beat yourself up but to make a commitment that the NEXT time you witness acts of cruelty, that you WILL speak up. I'm sorry you were a target and totally agree that bullying needs to be taken more seriously! I'm hoping to heighten awareness and help organizations STOP accepting bad behavior as the norm! #bekind.

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