Get Rid of Bullies the Southwest Airlines Way!

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You’re probably wondering what bullies have to do with Southwest Airline right about now.

Let me elaborate. 

I travel 45 out of 52 weeks in a year, which means I spend A LOT of time in airports.  Very often when a flight is almost ready to leave, I’ll hear the gate agent announce the names of the passengers that haven’t boarded yet.  “Gannon, party of 3. Please proceed to gate A2 for immediate departure, etc.” When I hear this, I say a simple prayer that they make it! I’ve missed flights by just a few minutes and know what it’s like!

A few weeks ago, I was at the Pittsburgh airport heading to speak at a conference. As I sat at my gate, I heard a Southwest Airline gate agent announce the names of the folks who hadn’t boarded yet (there were 4). Two minutes later, she announced their names again.  And two minutes later – again. Finally, after announcing their names for a third time, I heard her say this, “Look, (said their names), we LOVE you but we will LEAVE you if you’re not here in two minutes.”  You heard laughter among those of us who heard this announcement.

“We love you but we will leave you.” 

This mindset is the perfect approach for front line managers when it comes to bullying and incivility! 73% of nurses reported either experiencing or witnessing bullying behavior and 21% of novice nurses reported being exposed to bullying on a daily basis. You might be wondering who is doing the bullying and why they’re not being fired. The answer to these questions is complex, but one of the issues I’ve seen is that your toxic nurse is typically your most clinically competent nurse. Yep. It’s really hard to fire someone who is really competent, especially if you’ve been hiring a lot of novice nurses.

However, to continue having the privilege of caring for patients, every employee needs to be clinically AND professionally competent! Leaders need to set behavioral expectations in addition to clinical expectations and adopt the “love but leave” mentality.  Leaders need to be tough on standards and expectations, but tender with their people.

[easy-tweet tweet=”To continue having the privilege of caring for patients, every employee needs to be clinically AND professionally competent!”]

Set clear clinical and professional standards

In healthcare, we do a fairly good job setting clinical standards. We tell nurses to scan patients before giving medications, document patient education, scrub the hub for 15 seconds, etc. However, we do a lousy job setting behavioral expectations.

Setting BEHAVIORAL expectations is just as important as setting clinical expectations.  If you’ve never done this before, talking to your employees about how they should behave might feel uncomfortable. You might be thinking that you shouldn’t have to tell adults how to behave in a professional environment.

The reality is that if left on their own and without structure, even adults run amuck.  This is why it’s important that YOU believe telling your staff exactly how you expect them to behave is essential. If you believe it, they will too.

[easy-tweet tweet=”Setting behavioral expectations is just as important as setting clinical expectations.”]

Refer to the standards

Let’s say your employee violated one of your standards (clinical or professional). Pull that employee aside (always counsel in private) and refer to the standard, “According to our standards, we agreed to never yell or criticize in one of our sacred spaces (patient rooms, hallways, nurses’ station). Yet you violated this standard by yelling at Brittney in front of a patient. Brittney is new and although constructive feedback is important, our standard is to never yell and never criticize even if valid, in front of a patient (standard).  What happened? Are you okay (tender)?”

The key here is NOT to rationalize or justify bad behavior but rather to clearly state the standard and treat your employees with compassion.  We all have bad days. We all can get testy with each other.  If this employee is your most competent nurse, recognize his or her competence but make it clear that professional behavior is just as important as clinical competence.

Love your people

According to Gallup, the number one reason someone stays or leaves their job is the relationship they have with their boss. The second reason is whether or not they feel a sense of belonging. Think about it. These are social reasons. They have nothing to do with the benefits, types of patients, staffing ratios, etc. They have everything to do with the PEOPLE.  Be a leader who cares about the people but who the people can trust to hold everyone accountable.

[easy-tweet tweet=”Be a leader who cares about the people but who the people can trust to hold everyone accountable.”]

We are hemorrhaging really great nurses to bullying and incivility. Like the gate agent for Southwest Airlines, love your people always but be willing to “leave” them if they don’t hop on board.

Got a workplace bullying and incivility problem? Contact Renee today to find out how she transforms organizations by helping their leaders create professional, supportive, and nurturing work environments that reject bullying!

Take care. Be kind. Stay connected.

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