As many of you already know, Rhian Collins, a nurse who worked at Cefn Coed Psychiatric Hospital in Swansea, Wales, hung herself in her home. Rhian left behind a fiance and two children.
This nurse allegedly committed suicide because of a bullying situation at work. Some say she had other issues and while that may be true, investigators determined that it was the way her work colleagues treated her that caused her unbearable stress. No one knows for sure but this stress led to her taking her own life.
Is this nurse’s suicide an isolated case or a growing problem in healthcare?
Did you know?
- 400 physicians committed suicide in 2016
- Suicide completion rates are higher for physicians and nurses than the general population
- The suicide rate for male physicians is 1.41 times higher than non-physician males and 2.27 times higher in female physicians
- Female nurses are 23% more likely to commit suicide than non-nurse females
Why Is This Happening to Healthcare Professionals?
Increasing demands, decreasing resources, depression, burnout, and being the target of bullying behavior creates a perfect storm of unbearable stress for healthcare providers. We know this and many organizations; medical and nursing associations are trying to do something about today’s high stress environments.
However, there’s something we’re missing.
In my opinion, if someone’s experiencing high stress because they’re being bullied at work, there’s generally one common denominator that people don’t acknowledge.
SOMEONE knows his or her colleague is being bullied but fails to speak up. It’s like watching someone drown when YOU know they’re in shallow water and only have to stand up to survive.
We are standing by, watching our colleagues drown.
The AACN and Vital Smarts conducted a study that asked 1700 healthcare employees this question (I’m paraphrasing): If you witnessed bad practice or bad behavior, would you speak up?
How many healthcare employees would actually speak up to a physician who is about to insert a central line but isn’t using the 5 barriers? Or, speak up to someone who is bullying a new nurse?
The answer? Only 10% of us would speak up.
That means 90% of us would stay silent!
I recently talked with a group of ICU nurses who said they felt bad for one of their new nurses. They shared numerous examples of how badly she was treated by their charge nurse. They actually referred to her as “the sacrificial lamb”. The charge nurse yelled at her at the nurses’ station and said, “How did you pass NCLEX? You’ll never survive here.” The new nurse walked away in tears.
When I asked them if anyone said anything; did anyone speak up or at least console the new nurse, they looked confused and replied, “No. Nobody said anything to anyone.”
Rhian experienced continuous verbal abuse, was given the worst assignments, and felt she didn’t have any support to deal with difficult situations while at work. I can’t help but think that at least some of her colleagues knew this was happening. But did anyone speak up on her behalf?
What about us?
Have you ever been the witness of workplace bullying? Did you speak up or keep your nose down?
You know the old saying “If you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem?” Well, it’s applicable in most situations, and especially bullying. If you witness someone being bullied and you turn a blind eye you’re contributing to an unprofessional work environment.
I know this can be a difficult position to be in because I’ve been there myself. Being a witness to such a terrible event is bad enough, but then you realize you should do something about it, which opens up the floodgate for a wide variety of fears and concerns, such as:
- If I speak up, will he target me next?
- The bully is my friend. Will she still like me if I report her?
- Will my complaint even be taken seriously?
- The bully is my boss. Will I get fired?
There are a lot of reasons people don’t speak up about workplace bullying. However, we can all choose a different path now that we know the power we each have to speak up to take action.
4 ACTIONS TO TAKE IF YOU WITNESS BULLYING BEHAVIOR
As soon as you witness disruptive behaviors, start a documentation trail. Don’t wait until you’ve seen the bad behavior multiple times before taking action. If you witness bullying in digital form, save the emails or take a screenshot of the abuse as you see it.
Once you’ve collected enough evidence, report it to your manager or your Human Resources representative. Although I always advocate that you file a non-anonymous report, if you’re really concerned about retaliation, most organizations provide an anonymous way for employees to share their concerns. The key here is to report the behavior!
Intervene on Their Behalf
If you witness disruptive behavior, immediately intervene. One simple way is to name the behavior as it’s happening. Naming the behavior can stop things immediately and prevent an escalation of that behavior. For example, if you witness a nurse yelling and openly criticizing a new nurse at the nurses’ station, say this: “You are yelling at John in front of others and you need to stop.”
Another technique is to use a time out signal. Let’s say you hear the charge nurse say to that new nurse, “How the heck did you pass NCLEX? You’ll never survive here.” Intervene by saying, “Time out (show the time out signal with your hands). What you just said to Katie is inappropriate and unprofessional.”
The key here is to do SOMETHING to put space between the bully and their target.
Did you know that 40% of all targets never tell anyone? Yet, almost everyone knows who they are. Emotional support can go a long way in helping someone who is being bullied. Let them know you see the problem and recognize it as bullying. Offer an open ear if they need to talk about it and do your best to support them in any way necessary during a public attack. If you feel like the situation warrants it, take it a step further and encourage them to get outside help.
This is where I believe we failed Rhian. Why didn’t anyone support her? If someone had, would she still be with us. Would her children still have their mother? Would she be planning a wedding right now?
As Matt Langdon stated so eloquently…
“The opposite of a hero isn’t a villain – it’s a bystander.”
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I’m hoping this is a wake up call for all of us to speak up when we witness disruptive behaviors at work. We are hemorrhaging really great nurses, like Rhian, to bullying and incivility. We need to stop the bleeding of really great nurses out of the profession.
It’s time for all of us to SPEAK UP! Are you with me? If so, post a commitment in the comments below.
Be kind. Take care. Stay connected.
Helping you cultivate a healthy happy workforce,