The Trifecta Approach to Eradicating Bullying & Incivility

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Eradicating bullying and incivility can no longer be left up to chance.

What do you do if you’re a healthcare executive and your recent employee engagement data indicates that you have a significant bullying and incivility problem? Do you sigh and say, “Well. That’s just the way it’s always been?” Do you conveniently overlook the comments about how bullying is impacting the overall health and well being of your employees? Do you call a mandatory meeting with your leaders and tell them to “fix this problem” or else?

Or, do you take responsibility and do something?

Did you know that only 6% of healthcare leaders identify bullying & incivility as a top priority, yet 90% say they have a problem? I think the reason behind these statistics is a lack of  knowing what to do or where to start. After all, tackling a problem that’s been swept under the rug for decades can feel like an overwhelming task.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

I work with healthcare organizations to create a professional workforce by eradicating bullying and incivility. With one of these organizations, their Chief Nursing Officer provided the PERFECT example of what to do once you’ve identified a problem.

At this organization, they received feedback during exit interviews and through a survey, that many of their newest nurses where leaving because of bullying & incivility. These were his words, “Well. Now that we know we have a problem, we have to DO something about it. I’m not the expert. Who is? If we are going to tackle this, we need to get help.”

It just so happened that a good friend and colleague of mine was at the meeting and recommended me and I’ve had the pleasure of working with them ever since.

The key here is that once you’ve identified a problem; don’t try to tackle it alone. Get help. Why? Because I’ve seen organizations adopt a knee jerk reaction and just try to put a bandaid on it or worse, invite everyone to a 60 minute inservice on bullying and then check the check box that they’ve fixed the problem.

[easy-tweet tweet=”Once you’ve identified a bullying problem; don’t try to tackle it alone. Get help! #stopbullying”]

If you really want to create AND SUSTAIN a professional work environment that’s free of bullying, you need to adopt the trifecta approach: Organization, front line, and employees.


The ultimate goal is to create an environment that fosters teamwork, honest and respectful communication, and professional practice in order to retain the best employees and deliver the best care. You can’t do that unless you hardwire strategies into the system. This includes augmenting and adapting the following:

  • Policies and procedures

I’ve seen some policies that are so vague related to behavior and some that are so prescriptive that an employee can easily talk their way out of corrective action. Make sure your policies CLEARLY define bullying, incivility, harassment & discrimination (shouldn’t be in the same policy as bullying), and violence (again – separate policy) AND articulate a clear process for how complaints of disruptive behaviors will be handled. Believe it or not, most organizations fail to clearly define this.

  • Initial and ongoing content related to bullying and incivility

Take a look at what programs/education you currently have in place. Add content related to bullying. It’s that simple. Don’t create new programs – just augment what you currently have.

  • Incorporate professional behavior as a standing agenda item in all of your meetings.

Talk about it. Share content related to bullying and incivility. Many leaders reach out to me and share how at the beginning of their leadership meetings, they show one of my YouTube videos or share an article I’ve written on my blog. They watch/read and then they engage in a conversation about it.


If you’re only able to implement one strategy to eradicate bullying and incivility, focus on your front line leaders. In my experience, I have never found an organization that actually teaches front line managers how to deal with disruptive employees, yet they spend the majority of their time dealing with people issues! Organizations need to do a much, much better job equipping front line leaders with the essential skills they need to set behavioral expectations and hold their people accountable.

  • Include training for new leaders

New can mean new to the organization or new to the role. You MUST include content in their initial orientation related to how to handle disruptive behaviors.

  • Ongoing education and training

At least once a quarter, you need to provide opportunities for leaders to come together in the same space to learn something about setting behavioral expectations and holding employees accountable and then have the opportunity for dialogue about common situations that come up.

  • Support front line leaders when they want to terminate a toxic employee

I’ve heard over and over again that a manager wants to terminate a toxic employee but isn’t “allowed” to do so for whatever reason. By not supporting your managers who are trying to establish expectations and hold people accountable, you are encouraging disruption among the staff. Please support them.

[easy-tweet tweet=”Focus on your front line leaders to eradicate bullying and incivility!”]


If you truly want to create a professional, nurturing, and supportive work culture, you can’t just gather a group of leaders and then sit around the table talking about strategies. You MUST include front line staff.

  • Raise awareness

Talk to staff about behaviors that undermine a culture of professionalism, trust, respect, and that undermine a culture of safety. We’ve normalized bad behaviors for so long, that we fail to recognize bullying and incivility when it occurs. Does, “well, that’s just the way she is…” sound familiar?

  • Get staff involved

Involve employees in establishing unit-based expectations for professional behavior towards each other, new staff, all disciplines, and staff who float (travelers, agency, float).

  • Ongoing education and training

Provide staff with ongoing education, tools, and resources to recognize and confront disruptive behaviors.

If you truly want to create a culture that rejects any incidence of bullying and incivility and promotes professionalism, it can’t just be “sign this code of conduct (note: signing a piece of paper doesn’t change behavior) or a one-time inservice on bullying. You can’t check a check box when it comes to transforming the way people treat one another.

Changing a culture requires organization, leadership development, and employee involvement.

[easy-tweet tweet=”Changing a culture requires organization, leadership development, and employee involvement.”]

I’ve seen departments that I initially thought should close and start all over again, transform into professional, nurturing, and supportive departments. This can happen in your organization too.

Need help? Call me. It’s what I do.

Take care. Be kind. Stay connected.

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