No place for bullies

Bullying can be devastating to experience and witness. How do you deal with it?

Have you ever been humiliated or ridiculed at work? Has a colleague ever treated you like a child? Are you regularly given unrealistic or constantly changing deadlines? If so, you may have experienced workplace bullying.

Bullying can happen to anyone. That’s among the key messages from Kim Sunley, RCN Senior Employment Relations Adviser. “While a manager bullying a subordinate member of staff is probably the most common, it can also be peer to peer, inter-professional and even subordinate to manager,” she says.

As well as the examples listed above, bullying can also encompass: exclusion from meetings, changing responsibilities unreasonably, and deliberately withholding information to affect a colleague’s performance.

Last year’s NHS annual staff survey showed that around 31% of staff in England, and 18% in Wales, said they had experienced bullying or harassment from colleagues or managers in the previous 12 months. In Scotland, only 77% said they are treated with dignity and respect. There are no recent figures available for Northern Ireland.

Bullying is often not overt

But common as it is, many nursing staff still struggle to recognise that it’s happening. “Sometimes there can be a degree of self-doubt,” says Kim. “There’s that feeling of ‘am I really being bullied?’ You may also witness bullying happening to others – and that can be very upsetting.”

In reality, bullying is often not overt. “It’s rarely as obvious as name-calling,” advises Kim. “It’s unwarranted and destructive criticism, rather than constructive feedback. And it’s more persistent than a one-off remark or incident.”

What can you do to tackle bullying?

  • Share what’s happening with a trusted colleague or friend to help you clarify your issues.
  • If you witness bullying, tell the person being bullied what you’ve seen and write it down.
  • Keep a diary of what’s happening, writing down details as soon as possible after the event. The RCN’s advice guide has a sample template.
  • If you feel able, raise the issue informally with the person who is bullying you or speak to their line manager, preferably at an early stage.
  • Read your workplace’s bullying and harassment policy, which should outline informal and formal procedures.
  • Keep formal action as a last resort. “Pursuing an informal approach can be less stressful and more effective,” says Kim.

Find out more

Read the RCN's online advice guide for members who experience or witness bullying or harassment at work.

Words by Lynne Pearce

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