Banish the Workplace Bully

Updated on April 23, 2014

Bullying doesn’t always end on the playground. How small nurses can recognize and eliminate workplace bullying

By Tara Fishler 

Nurses certainly have their hands full these days. Amid the many economic and regulatory issues, it’s easy to overlook what sounds like a vague, not-in-my-backyard threat like workplace bullying. But workplace bullies are a very real and common drain on productivity and morale in many medical settings.

In fact, according to a 2010 study by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 35 percent of workers have experienced bullying firsthand. Men and women are culprits as well as victims. Sixty-eight percent of bullying is same-gender harassment. When women are the bullies, they target other women in 80 percent of cases. 

Workplace bullying can come in many forms, but the goal of bullies is generally to gain power or elevate their status by belittling or putting down others. Many children who were bullied become bullies as adults. In the workplace, bullies may try to humiliate targets, spread rumors or gossip, or in extreme cases, stalk or threaten targets or attempt to steal or damage property or work products. Much like children and teens, adult bullies also may recruit “secondary” adults who don’t want to be on the bully’s “bad side” and will support the bully’s efforts to harm targets, thus further isolating victims. Adult bullies often have had decades to develop their patterns of behavior. 

The impact of bullying can be deep and long lasting on the victims and their employers.

In the short-term, targets of bullies may experience health problems such as headaches, difficulty concentrating, depression, and sleep and anxiety issues.  They are also more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs. Victims may fear meetings, office activities or even going to the workplace. Their work performance often suffers. Even after the bullying has ended or the target changes jobs, the damage remains. Former targets may remain fearful, have difficulty forming trusting relationships and often lack confidence.

The effects of bullying can have large financial repercussions for the victims’ employers. Costs associated with turnover, lost productivity, absenteeism and potential litigation can add up to hefty sums. 

So what can targets and medical facilities do?

Adults who are being bullied at work should document all incidents in detail and report bullying behavior to a supervisor or human resources department. They also can report it to other authorities, such as their local Human Rights Commission. Other tactics for dealing with bullies are to avoid or ignore the bully. As a harsh last resort, if the situation isn’t improving and the strain on their health or work performance becomes too much, victims may need to consider changing jobs.  

Healthcare facilities need to promote and maintain a healthy, productive workplace, which means being aware of anything jeopardizing the safety and morale of their employees—including bullying. Implementing organizational-wide systems to educate employees and management about how to spot and eliminate workplace bullying is crucial. Safe processes to report bullying also should be in place, and any concerns need to be documented and taken seriously. Time and funds allocated to address and prevent workplace bullying will always be well spent; your business will avoid potentially large losses and your workforce will feel protected and valued.

Tara Fishler is a conflict resolution specialist and founder of Customized Training Solutions, a New York-based provider of conflict resolution, training and strategic management services. Visit to learn more.

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