Workplace bullying: what it is, how to stop it

by Julie E. Williamson B

ullying behaviors are all too common in the workplace, including in the Central Service (CS) department. When allowed to continue without effective or targeted interven- tion, this behavior can diminish employee self-esteem and team morale, impede productivity, contribute to work withdrawal, illness and absence, increase staff turnover and open the door for facility liability/lawsuits, among other negative outcomes. Before bullying can be identifi ed and corrected, it’s fi rst necessary

to clearly defi ne what bullying behavior is and isn’t. As Natalie Lind, CRCST, CHL, FCS, Education Director for the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management (IAHCSMM), explained during her workplace bullying session at the 2016 IAHCSMM Annual Conference, bulling is “unwelcomed or unreasonable behavior that demeans, intimidates or humiliates others, either as individuals or a group.” This can include abusive or offensive language, insults, teasing, unreasonable criticism, the spreading of rumors, and trivialization of work and achievements. Equally important is outlining what bullying isn’t. Performance appraisals, job direction, counseling, constructive criticism, and disciplinary action are not considered bullying behaviors, as long as they are delivered respectfully, fairly and according to facil- ity policy. At the same time, playful banter, respectful jokes and other exchanges that are welcomed and not negatively or unfairly targeting one person or group also are not bullying behaviors. The same is true of respectful disagreements that are a normal part of working as a team. “It’s okay to have fun at work, but not at the expense of others. It is also perfectly normal to have disagreements from time to time, as long as those disagreements are handled respectfully,” said Lind.

Many faces of bullying

Workplace bullying can assume many forms, including, but not necessarily limited to: • The joker/teaser - This person says hurtful things and/or plays hurtful pranks on co-workers. When challenged, they often reply, “I was only joking/teasing.”

• The fragile co-worker - This person is easily angered. Co-workers “walk on eggshells” to avoid confl ict with this person.

• The unpredictable team member - This person’s mood changes frequently and erratically. Co-workers never know what kind of workday it will be until they gauge this person’s mood.

• The crybaby - This person is so sensitive that anything said or done may lead to tears; as a result, co-workers may go out of their way to avoid those tears. Crybaby behavior is a form of manipulation.

• The accuser - This person uses “in-your-face” confrontation to catch co-workers off guard.

• The secret keeper - This person likes to know more than others and uses that information to feel superior.


“Bullying behavior, however it is demonstrated, upsets the balance of the workgroup, shifts the focus away from the patient, erodes teamwork and promotes other negative behaviors,” Lind explained.

Banishing bullying The fi rst step in addressing and eliminating bullying behaviors is to acknowledge that a bullying problem exists. From there, CS leaders can devise a plan to educate members of the work group and create a Code of Conduct that clearly defi nes unacceptable behaviors and includes policies and procedures for appropriate response. “Members of the work group or team should be involved to gain

their participation and buy in,” Lind explained, adding that these team members can help identify the most appropriate working conditions for their area. Managers should be aware of workplace challenges that may lead to bullying behaviors. Resource constraints, high (and sometimes unrealistic) job demands, organizational changes, job insecurity, inadequate training, poor communication, and a lack of policies or standards outlining acceptable and unacceptable workplace behaviors may all increase employee stress, anxiety and pressure. Although these scenarios are no excuse for bullying or aggressive behavior, it is vital that managers recognize these triggers and work to address them.

The goal is to eliminate as many stressors as possible and then help workgroup members deal with the remaining stressors ap- propriately, according to Lind. Recruiting assistance from Human Resources and the Education department can also go a long way toward furthering the educa- tion plan and outlining next steps. When educating employees, Lind reminded that it’s essential to keep the training and related discussions professional, and to schedule follow-up education and communication to promote long-term positive change. “Bullying behavior will not be eliminated overnight,” she stressed. Setbacks should be expected and managers should consistently and promptly address them. “Eliminating bullying behaviors and creating a work environment and culture that is not bully friendly takes commitment and understanding from everyone involved.” HPN

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