As I travel across the globe talking with nurses who experience and witness bullying and incivility, I’ve noticed something strange. Everyone knows bad behavior when they see it, but it’s rare to find someone who intervenes in the moment.
I was talking 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. In one example, the charge nurse yelled at her in the middle of the nurses’ station and told her she didn’t have what it took to be a nurse and “how the hell” did she even pass NCLEX. When I asked them if anyone said anything; did anyone speak up or at least console the new nurse, they looked at me like I had two heads.
“No.” they replied. “Nobody said anything to anyone.”
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?
All of these are valid questions and sorting through them is one way our minds process what we’ve witnessed. Having said that, if you’re truly concerned you may lose a friend or your job over doing the right thing, they’re not really your friend and you’re not in the right job.
The fact of the matter is there are a lot of reasons people don’t speak up about workplace bullying, but if we are ever going to create professional, nurturing, and supportive environments that REJECT bullying and incivility, then we all need to do our part!
This is why I’d like to give you three proven ways to stand up if/when you witness someone being bullied at work!
Like I always say; document, document, document! Someone who is being bullied is often afraid to speak up for fear their complaint will be dismissed by a manager. As a third party witness you have the opportunity to stand up and make a difference!
Furthermore, don’t wait until you’ve witnessed the bad behavior multiple times before taking action. Instead, start to document as soon as you notice it. Write down anything and everything you think may be bullying behavior and do it while it’s fresh in your mind. If the bullying is happening in digital form, save the emails or take a screenshot of the abuse as you see it.
As we’ve discussed before, it’s hard to prove bullying without documentation, so you will have done the target a huge service by doing so!
Documenting abusive behavior alone isn’t going to solve the problem; you also have to report said behavior.
Once you’ve collected enough evidence, report it to your manager and/or your Human Resources department. Either one is appropriate, so I’d just recommend doing what makes you comfortable. Unless you’re afraid of losing your job or your manager/boss is the one doing the bullying, in which case I’d go straight to HR.
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.
If you’re ever in a position where you’re faced with the decision to speak up or do nothing, I hope you’ll remember these words from Dennis Prager: “Goodness is about character – integrity, honesty, kindness, generosity, moral courage, and the like. More than anything else, it is about how we treat other people.”
The bottom line is this: We each have an ethical responsibility as professionals to make decisions based on what’s best for our patients AND for our colleagues!
It’s time for all of us to SPEAK UP!
If your organization has fallen victim to workplace bullying, contact me today to see how I can help before it’s too late!
Take care. Be kind. Stay connected.