Have You Experienced Torture of Workplace Bullying?

By Richard Negri
SEIU 121RN Director of Health & Safety

In the last few years of working with nurses via the SEIU Nurse Alliance, we have covered a lot of intense issues. They run the gamut from workplace violence and safe patient handling to safe staffing ratios. Through all this, there is one area that hasn’t been fully acknowledged: workplace bullying.

There are so many intricate nuances to the issue of bullying on the job. That should not push us away from the obvious: respect and civility need to be the accepted norms in every one of our workplaces, regardless of our seniority, our titles, our educational backgrounds, or any other aspect of nursing. If we don’t respect each other, if we don’t demand respect from our employers, the issue of workplace bullying will continue on long after we all retire. Therefore, everyone reading this now should pledge to be an agent for change — a real deal agent for change where civility and respect is the rule and not the exception.

In every work situation there will be a fair amount of disagreement among workers and management, and working through disagreements in a fair, honest, and compassionate manner is healthy. What isn’t healthy is when a disagreement turns to verbal abuse, sabotaging each other’s performance, or worse, physically getting into it.

According to a Public Employees Federation fact sheet on co-worker conflict there are common bullying behaviors we ought to know about to help us identify what we’re dealing with:

  • False accusations of mistakes and errors
  • Hostile glares and other intimidating non-verbal behaviors
  • Yelling, shouting and screaming
  • Exclusion and the “silent treatment”
  • Withholding resources and information necessary to do the job
  • Behind-the-back sabotage and defamation
  • Use of put-downs, insults and excessively harsh criticism

When there is any abusive behavior at work that is repeated over a period of time where the victim experiences difficulties in defending themselves, that is workplace bullying, and it should not be tolerated.

Studies prove some of the obvious health effects of bullying:

  • Stress disorders of all types
  • Clinical depression
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Impaired immune systems
  • PTSD

Last month, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry gave a talk at the National Press Club in support of a “Healthy Workplace Bill.” In her speech, she mentioned that many of us are told that bullying (and all workplace violence) is “part of our job.” That, she said, is “not acceptable.”

How can you become an agent of change? You need to work with your colleagues and local unions on creating or strengthening a workplace violence prevention program. The work you do within the prevention program may be very different from facility to facility, but it is safe to say that establishing clear norms of behavior and procedures for dealing with any breach of those norms should be included in the policy agreed upon by both labor and management.

You can also be an agent of change by sharing your experiences with bullying at your jobs with all of us. Mary Kay said that we must break the silence around this issue for a number of reasons — including the fact that this is part of a larger social and economic justice fight.

None of us go to work to get bullied, beat up physically or emotionally, ignored or sabotaged. None of us go to work to get the silent treatment or to leave the job exhausted from work and intense stress that bullying brings on. Clearly none of us go to work at the start of our shift with the mindset that we deserve to be treated disrespectfully.

Can you pledge to be an agent of change with me? Even if you don’t write an article and share your experiences, please send me a note saying you are in this with me at negrir@seiu121rn.org.

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