Galway author of bullying survey calls for zero tolerance

An NUI Galway professor is calling for hospitals and health care facilities to implement a zero tolerance policy on workplace bullying after a national survey revealed a 13 per cent hike in reported incidences among nurses and midwives.

The study was headed by Professor Maura Sheehan who has published extensively on workplace discrimination and injustice.

“There needs to be a fundamental culture change in hospitals and care facilities - a zero tolerance policy for any bullying must be implemented,” she said. “This must apply to all employees, no matter how senior, specialised, and experienced.”

According to the survey there has been an increase of more than 13 per cent in perceived incidences of bullying over the past four years. It indicated that almost six per cent of respondents (nurses and midwives in Ireland ) reported that they are bullied on an almost daily basis. The percentage of non-union members who experience almost daily bullying is nearly double that of union members.

Professor Sheehan said it was “very disturbing” that almost six per cent of nurses perceive they are being bullied on an almost daily basis.

“The personal consequences in terms of health, wellbeing, and family relationships of people who experience workplace bullying are extremely serious.”

She pointed out that while almost all organisations (93.5 per cent ) have a formal anti-bullying policy in place there is a significant gap between the existence and implementation of such policies.

She is calling for a “fundamental culture change in hospitals and care facilities” and the introduction of a zero-tolerance policy on bullying.

Clare Treacy, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation’s industrial relations officer in Galway, said the study’s findings did not come as a surprise to the organisation and reflected the overall view of her colleagues. She pointed out that the most alarming elements of the survey are that bullying has increased and people are complaining of consistent daily bullying.

“The survey did not attempt to identify the bullies, but generally speaking they are our members’ superiors. However the problem is not always confined to them.”

Bullying can take many forms, according to the union official. “We’re not saying that anyone is being physically assaulted but there is verbal aggression, unfair treatment, inappropriate requests, consistent, persistent, inappropriate behaviour, or giving someone the ‘silent treatment’. It is not dissimilar to what you hear about bullying at school. Repeated is the key word, it is not a once off incident of shouting at someone.”

She believes the major increase in reported cases between 2010 and 2014 may be due to the effects of health cutbacks, constant hospital overcrowding, and reduced staffing levels.

Employers need to be proactive and intervene early to ensure policies are fit for purpose and managers are trained to intervene early and appropriately, she said.

“There is a formal HSE anti-bullying policy known as Dignity at Work which allows and encourages individuals to attempt to resolve the matter locally in the first instance and encourages mediation. But we believe that generally the HSE does not take the issue seriously until a written complaint is made. At that point it’s nearly too late because the person has suffered a lot. If an employer is not actively trying to prevent bullying it will fester.”

Workplace bullying has widespread negative effects, according to Ms Treacy. It can result in increased absenteeism and stress, decreased job satisfaction, and the vast majority of people deal with bullying by quitting their jobs, she said. “This may be an easier option if you live in Dublin where you have plenty of choice but it is not so easy to do in the country.”

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