Conquer Conflict At Work/Steps Leaders Can Take to Create a Bully Free Culture

Thursday, May 04, 2023

Steps Leaders Can Take to Create a Bully Free Culture

Leadership Tips to Address Workplace Bullying and Create a Psychologically Safe Culture in Healthcare

Steps Leaders Can Take to Create a Bully Free Culture

They say the only constants in life are taxes, death, and change; but we need to also add workplace bullying to that list.
Despite the billions of dollars spent annually on global educational campaigns around the importance of mental health and leadership training, nursing research continues to demonstrate that workplace bullying continues to be an issue in many organizations.

At the same time, we know healthy work environments are strongly associated with improved nurse psychological health and well-being, job satisfaction, increasing productivity, morale and retention while also acting as a protective layer against poor patient outcomes such as mortality, sentinel events and safety concerns.

So why are we still dealing with a bullying culture?

One of the reasons, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute,is that 63% of employers will deny they have a problem with workplace bullying, discount it, rationalize it, defend it, and may even encourage bullying to create a competitive organization. Their survey of 800 managers and employees in 17 industries revealed the real impact of not dealing with bullying:

  • ​​​• 48% intentionally decreased their effort at work
  • ​• 38% intentionally decreased the quality of their work
  • ​• 63% lost work time avoiding the offender
  • ​• 78% reported declining commitment to the organization
  • ​• 25% admitted to taking their frustration out on clients

Another reason is the style of leadership. Bullies have told us that when leaders do not prioritize resolving issues and have a more of a laissez-faire, "lets see what happens" approach, problematic behavior continue and claims of workplace bullying rise. (Ågotnes, KW, Einarsen, SV, Hetland, J, Skogstad, A. The moderating effect of laissez-faire leadership on the relationship between co-worker conflicts and new cases of workplace bullying: A true prospective design. Hum Resour Manag J. 2018; 28: 555– 568.

What is Bullying in the Workplace:

Bullying is defined as the abuse and mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone perceived as stronger and more powerful. There are five key characteristics of Bullying:

  • ​It is unwanted behaviour
  • ​Bullying has nonverbal and/or verbal elements
  • ​It involves an Imbalance or misuse of power to gain control
  • ​There is an intention to intimidate, offend, degrade, humiliate or isolate an individual or group of people
  • ​*Repeated in nature

Bullying involves a variety of behaviors, and what may offend one person will not offend everyone; making it more challenging for leaders to feel they can take action.

Some common workplace examples of bullying behaviors include eye rolling and sighs, name calling, sarcasm, snide remarks, refusing to work with someone, unfair assignments, fighting among peers, scapegoating, breaking confidences, sabotage, withholding information, and complaining to others (backstabbing).

Research will also demonstrate that if you are in a leadership role, you are at high risk to be labelled a bully. As many as 72% of leaders are named as the workplace bully.

From the work I do with leaders and targets of workplace bullying, combined with my own experience as a target of bullying, I hold a different perspective.

I don't believe the majority of leaders wake up in the morning and think about all the ways they can make someone's life miserable during the day, although this does happen, it is in smaller doses than documented.
When I work with clients around topics like bullying, what I find to be true more often than not is we have communication problems.

We don't have toxic workplaces, we have TALKsick workplaces.

Leaders have not been equipped with the skills or confidence to deal with claims of workplace bullying, to lead difficult conversations or to coach and mentor their employees to do the same.

Steps Leaders Can Take to Create a Bully Free Culture

  • ​Learn the signs and symptoms of bullying and educate your team regularly. The more you talk about it, the more you normalize it and create a safe place for others to talk about it.
  • ​Get to know your company policies and procedures and understand your role and responsibilities, and the responsibilities of the employees. Talk about this often! Employees often wait too long to bring an issue forward.
  • ​Create an "all hands in" culture and role model, mentor, and coach employees through difficult conversations where they are speaking with each other about offensive behaviors as the first line of defence. Resolving issues early will build safety and trust among team members, improve relationships and prevent claims of workplace bullying.
  • ​If you do have someone say they are being bullied, don't panic, and don't rush to fix things. Give yourself a few seconds to breath slowly (it will decrease your fight/flight response and heart rate. Then hear what they are really saying: "I am struggling, I don't know what to do, I have tried everything I can and I need some help"
  • ​Use the Graceful Method to both guide your conversations with the employee and to coach and mentor them through their situation

If you would like support in creating a psychologically safe workplace, learn how to communicate better and lead conflict resolution among team members, I help prepare healthcare leaders for the everyday conversations .. and the not so everyday.

Watch my series Courageous Conversationson YouTube and learn more about how what we say is just as important as how we say it.


When leaders feel more confident and prepared, employees benefit.

Schedule a coaching session with me in May during May Days Coach-a-Thon to raise funds to help targets of workplace bullying access coaching services.

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