Workplace Bullying: Facts, Figures, and Fighting Back : My Blog
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Workplace Bullying: Facts, Figures, and Fighting Back

by Ellen Fink-Samnick MSW, ACSW, LCSW, CCM, CRP on 02/08/19

A new study was released last week reflecting how workplace bullying rivals diabetes and drinking as a heart disease risk factor:

·       Sample size:80,000 workers between the ages of 18 and 65 with no prior history of heart disease.

·      Findings: workers bullied frequently (almost daily) in the past 12 months had a 120% higher risk of cardiovascular disease compared with people who were not bullied. 

o   Colleagues were responsible for workplace bullying 79% of the time.

o   Threats of violence were initiated 9% of the time by co-workers.


This was far from the first article to validate how constant exposure to workplace bullying (WB) can lead to chronic physical and mental health illness. Though, the sheer size of the sample and strong correlation between exposure to bullying and heart disease mandate immediate attention to this cultural mainstay. WB and harassment numbers are at an alarming high tally, with the outcomes often fatal.

By the Numbers

It’s been over a decade since the Joint Commission published their first Sentinel Event Alert (Issue 40) on the impact of bullying on medical errors and patient deaths. Entitled, Behaviors that Undermine a Culture of Safety, clear messaging was provided to the industry:

“Intimidating and disruptive behaviors can foster medical errors, contribute to poor patient satisfaction and to preventable adverse outcomes, increase the cost of care, and cause qualified clinicians, administrators and managers to seek new positions in more professional environments.”.  


Since 2008, convincing data has been released to note the often fatal impact of WB on patients and practitioners. Healthcare has come a long way from the mantra of ‘nurses eat their young’, or the image of a bolstering, if not arrogant physician. WB is now viewed in healthcare as ‘an interprofessional sport that everyone plays and nobody gets to sit out.’ In other employment sectors, WB is as invasive and harming, with rising rates of suicidal ideation and suicide by targets and witness (e.g. businessacademia, firefighters).


The facts mandate clear need for action:   

       80% of all women feel they have been bullied on the workforce, 95% by another woman 

       75% of all workers have been impacted by bullying behaviors (whether the traditional manner or lateral violence by colleagues) 

       Bullying affects bystanders and witnesses, as readily as direct targets.

       250,000 patient deaths annually occur related to poor team communications secondary to bullying behaviors

       Over 72% of employers deny, discount, encourage, rationalize or defend bullying in the workplace  

       While 68% of employers acknowledge bullying exists in their setting, only 5% do anything about it

       Healthcare has among the highest levels of bullying across sectors

       Healthcare professionals are 2x as likely to take their own life when subjected to bullying behaviors, with 30% or WB victims experiencing suicidal ideation

       Disruptive physicians have 14% more complications in the month post-surgery than physicians with better bedside manners

       Increasing numbers of patient deaths from medical errors have been attributed to disruptive behaviors by healthcare professionals and poor team communication.

       Costs of $200 billion annually in lost productivity are attributed to WB (e.g. increased sick days, medical claims, legal costs, and staff turnover)

       Avoiding a toxic hire, or letting one go quickly saves $12,500.


Subtle, Intentional, or Mislabeled?

WB can be intentional and calculated, starting as a subtle dismissive attitude toward a colleague then escalating to full-fledged victimization and ridicule. However, WB can also be the result of frustration run amuck due to the harsh realities of organizational pressures; not everyone copes effectively with these stressors. Other forms of WB stem from dissatisfaction with the workplace and its processes. Any staff member can easily succumb, ultimately using colleagues, staff, and clients as emotional punching bags. 


WB can also get mistakenly tagged as the root of all problems within an organization. Staff members rationalize their poor performance by blaming it on mislabeled bullying behaviors of colleagues and bosses. Particularly with WB, harassment (sexual and non-sexual in nature) and toxic workplaces such hot topics, they easily become the default reason for a staff member’s challenges. Amid the harsh realities imposed by WB, there are still members of the workforce who aren’t good at what they do. 

Legislation Around the States

There is no current federal legislation to address workplace bullying, however there is legislation moving forward in a number of states and Canadian territories.

·      Healthy Workplace Bill-The Healthy Workplace Bill is a template for state legislation that is picking up steam. Several states have adopted the bill’s language and drafted legislation of their own. A current map showing the status of legislation in the US and Canada can be accessed from the bill website. A Facebook page is also updated regularly.

·      Individual States with Pending Legislation-Four states have proposed active workplace abuse legislation in 2019:
Massachusetts, Bill Number SD 1355
New York, Bill Number SB 2261
Rhode Island, Bill Number SB 90
West Virginia, Bill Number HB 2062

Each state has a website and/or Facebook group/page accessible by the URLs embedded above. To learn about a bill in your state, go to Call and email your elected officials about the bills, and inform them why they are important. Alert them of the bill numbers, as well. Let them know the legislation will make WB illegal without regard to protected class. For those of you in ‘at will’ firing states, the language of your law should address that topic too! Go the URLs and get familiar with the necessary elements to include in your state laws. 


Moving Past the Cultural Mantras to Action

I’m fired up about WB and the need to address it. Yet, I’ve heard all the pushback, as well. I get the reality imposed by organizational culture

       ‘Oh, there you go again, looking at the world through rose colored glassed’

      ‘Bullying is part of the culture and that’s not changing.' 

      ‘Look at the current government. Bullying is accepted at the highest levels!’

      ‘The behavior starts at the top in my organization; it’s just the norm.’

      ‘If I say something, I’ll be fired. I can’t afford to be unemployed.’

      ‘I’m picking my battles.’


I know many of you have tried to directly address WB with leadership and/or human resources, only to be blamed, threatened, or even fired. A number of you have shared your stories and experiences with me; all profound and painful to hear. I know your reality because I have experienced it as well. There is tremendous focus on ‘responding with kindness’ or ‘being more patient with each other’. Yet the mantras are not so easy to practice for all.  I recently received a call from a valued colleague who was stunned by a recent encounter, and afterwards realized the reason; she and another colleague were bullied. In the meantime:

      Learn what workplace bullying is and is not

      Get involved with advocacyand public policy efforts

      Stand up, speak up, and learn how to manage WB situations

      Support WB education in your organization and professional community

      Know the resources to obtain support and guidance

     Stay informed on new products to assure a proactive and appropriate human resources response. 

I end with messaging from a prior blog

Know That in the Workplace:

      We deserve respect. 

      We deserve to have our knowledge and expertise valued.

      We deserve to feel safe. 

      We deserve not to feel trapped in a toxic environment.

      We deserve to be confident that all are accountable for their actions

      We deserve to be able to confront WB without fear of retribution


Enabling a disabled system only empowers further dysfunction. How many more persons must fall victim to, if not die from WB? I simply can’t allow that to happen, especially as a licensed health professional. What about you?


Until next time.......Stay Resilient,


#mustdobetter #interprofessionalimpact #stopbullying

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