From the Workplace Violence Prevention E-Report ©2014 Gail Pursell Elliott
In health care and human services organizations, professionals on all levels have to complete state mandated training in the area of reporting abuse and neglect. These programs focus on the treatment of patients and consumers entrusted to the care of these agencies. Workers completing this training become Mandatory Reporters, which means that they are obligated to report any instances of abuse or neglect that they witness or suspect. If they do not, they are considered to be complicit in the offense.
In an environment in which workplace mobbing and bullying are rampant these same workers may still commit abusive acts toward coworkers. The quality and integrity of services to their consumers easily can become compromised. In these workplaces, the staff may be underpaid and over worked or less than adequately trained for their jobs. Stress factors like these can create an environment in which a bullying situation both exists and persists. The erosion of teamwork and trust on the part of staff as well as the nature of the work that is done leaves vulnerable individuals open to inadequate or untimely assistance which can border on abuse and neglect. When staff members are watching their backs, gossiping, judging coworkers or thwarting the work of others they are not paying attention to the people entrusted to their care. In other cases, the care of individuals becomes secondary to power plays on the part of staff.
Here are some case examples:
– A resident in a long term care facility repeatedly calls for help while a group of staff are gossiping. The employees are either so engrossed in the conversation that they do not hear the person or are not paying attention. The matter is not addressed until a visitor brings the resident’s calls to the attention of someone in the group.
– A manager, who has become accustomed to intimidating staff without intercept or oversight, begins to intimidate clients with veiled threats of withdrawn assistance.
– An employee reports inadequate services necessary to meet the needs of a resident in a long term care facility. Her supervisor brings the issue to the attention of the administrator. The supervisor is fired for some other supposed issue. The inadequate services remain unaddressed. Employees become reluctant to report variances in care.
These are just a few recent examples of situations I’ve encountered. The list goes on, for many of the people who ultimately are impacted by these situations are unable to advocate for themselves, are not taken seriously, or are afraid of retaliatory repercussions. Employees who witness these situations, despite their training, are fearful of reprisals up to and including losing their employment. In a mobbing, people are often set up to appear to be in the wrong or are placed in untenable situations guaranteed to force them out, one way or another.
– For example, a number of years ago, a staff member at a human services agency was working with a combative consumer while co-workers stood and watched rather than helping. When the worn out employee finally did something construed as inappropriate, co-workers immediately called in a report.
– In another instance, a staff member arrived late and then proceeded to use the agency phone to carry on an extended, emotional conversation with her boyfriend. Her co-worker handled care for consumers assigned to both of them. When the staff member finally got off the phone, her co-worker said that she had taken care of everyone but one consumer and the staff member could care for that one. The response was that the consumer was assigned to her co-worker and she wouldn’t do it. While the argument ensued, the consumer was left alone in a bathroom rather than being monitored. The staff member reported her co-worker for neglect.
Human Relations issues between employees cannot take precedence over the focus on the well being of the people being served. When people are used as bargaining chips to serve some dominance or control agenda, or worse become collateral damage as a result of that agenda, everyone loses and everyone is at risk. When policies and training designed to protect people are twisted in these ways they become treated as objects and opportunities rather than as human beings. When employees are caught up in a mobbing or bullying situation they rarely see beyond the context of the situation to the larger picture of the implications and consequences of their actions. That is why not only training but also follow up insights are important to maintain the level of service that is both expected and deserved by people being served in agencies and in facilities of all kinds.
Let me say definitively that this behavior is generally not the rule but the exception. Most health care and human services professionals are well meaning and genuinely care about the work that they do, its value, and the importance of quality. However, when mobbing behavior thwarts these intentions we see turnover, low morale, increased incidences of sick leave due to stress, and losses of key individuals who refuse to associate themselves with an organization that allows this type of conduct to go unchecked. Standards must be set and then follow up must occur. The philosophy must extend to all levels of the organization, not just to direct care workers. The most effective leadership is by example. People watch and learn in areas beyond the classroom or mandated training as to what is truly acceptable within an organization and what is not.
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Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace is now available as an E-book. Download your copy today at www.mobbing-usa.com
“Since coauthoring Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace I have continued to write about mobbing and bullying in both workplaces and schools. My coauthors and I were not the first to address mobbing and bullying on an international basis but we were the first to present the concept of mobbing in the United States. Since our book was published in 1999, many others have jumped on the bandwagon with their own work and that is a good thing. The more people who become aware of this form of mental and emotional abuse and endeavor to educate and intercept it, the better. There is a long way to go but progress in such a worthwhile area is gratifying and I am grateful to be a part of it.” Gail Pursell Elliott, The Dignity and Respect Lady www.innovations-training.com