Bullying and disrespectful behavior in the workplace leads to lost work time, mental health disability claims and high employee attrition rates. At Vancouver General Hospital, a part of Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), 110 operating room (OR) days were lost due to staff shortages between May and October of 2013. In the same period, 15 newly trained OR nurses left the unit. An investigation showed that 59 percent of staff stayed away from work, or left the job, as a result of a toxic work environment, stating that, “bullying is big in the OR” and the “No. 1 issue” in their workplace.
The cost of replacing those 15 OR nurses was more than CDN$700,000, and the process would take over 15 months. The impact on patient care and staff morale was enormous. If toxic workplace conditions were left unaddressed, it would be clear to staff that Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) leaders tolerated bullying in the workplace, and had no regard for staff health or patient safety.
At the same time, an amendment to the Workers Compensation Act was passed by the British Columbia government, which instituted claims for mental health issues caused by bullying. The act required employers to implement effective strategies to manage bullying in the workplace. Long-term disability claim data for VCH showed that mental health was the leading cause of worker compensation claims. Curiously, at the same time, fewer than 20 bullying complaints had been reported to HR annually. It was time for change.
The challenge was to show VCH staff that, after years of turning a blind eye, the organization’s leadership would not tolerate bullying and that if staff would take action by reporting bullying, the organization would support them. Building trust that the organization would respond became the core objective....
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