The impact of bullying and how it can lead to problems at work
Bullying is, unfortunately, a fairly common experience of midwives and midwifery students. Some of the research on this topic is included in the resources section below. The important facts here are that being bullied leads to:
- A loss of self-esteem
- Loss of enthusiasm
- Anxiety and depression
- Reduced well-being
- Poor work performance
The latter is particularly relevant as many clinical errors (mistakes, errors of judgement, indecisiveness, simple oversights and omissions etc.) directly result from the confusion and insecurity caused by being bullied. Many of the midwives that Midwives Haven supports can trace their work problems to being bullied.
Sadly, managers and Trusts are often all too blind to the impact of bullying on performance, fail to deal with the bullies (who often have the ear of managers or are managers themselves) and are blind to the role of bullying as the root cause of the mistakes they investigate.
Another problem is that your reputation at work is often destroyed by a bully. Criticisms of you made either in so-called “jest”, behind your back, or in public at the work station or in the coffee room slowly erode your reputation and replace it with the bully’s version. You may be “too radical” or “slow” or “spend too much time in the room with women” or be “unable to suture yet” or any of a 100 different things of which the bully or bullies can use to intimidate and discredit you.
Criticism and blame can follow closely behind and many midwives subjected to this sort of treatment find themselves investigated or on some sort of corrective “action plan”. Such is the damage to your reputation, that you will have an uphill battle to reassert your reputation as confident, capable, and competent. Especially if the bully has gone some way to undermine your faith in yourself.
Whilst an isolated instance of bullying is not technically unlawful, a course of bullying may constitute harassment and also be unlawful regardless of whether any protected characteristics (see below) are involved (The Protection From Harassment Act 1997).
Harassment, by a SINGLE discriminatory act, is also unlawful (Equality Act 2010), and is when any poor or negative behaviour directed at you is because of, or connected to one of your “protected characteristics”:
- gender reassignment
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation
As well as providing personal support, Midwives Haven can use ARM’s extensive network to put you in touch with other midwives who have experience of addressing harassment and discrimination.
What can you do about it?
1Take it seriously and tell someone
2Find out more
Bullying | WorkSmart: The career coach that works for everyone
Discrimination, bullying and harassment | Acas
Bullying and harassment | Advice guides | Royal College of Nursing
The nature and manifestations of bullying in midwifery
PDF on Researchnet.
Interventions for prevention of bullying in the workplace (Review)
3Keep a Diary
Record as contemporaneously as possible, what is happening even if it is hard to describe or seems minor and petty. Bullying is subtle and cumulative so do not discount instances as unimportant.
Jot down dates and times, personnel including any witnesses, what was said or done, tone of voice etc. Keep any messages, notes or other evidence. Do not record patient names or identifiable details. Do not keep your diary in your workplace. Do not tell anyone in your workplace that you are keeping a diary (we have seen an instance of a midwife’s diary being confiscated and destroyed by a trust when it contained important evidence).
You may not ever need to produce your evidence but it will be useful if things do not improve or you find that things deteriorate further and you need to take action or make a statement. We have experience of a number of situations where the evidence or narrative of bullying has proved invaluable.
4Visit Aryanne Oade’s website and consider ordering one of her books
But do remember that, even though membership of this, like that of local ARM Facebook groups, is monitored, it is relatively easy for bullies to access sites which they can then use to further their campaigns against others. Unfortunately we are aware of midwives snitching on their colleagues about social posts instead of discussing it directly and compassionately with the person who posted it.
Always be careful of what you post and who else is on the group. Report anything you are unhappy about regarding how others use the group to the group administrators.