Bullying from the perspective of a dental nurse

bullying-article-febWhat is bullying … and what can nurses do to ensure that it stops?

Most of us will have witnessed or experienced bullying at some point. Bullying can have devastating effects on the general wellbeing and performance of victims. It can cause a sense of loneliness and a loss of self-confidence.

Bullying within the workplace can include verbal, non-verbal, psychological or even physical abuse. Even a passing comment or isolating an individual can be forms of bullying. Bullying and harassment can be defined in the following ways:

Obvious bullying behaviour

  • Jokes about race, colour, gender, sexuality or ethnic origin.
  • Unwanted physical contact.
  • Swearing at individuals.
  • Public humiliation.
  • Persistent criticism.
  • Constantly undervaluing effort.
  • Personal insults and name-calling.
  • Threats.
  • Unfair punishment.
  • Being ignored or excluded.

Less obvious bullying behaviour

  • Withholding work-related information.
  • Setting individuals up to fail.

Not bullying / grey areas

  • Delegation of duties within the job role.
  • Sensitivity to general indirect humour.

While there may be no law against workplace bullying in itself, employers do have a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees. Bullying can directly compromise each of these.

It is important for individuals to understand the signs of bullying so that they can take action to avoid the situation developing further. Some scenarios may appear more complex than others, and it is therefore important for workplaces to have policies and systems in place to overcome bullying and to support employees.

The widespread use of social media has meant that online bullying is becoming more common. The workplace should be proactive and have social media, bullying and disciplinary policies in place to cover bullying, both in the workplace and online. The policy should provide:

  • Guidelines on what members of staff can and cannot do within the workplace.
  • A definition of what bullying is and what the practice can do to avoid it.
  • A step-by-step process for staff to follow should bullying occur.
  • Standards of work behaviour – what is expected.
  • Consequences for those who engage in bullying, such as disciplinary proceedings.
  • A follow-up system to ensure that further bullying does not happen in future.

What can bullying do to an individual?

Bullying can affect people in different ways. A person who is being bullied may experience many different emotions, including anger, hurt, upset and loneliness. It is important that we are aware of the signs of bullying to avoid this happening. Victims of bullying may feel:

  • Depressed.
  • Anxious.
  • Isolated.
  • Withdrawn.
  • Suicidal.
  • Humiliated.
  • Low.
  • Upset.
  • Angry.
  • Frustrated.

They can also start to believe what a bully is saying about them or start to blame themselves.

What should you do if you are being bullied?

• Keep a diary of every incident that happens – a written note of who said or did what and when the incidents occur. The frequency and pattern of the incidents you record will be strong evidence of the bullying you are experiencing, and will make it difficult for the bullies to deny the bullying when they are confronted.

• Read up about bullying to understand more about the behaviour of the bully or bullies and about ways in which you can respond effectively. Look into your employer’s approach to employee welfare. Knowledge will help you deal with the situation.

• Talk to your colleagues and friends. Seek input from those you work with; have they witnessed any of the incidents you’ve experienced? If so, their evidence will prove useful to you if you need to escalate a complaint. Have they experienced any similar bullying behaviour from the individuals? Knowing you’re not alone may help you to address the problem. If you feel uncomfortable talking to a colleague, you should report to the practice manager or someone in a senior position. Remember that you can also talk to your friends and family as they can offer emotional support. It is important to try and tell someone close to you what is going on so that you are not bottling things up. Talking about what you are going through can give you the courage to take steps which will ensure it is stopped.

Sometimes, victims of bullying bottle up their emotions and try not to let them show in front of their friends or family. It can be hard for someone to feel all these emotions and keep the feelings to themselves, and their behaviour may change as a result. They may show their feelings in other ways, so knowing the signs to look out for is really important. Possible signs are:

  • Self-harm.
  • Feeling depressed.
  • Withdrawing socially and stopping going out.
  • Avoiding social media or online messages.
  • Feeling anxious about going to work. 
  • Being very angry and/or aggressive.
  • Bullying others.
  • Developing an eating disorder.
  • Turning to drink or taking drugs.

In extreme cases, a person may feel so low that they attempt suicide or actually take their own life. This is sadly a reality for some families who have lost a loved one through bullying.

How can you get bullying to stop?

It is never easy to stop bullying occurring, and it can take a lot of courage to make a stand against it. You may be worried that reporting it could make the situation worse. Here are some ways to address non-physical bullying:

Report the bullying to someone in the workplace. They may be able to take action and get the bullying to stop. If you are worried that reporting it might make it worse, perhaps you can ask your manager to just keep an eye on it as they then might see it themselves and take action.

Ignore it and walk away. Quite often the bully stops when they are no longer receiving attention or a reaction from the victim. It is always difficult to ignore bullying, especially when it is upsetting or if it is constant. It is really important to try and keep calm in these situations, even though the bullying might be making you feel very emotional.

Bullying from the perspective of a dental nurse

One of the most common forms of bullying within a dental practice involves nurses feeling inadequate because of something their dentist has said. Although there is no excuse for rudeness, not everyone is aware that they are acting a certain way.  It may be worth speaking to your dentist in a professional manner to highlight any issues. For example:

Dental nurse: Could we have a quick chat just before lunch please?

Dentist: Yes, sure.

Dental nurse: I have noticed over the past couple of days that you have been clicking your fingers at me to pass you things. If there is a certain way you would like things doing or if my speed is an issue, I would really appreciate you speaking to me so we can work more effectively as a team. I hate thinking that I am not up to your standards, but I find the clicking rude and patronizing in front of the patients. I want us to have a professional working relationship.

Dentist: Thank you for bringing this to my attention in a mature manner. No problem at all – I didn’t think about how this may come across but I totally understand and I would feel exactly the same.


Author: R Gibbons RDN

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