Informal actions and first steps
1. Keep calm
This can be hard to do but, try to stay calm and prevent things from escalating in the moment. Be aware of how you feel and how the behaviour may have affected your cognition and that of those around you. You may need to take time away from the situation if safe to do so. Try not to take it personally. It is likely that the individual is unaware of the impact their behaviour has had on you and that it was unintended in the way it has landed.
It is usually best to ‘call out’ the behaviour soon after the event rather than in the moment, unless safety is being compromised. However you may feel unable to do so yourself and should not be afraid to seek support and have someone address the issue on your behalf.
2. Take time and reflect
Reflect on the incident. Try to understand what happened. Was it intentional or inadvertent? Was it a one-off or part of a pattern? All of us can have a bad day and behave in a way that we would not do usually, although this does not make it acceptable. The individual may acknowledge this and apologise. You can use structured reflection (see Reflection on a difficult communications episode (Word document) ) to help work through an event or difficult communication episode. Do you feel that what has happened is a case of bullying or undermining?
3. Write it down
If the incident is not resolved or is repeated it is often useful to record what has happened. This is best done soon after the event when your memory is fresh. Include who was present at the time (witnesses). If the person involved has been bullying through emails then keep a copy of them. In recurrent incidents, record each interaction and communication. This record will help you to have objective discussions. These records will also be useful if, later down the line, you pursue formal action.
4. Talk to someone
Remember that you are a valuable member of the team. Neither you nor your team should accept these behaviours at work, whatever your role, be it senior or junior to the perpetrator or in an allied specialty and whether intended or unintended. Discuss the incident with someone you trust who can support you, help you define what happened and help you with the next steps. Ideally this person would be willing to be involved in the discussions that follow or be able to direct you to further support.
5. Speak to the person in question
Visit Module 8 "Addressing poor workplace behaviours and 'calling it out'" for advice on speaking up. It will explore ways that you might approach a conversation with the person who subjected you to the behaviours that you felt were poor. It will also give examples of how an individual could do this on your behalf as it can be difficult to do this yourself.
Escalating concerns and formal actions
While the majority of issues with poor workplace behaviour can be successfully addressed by informal actions, some persistent or serious incidents will need to be escalated.
If you need to escalate your concerns then it is usually appropriate to involve your line manager, an educational supervisor or mentor equivalent, and later if needed human resources (HR). You should also look at your local bullying policy. You may want independent support from an external organisation such as the BMA, RCM, RCN or ACAS.
It would be expected that your line manager would explore the issue with you, ask you how you would like the issue to be resolved and speak to the individual(s) involved. ACAS
Options for action include:
- Mediation: Mediation can be very successful. The aim of the mediation process is to get both parties back to a civil working relationship. A mediator, who may be from an external organisation, will listen to both sides of the story and understand what both parties want to happen. It is voluntary, confidential and not usually legally binding.
- Making a formal complaint: Formal complaints can be raised by a written letter to a manager. This requires the manager to discuss it with HR. Your workplace’s policy will then be followed and the issue investigated. This is a very formal process which is usually only undertaken if the other processes have failed to resolve the issue.
Many issues can be successfully resolved with early intervention which is why it is important to speak up to a trusted colleague as soon as possible after an initial event or to speak out yourself if you feel able to do so. This can be difficult as people often feel worried to do so especially if they are junior to the perpetrator. However, it can result in timely intervention, resolution and improved workplace behaviours and safety for all involved and for the wider team.
There are some specific circumstances when legal action might be appropriate. These are rare and you will need advice from human resources and external organisations on when and how these should be used. You can find out more information in Module 7, Question 5 "What is the law regarding undermining and bullying".
‘I am trainee registrar in O&G and an international medical graduate. I felt bullied by a midwife in my department who took a dislike to me. I was told by several consultants in the unit that this midwife had been making some comments about my attitude, decision-making and clinical skills to them. The senior doctors did not agree with this assessment and they told me that I should be careful around her. With this background context I then had three formal complaints made about me by patients who had encountered this midwife. When the complaints were investigated no clinical shortcomings were found.
I knew what had happened was wrong. Fortunately, I spoke with my educational supervisor and clinical director who were very supportive. I went on to submit a formal letter raising this issue as bullying. Our human resources department facilitated a mediation. We shared our different perspectives and agreed that the behaviour appeared like bullying but that this was not the midwife’s intent. She apologised for this.’