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Almost everyone in the field of healthcare has been affected in some way by abusive behaviour among co-workers. Some have encountered physical abuse, while others have experienced more subtle forms of abuse that are not always so easy to define.

Professionals from the fields of Nursing, Physiotherapy, Combined Laboratory and X-Ray Technology, Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, and Hearing Aid Practitioners have come together to create a series of tools and information to help you understand the issue and suggest ways to deal with abusive behaviour in a positive, practical way.

This first section provides you with the information to help define the abuse that is or may be taking place in your work environment. We hope that after you read through this material, you will be better equipped to talk to your co-workers or your supervisors to help create a more positive workplace for you and your team.

Defining Co-Worker Abuse in the Healthcare Industry

Here is a list of abusive behaviours that you may have encountered at different periods in your career. You might have seen some of the behaviours happening yesterday while others may have taken place weeks, months or even years ago. What is important is that you become familiar with the actions taking place around you that could be affecting your well-being and undermining the care of the patients you serve.

1. Backstabbing

Backstabbing takes the form of spreading rumours or gossiping with the intent of hurting another person or their reputation. This behaviour involves complaining about someone to others without speaking directly to that individual. In some cases, backstabbing may even occur when someone rubbed another person the wrong way without even being aware of it.

2. Broken confidence

This happens when someone repeats information that was told in confidence to others without consent.

3. Failure to respect privacy

This behaviour can take the form of spying, stalking, going through someone’s personal belongings or even tampering with texts and emails.

4. Infighting

Infighting can take the form of bickering between individuals and may escalate into the formation of hostile rival groups.

5. Intimidating behaviour

You might see this when someone is impatient with questions, yells or swears at others, is critical all the time, belittles someone’s opinions, hands out undeserved punishment or evaluates someone’s work unfairly.

6. Non-verbal innuendo

These forms of abusive behaviour can sometimes be hard to detect. Actions include: raising eyebrows, rolling eyes, sarcasm or turning your back on someone.

7. Sabotage

This is where someone is set up to fail or look bad by another co-worker. Sabotage takes on forms like giving someone a bad report, making excessive demands, assigning unreasonable duties, overloading someone with too much work, establishing impossible deadlines and even blocking applications for training, for a leave, or promotion.

8. Scapegoating

One person gets the blame for problems or issues even if it is not their fault.

9. Threatening behaviour

Threats can take the form of angry outbursts, swearing, throwing objects or physically abusing someone to a small degree with the threat of further or more intense pain.

10. Undermining activity

This happens when people refuse to work with others, ignore requests for help, exclude people, give the silent treatment, belittle someone, criticize a co-worker in front of patients or make comments to undermine someone’s confidence.

11. Verbal affront

You see this when someone makes snide remarks, ridicules others, uses sarcasm, calls others names, responds abruptly, finds fault, tells politically incorrect or racial jokes and uses condescending language or tone of voice.

12. Withholding information

This can happen when someone purposefully withholds important information to make someone else look bad or to make their job more difficult. They could refuse to provide answers they may know or even leave out important patient information.

What is Not Considered Abusive Behaviour

We have provided you with a list of abusive behaviours, however it is important to understand that certain workplace activities do not constitute abuse. For example, receiving constructive criticism from your supervisor, participating in performance appraisals, or developing plans to improve work performance are considered normal human resource processes, which do not constitute co-worker abuse. For a more detailed listing of the definition of abuse in your workplace, please consult with your supervisors, management or Human Resources personnel.