How to Maintain Healthy Working Behaviour

When you are exposed to bullying or abusive behaviour at work there will be established pathways within your hospital and Health Board for you to report the bullying activity with an aim to bringing some resolution of the conflict.

It is also unfortunate that many of these pathways may lead to long delays in the bullying or abusive behaviours being addressed or that you may not feel safe or empowered to report the bullying and abusive behaviours.

In these circumstances it may be helpful to consider some of your options to help protect yourself from the detrimental effects of being bullied and abused in your workplace.

Below are outlined some options that you may be able to instigate yourself to preserve and promote the wellbeing of yourself (to mitigate negative effects on your colleagues, your family and your patients) during the investigative phase of your bullying complaint.

The advice below is appropriate for all grades of surgeon (trainee, SAS, Consultant) that are being bullied in the workplace and it is helpful to keep a personal contemporaneous diary of all episodes and consequences of bullying that you are exposed to.

Informal Peer Support Group

Usually you will not be the only person to have been bullied by a perpetrator. An informal peer support group can include those friends or colleagues who have also been bullied, or know about the bullying individuals/department that you are experiencing but can also include colleagues or friends who are not in your department, specialty or hospital. What is important is that you are all comfortable to talk openly within your group and that member’s respect the confidentiality of what is revealed. It can be useful to meet outside the workplace. It can be beneficial to know the location of a central 24-hours fast-food restaurant where informal meetings can occur outside of office hours and at short-notice in a ‘crisis’ moment. The basic benefit of an informal peer support group may be just to hear others reassure you that the bullying activity ‘is not your fault’.

Formal Support Group

Every Health Board will have an Occupational Health Department. If you are feeling unwell, stressed, anxious or depressed by bullying at work then you should self-refer yourself to your hospital’s Occupational Health Department. By self-referring you can retain your confidentiality right of the Occupational Health department not to share your clinic attendances and outcomes with your departmental management team. However, if you are requested to attend Occupational Health by your clinical leaders or management team then Occupational Health may be obligated to keep the referring managers informed of your attendances and outcomes.

Outside of the workplace you can seek help from your GP if you feel that your mental or physical health is being impaired by the bullying at work. Your trade union (e.g. the BMA) will have counsellors and staff to support and represent you at meetings with your employer about the bullying activity that you are experiencing.

Mental Health & Wellbeing, Mindfulness & Relaxation

Personal Resilience Programme

Resilience is defined as ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, toughness’ or as an ‘ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life but then come back stronger than ever’.

Personal  Resilience is now recognised in healthcare as a collection of features that can be learned by individual doctors and healthcare workers to make them more able to withstand detrimental effects of working in a stressful healthcare environment even though they cannot improve the working environment itself!

Below is a simple 10 step Programme developed for medical staff by the Dean’s of Yale and ICAHN School of Medicine although there are now many other online guides on improving your individual resilience. (The guide below was first published in a TIME magazine article on June 1st 2015).

“Very few highly resilient individuals are strong in and by themselves. You need support.”

- Dr Steven Southwick, Yale School of Medicine

“For resilience, there’s not one prescription that works.  Find what works for you.”

- Dr Dennis Charney, Dean, ICAHN School of Medicine


Drs Southwick & Charney’s Expert tips for Resilience:

  1. Develop a core set of beliefs that nothing can shake. (eg you will not tell lies, not bully staff, not cover up patient safety issues etc. State your beliefs openly & often when challenged).
  2. Try to find meaning in whatever stressful or traumatic thing has happened.
  3. Try to maintain a positive outlook.
  4. Take cues from someone who is especially resilient. (eg informal or formal  peer supporters as above)
  5. Don’t run from things that scare you: Face them.
  6. Be quick to reach out for support when things go haywire.
  7. Learn new things as often as you can.
  8. Find an exercise regimen you’ll stick to.
  9. Don’t beat yourself up or dwell on the past.
  10. Recognise what makes you uniquely strong – and own it. (e.g. see item 1 about your core beliefs and values).



back to top of page