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How to support care staff with workplace bullying

Adrian Ashurst - Author First published: Last updated:

Employers in the NHS and the independent care sector are required to take a zero-tolerance approach to any form of bullying or harassment in the workplace and senior care staff not only have a duty of care for residents, but also for their colleagues.

Examples of bullying or harassing behaviour and what can be done to stop or overcome it

Spreading malicious rumours

Sometimes, staff are jealous if a colleague achieves a promotion or praise for their professional achievements and will, as a result, start a malicious rumour. For example, they may first tell one person in confidence that they suspect the person who has been promoted has a problem with excessive use of alcohol. Unfortunately, the person spreading the rumour reports the matter to their senior manager, who in turn ensures that disciplinary action is taken.

Practical tip to prevent and help 

One good piece of advice is to never listen to or take part in spreading malicious gossip. Remember that you too may become the victim of gossip at some point, which can be very upsetting.

Encourage victims of gossip to speak up and address what they are experiencing.

Unfair treatment 

As an example, a unit manager in a care home may have, for the last 3 months, ensured that one of the care support workers works every weekend without a break. One day, the care worker requests a weekend off to attend a friend's wedding. The unit manager turns down the reasonable request without any explanation. In my view, this would be considered unfair treatment. It is vital to recognise that all staff are treated fairly and consistently.

Practical tip to prevent and help 

Ensure that all staff are given the opportunity to request time off and be allocated shifts that are shared out consistently across the care home.

It is important to keep a record of requests made for time off in writing, which will avoid any misunderstanding.

Picking on or regularly undermining someone

As an example, a manager and staff in a care home has a habit of picking on a service user with learning disabilities and low self-esteem. The individual is unable to manage his personal hygiene and he needs a lot of support. Other service users are unfriendly towards him. It is only when a new manager is appointed that the staff responsible for this unacceptable behaviour has been disciplined after the service users' relatives complained about the treatment he had been enduring.

Practical tip to prevent and help 

If you witness any behaviour that appears unprofessional and unnecessary while at work, you have a duty of care to report any issues immediately to a senior member of staff. Failure to report issues in accordance with your company's policy and procedures may result in disciplinary action being taken against you.

Denying training or promotion opportunities

As an example, a nurse who qualified 2 years ago feels that they need to be considered for additional management training before applying for the deputy manager's post, which has recently become vacant. However, the manager has overlooked the individual, as they have another colleague who they believe is better suited to apply for the post.

Practical tip to prevent and help 

If you find yourself overlooked for training and the chance of promotion, it unfortunately may be necessary to move to another care facility to seek promotion. However, if this is not possible and you must make another endeavour to gain further training, it is important to describe how a specific course will not only benefit you personally, but the organisation as a whole. With regard to promotion, it is important to be able to describe your role and contribution to the team, which should be evidencable in your commitment and consistency.

It is important not to give up and to try to stay well motivated and have confidence in your own ability.

Face-to-face harassment 

Bullying and harassment can happen in a variety of different contexts. We will use the example of a bullying manager to illustrate this. The bullying manager can often be seen as a figure of fear among staff. Their attitude is usually ‘do as I say and not as I do’, and they manage in an autocratic manner. They tend not to listen to new ideas and can experience high staff turnover and low morale as a result.

They criticise staff openly and in front of other colleagues and service users. Their reputation means they often intimidate junior staff and show no empathy when dealing with relatives and service users.

They often blame people for incidents that occur, and they are quick to accuse others if any issues occur.

Bullying managers often try and cover their behaviour by stating that their behaviour is just friendly ‘banter’ and not meant to cause any offence.

They can also create a small group of staff who the bully considers as their favourites, and cliques can form, creating barriers between staff.

Practical tip to prevent and help 

If you are experiencing any behaviour which you consider unfair and unprofessional, you must report it to a senior manager in the company, as it may be indicative of more serious issues of bullying and harassment that are being concealed.

Bullying and harassment is a serious matter, and a zero tolerance-approach to any behaviour that could be identified as such must be taken
The most important aspect to remember is the devastating and long-lasting effect that bullying and harassment can have on the victim
The excuse from the bully that the action taken was only 'banter' is not acceptable
Senior management, HR or a trade union representative are the parties to discuss any potential bullying or harassment with


Gov.UK. Workplace bullying and harassment. 2020. https://www.gov.uk/workplace-bullying-and-harassment (accessed 3 February 2021)

Adrian Ashurst

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