Every NHS trust and ICS will have dealt with workplace bullying at some point. Based on the latest figures, we estimate that 21-25% of people in the NHS feel they’ve been bullied in the past year. That’s around 300,000 people.

What’s the impact of this? A recent study of people who experienced bullying in the workplace found that 75% reported a loss of concentration, memory and overwhelming anxiety, and over 80% felt the ‘anticipation of the next negative event’ – otherwise known as the feeling of constantly walking on eggshells.

People who have been bullied at work take more sick leave, are less productive, make more mistakes and are much more likely to leave their job. 

What’s more, workplace bullying doesn’t just affect the person being targeted. In safety-oriented sectors such as healthcare, it also harms quality of work, with potentially devastating impacts on patient care.

However, there is a way to change this. Research shows that kindness, positivity and praise in the workplace boosts teamwork and improves staff performance. This in turn leads to better care for patients and improved health outcomes overall.

Within healthcare settings, kindness really does save lives, and it also enables our caregivers to truly thrive.

How can we reduce bullying in the NHS?

So how do we move from workplaces rife with toxicity, bullying and conflict to cultures in which kindness and positivity are the norm?

By following clear steps to implement kindness into your trust, you can prevent molehills becoming mountains. The key to this is to tackle difficult situations early and approach them with kindness, curiosity and compassion. 

You’ll want to interrogate what’s behind the unwanted behaviour. People are rarely cruel for the sake of it, and bullying and toxic behaviour often comes from a place of deep insecurity and unhappiness. Countering unkindness with hostility and anger would be counterproductive, and would almost certainly worsen the situation. Kindness should always be the first step, and is the key to resolution.

The Respectful Resolution pathway

But where do you start? How should those conversations be structured and managed to get the best possible outcome? 

Solution-led approaches, such as our Respectful Resolution framework, provide you with the practical tools you need to make your trust a safer, kinder place to work, fostering a positive environment in which all staff members feel fully supported and able to do their best work.

Our goal is to help people resolve their issues respectfully, by discussing, defusing and de-escalating the problem.

The Respectful Resolution Pathway consists of five simple steps: 


    • Step one – Build a respectful, values-led culture 

    Perhaps the longest and most complex step to building a respectful, values-led culture requires commitment and persistence. 

    Here, you’ll need to take a holistic approach. Which is driven from the top, with your leadership team leading by example and showing kindness and respect to everyone, at all times. 

    You will need to clearly communicate expectations around behaviour and cultivate a psychologically safe environment, in which staff feel empowered, trusted and confident enough to voice any concerns. Culture change is no easy feat, but over time, your efforts will pay off. 


      • Step two – Reflect

      If you or your team experience, witness or are accused of bullying, describing and reflecting on the behaviour can help all parties to view it more objectively and gain a deeper understanding of the situation in order to move forward.


        • Step three – Provide calm, yet direct feedback 

        Once the nature of the problem has been established, it’s time to give direct feedback to the perpetrator, so they understand the impact of their actions.


          • Step four – Explore mediation options


          If required, this is the time to turn to the various supported resolution and mediation options that are available within your trust. 


            • Step five – Formal disciplinary

            If the situation is still unresolved, formal disciplinary procedures are invoked. However, this is always a last resort and never the first port of call. 

            Why kindness is the key to resolution

            Ultimately, it’s important to remember that people aren’t angels or devils – we’re all just fallible human beings. By approaching problematic behaviour with kindness and compassion, you will break down defensive barriers, immediately boosting low self esteem and reducing feelings of inadequacy, both of which are major drivers of aggressive behaviour. 

            Workplace bullying is a huge problem for the NHS, affecting wellbeing, productivity, and patient safety. Current policy-based approaches aren’t working, and it’s clear that we need a radically different approach that will nurture a kinder culture moving forward. 

            When we resolve our issues respectfully and choose to be kinder – not only to each other,  but also to ourselves – our patients and service users benefit, care is safer and conflicts are calmly resolved instead of being escalated. If you’re interested in implementing the Respectful Resolution model in your trust, please get in touch to start a conversation and find out how we can help.