TRU faculty share research on workplace bullying

Florriann Fehr and Michelle Seibel share research on bullying amongst nurses

Fehr and Seibel presented their research as part of the Deans Lecture Series at the Kamloops public Library on June 14. (Wade Tomko/The Omega)

Recognizing bullying at school or in the workplace is often the first step in preventing future situations and minimizing the impact that bullying can have on individuals.

For the last five years, two school of nursing faculty, Florriann Fehr and Michelle Seibel have gathered research on the effects of bullying in the workplace, specifically amongst nurses and other medical practitioners.

Last Thursday, Fehr and Seibel presented their research to the Kamloops community at the downtown library as part of the Deans Lecture Series.

“Our mission is to recognize bullying,” Fehr said. “We want to own it as a profession and we want to raise the confidence in our students as a starting point. We are looking at it as what can we do as a faculty member in a nursing role and prevent it from perpetuating and getting worse.”

Funded by WorkSafeBC, over the past five years Fehr and Seibel have collected data from five nursing schools across Canada and have passed on their knowledge of cognitive rehearsal training as a best practice in preventing the perpetuation of bullying culture.

According to Seibel, hospitals and other care facilities such as nursing homes are some of the worst workplaces for bullying.

“95 per cent of nurses will report some form on horizontal violence in any given year,” Seibel said. “Horizontal violence is nurse to nurse, people at the same level. 70 per cent of nurses say they’ve been bullied in the last year. That is a conservative statistic.”

According to Fehr, student nurses and young female nurses are the most susceptible to bullying. Though she adds even more experienced nurses who move to new units are often bullied as well.

“I’ve been a nurse since 1992, but if I go to a new unit, I’m going to be a target,” she said.

Fehr says the situation is often worse for Indigenous or immigrant nurses, where racism often plays a factor.

“We have immigrant nurses coming to Canada and leaving their jobs quite quickly,” she said. “Maybe English is a second language for them or maybe they have an accent or something else culturally. Maybe it’s racism, I’ll be very forward about that.”

The toxic environments that bullying usually creates can have an adverse effect not just on nurses but on patient care as well, says Seibel.

“The impacts of bullying are tremendous on the individual’s psychological and physical health, so this results in people being absent from work, or being upset at having to work with somebody,” Seibel said. “They don’t feel confident and might call in sick. They might not be working to their full capacity. This leads to high organizational costs as people leave the unit. Ultimately it can lead to decreased quality of patient care.”

Yet part of Fehr and Seibel’s jobs over the past five years hasn’t just been to research bullying, but to teach nursing students methods to both combat and prevent bullying. Cognitive rehearsal training (CRT), or “theatre of the oppressed,” is a workshop session where students roleplay being bullies, victims and bystanders in order to get a feel of how they should respond to confrontation.

“Changing the way we think about confrontation can change the outcome of it,” Seibel said. “The value of roleplay is to be in a situation where someone has said something to you and whether or not you’re acting, makes you understand it at a whole other level. Being able to respond to it is much better than having an intellectual discussion on bullying.”

Though Fehr and Seibel have focused on bullying amongst nurses, they say that their research is applicable to many different fields. Fehr notes that the most important part in preventing bullying is creating dialogue, something she says never happened when she was in nursing school.

“We’re making a cultural change in the way that we teach. When we were going to school we didn’t have these talks,” she said. “This is something we are really trying to persuade the curriculum to change across Canada and we’ve been doing multiple workshops as part of that. We’re ultimately teaching strategies and they’re relevant in any workplace.”