The College commissioned an independent report that contained shocking findings. These included,
- 49% of Fellows, trainees and international medical graduates report being subjected to discrimination, bullying or sexual harassment
- 54% of trainees and 45% of Fellows less than 10 years post-fellowship report being subjected to bullying
- 71% of hospitals reported discrimination, bullying or sexual harassment in their hospital in the last five years, with bullying the most frequently reported issue
- 39% of Fellows, trainees and international medical graduates report bullying, 18% report discrimination, 19% report workplace harassment and 7% sexual harassment
- the problems exist across all surgical specialties and
- senior surgeons and surgical consultants are reported as the primary source of these problems.
You can find the full report here.
There is nothing new in this- and surgeons may be no better or worse than any other professional group, including social workers. We ought to commend the surgeons on their honesty. But why is it so bad? Let me restate the blindingly obvious.
- Bullies get short-term results. We live in the world of the KPI, the financial year, and the spreadsheet. For many organisations these are not just tools, but substitutes for real values. So let’s get real about the causal factors between “performance” and bullying cultures.
- Bullies successfully “manage up” and accumulate power and influence. They seek to make themselves indispensable. Many are charming- some are just threatening. The result is the same- wrapping themselves into power structures with octopus-like tenacity.
- Bullies don’t care about their victims- their empathy stretching only to those who share their world view. Ironically, bullies often see themselves as victims, making the tough decisions, and doing work that others cannot stomach. This theme is eloquently captured in the Hollywood courtroom drama, A Few Good Men. In the climactic scene, a Marine Colonel, pressed to justify the death of one of his men says, “You can’t handle the truth! ..we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? ..I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You..curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know, that Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives! You don’t want the truth, because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall. We use words like “honor”, “code”, “loyalty”. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it! I would rather you just said “thank you”, and went on your way.” (You tube clip here)
- Policies and procedures meant to investigate and remediate are not used -or do not work. Whilst there is important work to be done to assure real justice and protect human rights, these processes will never be perfect. The best analogy is an ambulance waiting at the bottom of a cliff. And to be sure- if you need an ambulance you want a good one! However I have yet to see a workplace with a truly independent process, and sufficient to power to prevent the organisation from shielding the bully, together with the authority to deliver timely justice. Even the quick removal of a bully still leaves post traumatic scars and necessary repairs.
- Whistleblowers are often ostracized and punished. Like a surgeon seeking consent for a dangerous procedure, we need to be honest with victims about the true chances of proper redress, as well as the consequences of alternative choices. We all have stories of traumatised colleagues, who in hindsight, could have and would have protected themselves better.
And so lasting remedies will rely far more on prevention than cure. If your workplace rates highly on the following parameters, it will seriously reduce the oxygen that bullying needs to survive. Does your organisation
- Identify and reward respectful behavior
- Honor truth
- Encourage cultural diversity
- Acknowledge the need for work/life balance
- Plan for the long term
- Reject quick fixes and addresses root causes
- Nurture talent and innovation
- Seek to promote talent from minority groups
If your workplace does not have real metrics to monitor progress on these things, it will continue to be a haven for bullies. And no matter where you sit in your organisation you can have some effect on promoting a positive culture.