Disrespectful and bullying behaviour has been part of the culture of health care since the first hospital was established by Florence Nightingale during the Crimean war, said Anne Harvey, Vice President of Vancouver Coastal Health Human Resources Division. Bullying and disrespectful behavior leads to lost work time, mental health disability claims and high attrition rates. Between May and October, 2013, 110 Operating Room (OR) days were lost due to staff shortages at Vancouver General Hospital. In the same period, fifteen newly trained OR nurses left the unit. Investigation showed that 59 % of staff stayed away from work, or left the job, as a result of a toxic work environment stating that, bullying is big in the OR and the number one issue in their workplace. The cost to replace those fifteen OR nurses was over $700,000 and would take over fifteen months (VCH-HR Data: Jan 2014). The impact on patient care and staff morale was enormous. If toxic workplace conditions were left unaddressed, it would be clear to staff that VCH leaders tolerated bullying in the workplace, and had no regard for staff health or patient safety. At the same time, an amendment to the Workers Compensation Act (Bill 14) was passed by the BC Government which instituted claims for mental health illness caused by bullying. The Act required employers to implement effective strategies to manage bullying in the workplace. Long Term Disability claim data for VCH showed that mental health was the leading cause of worker compensation claims. Curiously, at the same time, less than 20 bullying complaints had been reported to HR annually. It was time for change.
The challenge was to show VCH staff that, after years of turning a blind eye, the organizations leadership would not tolerate bullying and that if staff would take action by reporting bullying, the organization would support them. Building trust that the organization would respond became the core objective. In February 2014 VCH introduced an enhanced Respectful Workplace policy and first ever no-bully telephone line to encourage staff to seek help and report bullying.