Hello and Welcome to Season Two of the big five podcasts from Northumbria psychology department, where we learn big facts about human behavior and experience. My name is Dr. Genavee Brown and I'll be your guide into the minds of psychology students, alumni and researchers at Northumbria University. I'm a lecturer and social psychology researcher in the Department, and I love learning more about all fields of psychology. Each week on this podcast, I'll speak to a guest who is either a student alumni or researcher in the Northumbria psychology department. By asking them five big questions we'll learn about their time studying psychology. In preparation for the 13th International Association of workplace bullying conference taking place September 20, through the 24th in San Diego, California. I'll be speaking to Charl Emerson about her work on bullying in the NHS today. Hello, hi. Charl is a PhD student in COCO lab. And she's here to tell us a bit about her research. So Charl, would you like to tell us a bit about how you got interested in your topic and a little bit about the theory behind your topic?
Yeah, of course. So my research focuses on workplace bullying within healthcare with a particular focus on interventions. What interested me in this topic, most of all, is that it is such a prevalent issue. Most people that you speak to will have a story about negative behavior that they've either experienced or witnessed at some point in the workplace. However, it has only relatively recently actually been looked at in research to any amount of depth, we don't even have a strict definition of workplace bullying, as yet, within the research that kind of shows how relevant it is, as a topic is a fairly difficult concept to actually define as people experience and perceive bullying behaviors very differently. There are a lot of questions around how often someone should experience these behaviors before it actually counts as bullying, how long it should go on for and does the intent of the person actually matter to someone need to be meaning to bully someone for it to actually count as bullying. So all of these make it a very difficult concept to understand. And then that also makes it a very difficult concept to actually address as well. So it really is quite difficult for people to know how to address the behavior. And that's assuming that they can actually recognize the behavior as well, because a lot of bullying behavior can be fairly subtle. So people might not even recognize it as bullying, and then know how to address it. Also, what we do want people to be doing is to be reporting it to a manager or to HR. But there are a lot of barriers around this as well, because people don't want to be seen as being a troublemaker or making a big issue out of nothing. So it's really important for us to help people and empower people to not only recognize bullying, but know how to address it and know when it would be appropriate to escalate to management or to HR, there is some research around the effectiveness of bullying interventions aimed at teaching employees how to recognize and respond. And this area is progressing massively, but it's still limited. So a lot of the studies that we have to date have primarily focused on short term evaluations. So there really does need to be more of a focus on the development of a strong theoretical driven evidence base that focuses more on the long term rather than just short term wins.
Certainly, that's very interesting. I had never thought about that bullying could be kind of an ambiguous experience. And we don't really know how to measure that. Speaking of measurement, what kind of methods do you use in your studies to measure bullying, to ask employees about their experiences of it? And have you done any experimental work,
I have done some evaluation work of interventions are ongoing within organizations. So we will often use a pre and post and then a follow up design. And this means that we will be looking at certain measures before the intervention straight after and then hopefully we'll follow up in a couple of months after as well. This really helps us to see whether or not people are able to apply their learning whether or not bullying behaviors have reduced after the intervention as well. So we do have measurements out there that are really useful for us within workplace bullying, such as the negative behaviors questionnaire, which is really widely used, that's a big one. But you can also look at other things such as stress, wellbeing, turnover, intention, these are all also really good measurements of whether or not bullying is prevalent, how prevalent it is, and also the impact it is having on the employees themselves. What I've generally tended to do in my research is also use a realist methodology. So this looks at the context behind different circumstances that people find themselves in. So the general consensus in research is that bullying behaviors tend to thrive where the context is one where there is not a very positive culture within the organization. leadership styles may not be very effective at also addressing these bullying behaviors. stressful working conditions as well can be a really big risk factor. So realism methodology aims to come capture these contextual elements and consider how they can influence complex social behaviors such as bullying. And this really makes it an ideal methodology for looking at behavior change interventions, such as workplace bullying interventions, because we want to look at what influences how people engage with the interventions, as well as how they engage with their learning, following on from the intervention, and how that is ultimately going to impact on the outcomes that we actually see. So we also want to be thinking about mitigating any potential barriers to learning that people will have. And this might be within the intervention itself, or wider within the organization. We want to be able to recognize these and hopefully address them so that the intervention will actually do what it's supposed to be doing.
Yeah, that's very interesting. Could you tell us a little bit about that negative experiences questionnaire, I'm curious what kind of things are on that questionnaire.
So it asks about how many bullying behaviors you have experienced over the past six months. So you can answer on a scale from never to very often. And it will include things like threatening behaviors. So we don't include things like violence, physical violence, or sexual assault within bullying, because they are different behaviors in and of their own right. But you can have threats of physical abuse may count as bullying, you could also have gossip and rumors being spread about you being deliberately excluded from maybe social events that are happening within your team, you can also have things that could be being seen as more subtle, such as you could have a manager who is being very overbearing about your workload, or maybe giving you an unbearable workload for a very long period of time. And obviously, for these types of things, especially in healthcare organizations, where there is a big strain on employees and on resources, then it can be difficult to see where the line goes from being we actually just need people to try and pick up a little bit of slack whilst we're understaffed. And actually where it does become a bullying behavior. So you can see how these behaviors can be misconstrued or misinterpreted. And that can go in either direction as well, people thinking they're being bullied when maybe it might be due to organizational contextual factors. Or it could genuinely be being a manager who is bullying an employee. It's not just managers as well, who can bully employees, you can have employee on employee bullying, which often we will call horizontal. When you see it from a manager down to a subordinate, then that might be called vertical because it goes down. You can also see it the other way, as well. So you can see people who could be seen as having less power, hierarchically. So a newer member of staff, for example, may bully someone who is above them hierarchically? Now, usually, we would see this when you have a different type of power differential there. So the newer person might have more social power, they might be more popular within the department or something like that. So the negative experiences questionnaire does try to capture a broad range of behaviors. But again, there is still some subjectivity within.
Yeah, I think it's really interesting that you're studying the healthcare context. My mom worked in health care for many years. (Hi Mom!). And it is true that healthcare employees are very devoted to their job, they feel like it's a higher calling a lot of them, like they want to help out other people, and they feel, you know, my mom would go out snowstorms and go to the hospital, because it was her shift to work, you know. And so I wonder if that plays into kind of this aspect of bullying, like maybe they're more open to being bullied because they, they kind of feel that they have this, this calling that they need to fulfill?
Yeah, you will often see that within caring professions is that there is a much higher prevalence of bullying. And I think that there are two sides to it. So you will have the people like your mom, who is very dedicated to the job wants to do our very best for the patient. So we don't want to rock the boat. For example, if there is some negative behaviors, maybe they want to go the extra mile, you can see this in teaching professions and that type of thing as well. But then you will also have the other side of things where people will take advantage of people who are going the extra mile. And even if they maybe don't necessarily mean to start off that way, then if you ask someone to do something extra, and they say yes, over and over again, then they will subconsciously know that that person is someone that can be taken advantage of. So unfortunately, is human behavior, to push the boundaries and to take advantage for your own gain. It's always it's not always insidious, but it can then become something very problematic. Definitely.
So what is one of the most surprising or interesting or shocking things that you've found in your research so far?
It is actually the prevalence of workplace bullying in the caring professions such as nursing, so it was really eye opening for me. I worked in In the NHS in speech and language therapy, so I did work with nurses, most often community nurses rather than Ward nurses, because I worked in the community myself. But you always have this perception of nurses being very caring people, you know, will often think of Mary Seacole or Florence Nightingale when they think of nurses, so they have a very positive public image. But actually, when you dig a little bit underneath the surface, then you see these very negative behaviors that are often perpetrated towards each other, there is a common phrase of nurses eat their young. And that is very, very prevalent in the research, because nurses who are student nurses are who are very, very inexperienced, especially susceptible to experiencing these bullying behaviors from their mentors from people higher up than them. And it's not always just from nurses, either. It could be from consultants, you know, doctors, surgeons, anyone who is above them hierarchically. These inexperienced nurses are very, very susceptible to these behaviors, which you wouldn't expect to find in a profession like that. But it is a very, very big problem.
Yeah, I think there's also a quite a hierarchy in the medical field to like the doctor nurse hierarchy, but also the senior nurse versus the more junior nurses. Is that an organizational factor that could lead to this? And are there other organizational factors, specifically in healthcare that might contribute to this?
I think definitely, hierarchy is a big issue. So like I said earlier, we don't have a strict definition of workplace bullying. But some of the definitions that have been put out there do mention this hierarchy, this power differential, and that does generally seem to be a consensus that there will be a difference in power of some kind. But like I mentioned earlier, it could be social power, etc. But again, there are, there can be organizational factors that can influence the social side of things as well, which people might not necessarily realize. But when you have things that are set up by the organization, that maybe aren't particularly effective for everybody, so you'll have individual differences, like people may have children, people may have other caring responsibilities, it could just be personality, as well, that can influence how much social power these people hold. And there can be organizational factors that favor certain people over others. And this isn't necessarily deliberate. But organizations do need to be considering how inclusive and fair they are being of all of their employees, with different skills, different personalities, different backgrounds, as well. So we can see sometimes as well that people from minority backgrounds are particularly susceptible as well to bullying behaviors. So there are definitely things that are risk factors. But it's not clear how organizations are trying to improve this.
I think it's pretty obvious the next question, but how, what kind of real world impact does your research average research have?
Yeah, so the effects within healthcare, not only organizational, but they're also patient focused. So patient outcomes are very negatively impacted when there's a lot of workplace bullying that within that organization, so this could be health outcomes. There are also a lot more medical errors as well. So this might not always directly impact on the patient, it could be within notes and that type of thing. But ultimately, we still really don't want that because that can lead to serious errors in the future. Record keeping is also very, very important. It needs to be accurate within healthcare. So any issues with that do need to be addressed. But then we do also have the financial side of things, which is huge, because obviously, the NHS, in real terms has been getting less and less funding. And anything that we can do to try and help preserve resources within the NHS is really, really important. So there was a study in 2018, that did actually estimate that the cost of workplace bullying to the NHS is in excess of 2.28 billion pounds, wow, which is obviously a huge pot of money that could be going directly towards staffing, resources, patient care, et cetera. So whatever we can do to try and help that would be really, really beneficial. But the findings of this research could also be applied more widely, not just to health care. But I think that what is really good about realist research is that because it includes those contextual factors, then you can take that into account and you can cater whatever you get from that to better fit your organization. So that may not be within healthcare, it could be financial, it could be educational, etc, whatever. And hopefully, whatever organization it is that is wanting to address that bullying Problem. Hopefully they don't have one. But if they do, hopefully they could use these findings to work towards how they could improve it.
Yeah, definitely. That's interesting about the patient impact I had. And my last question for you, where do you hope to go from here? Do you have any plans post PhD?
What I would like to do is to research the experiences of neurodiverse employees. So they're very vastly under researched group. And so neurotypical people tend to make up the vast majority of the employees that are involved in this type of research. But neurodiverse employees could be considered to be very vulnerable to things like workplace bullying, this could be due to differences in social communication, and the provision of reasonable adjustments in the workplace, which they are very right to have. But you will sometimes get people looking on this in a negative way if they don't understand the reasons behind it. So I really do want to work with neurodiverse samples to just make their experience more widely known about because just because you have a neuro diversity doesn't mean that your experience is not important, and that you should be kind of pushed to the wayside. So I really do want to work in that area. But also, I think that working in recruitment, will be something that I would like to do as well. So that would again, be with neurodiverse samples, working towards making recruitment into jobs more inclusive and fair, because you'll often see in interviews, or even in job applications at the earliest stage of recruitment, that some people are at a disadvantage because of things like social skills being considered above technical skills, even when they're not necessarily as important for that role. And you can also see things like metaphors being used in interviews, when maybe not everybody will understand metaphors to the same degree. So that puts certain people at a vast disadvantage. And I really would like to work with organizations and within research to hopefully make recruitment overall more inclusive and fat.
It's an excellent goal. Thank you. Thank you so much for speaking to us today. Sharla. And if people want to follow your research and find out more, where can they find you online.
So I am available on Twitter, and I am on LinkedIn as well. And I post not overly often on those, but I do share a lot and when I post research, then that will be shared on those platforms.
All right, and we'll include those Twitter handles and LinkedIn profile on the show notes. So thank you once again, Charl Emmerson for coming to speak to us today about workplace bullying. If people would like to learn more about Northumbria psychology, you can check out our psychology department blog at Northumbriapsy.com. You can also follow us on Twitter @NorthumbriaPsy. If you want you can follow me on Twitter @BrownGenavee to stay updated on episodes. And if you'd like to be interviewed on the podcast or know someone you would, please email me at Genavee.firstname.lastname@example.org Finally, if you'd like podcast, make sure to subscribe to our podcast on your listening app. Give us a review and rating and tell all your friends about the interesting facts for today. I hope you've learned something on this voyage into the mind. Take care until next time