In my discipline (organizational psychology), we have studied for some time the issue of “counterproductive work behaviors.” These are activities that employees generate for the purposes of harming the organization in some way. Typical examples might include theft, sabotage or abuse of breaks and lunch hours, but in other forms of the phenomenon another employee might be the target of the counterproductive behavior. Organizations often act as breeding grounds for individuals to use social power against one another in order to enhance or preserve their own statuses, and those who do not enjoy structural power in the organization may find themselves suffering at the hands of those that do.

The attached article addresses what the authors call “bullying”, which appears to be a new organizing label attached to behaviors that have been discussed in patient safety for some time. Nurses have long reported that doctors treat them poorly, pharmacists have long complained of marginalization, and administrators have long been vulnerable to perceptions among employees of mistrust, aloofness, and arbitrariness in punishments. Remedies are suggested, such as improving communication skills, decision making, and advocating for collaboration. Leadership and staffing are also identified as factors that contribute to “bullying.”

However, there are many nuances to how power differentials play out in organizations that are not addressed. For example, “bullies” in organizations are often not out to harm anyone, but to preserve¬† their own position and self-perception. Have hospitals considered what structural and cultural norms are in place to encourage those with power to be so hesitant and fearful about sharing it? Teaching the appropriate skills is a wonderful idea, but skills are just tools that one has to be motivated to use.

Hope you enjoy the article, and comments are welcome.




This site is dedicated to psychological aspects of safety from a wide variety of perspectives. As a psychologist with background in consultation with pharmacy and health care, I am most interested in the application of psychological principles to the pursuit of safety in all industries, from employees to customers.

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