What is the difference between incivility, bullying, harassment and discrimination?
21 September 2022
Our wellbeing is significantly influenced by the culture of our workplaces and the way people speak to each other and behave. Bad behaviour exists in many healthcare workplaces and doctors may both be perpetrators and targets. Bad behaviour impacts on the wellbeing of those experiencing it and, by creating a barrier to good communication, bad behaviour creates a risk to patient safety. In addition, a doctor experiencing bad behaviour will not perform as well due to anxiety and a loss of confidence, this too impacts on patient care. Workplaces with a poor workplace culture have a higher rate of absenteeism and staff turnover which decreases productivity.
Workplace incivility is low-intensity deviant behavior (e.g. dismissive gesture or barbed words or passive aggressive behaviour) with ambiguous intent to harm the target. Incivility violates of the normal workplace standard of mutual respect. Uncivil behaviors are characteristically rude and discourteous and display a lack of regard for others.
- contagious and can escalate in a workplace if ignored.
- causes emotional injury, psychological stress, reluctance to speak up.
- lower job satisfaction and decreased work performance.
- poor communication.
- impact on patient care with increased risk of errors.
When someone says or does something unintentionally hurtful and they do it once That’s RUDE
When someone says or does something intentionally hurtful and they do it once That’s MEAN
When someone says or does something intentionally hurtful and they keep doing it even when you tell them to stop or show them that you’re upset That’s BULLYING
Workplace bullying is: repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed at an employee or group of employees that creates a risk to health and safety. Some examples include:
- verbal abuse and personal insults.
- unreasonable demands, unnecessary pressure and impossible deadlines.
- unfair allocation of tasks and/or working hours.
- undermining a person’s work performance, recognition or position.
- hostile behaviour toward an employee or group of employees including intimidation and isolation.
Some examples of the impact of workplace bullying are listed below. Note that everyone loses!
- distress, anxiety, panic attacks or sleep disturbance.
- reduced work performance and increased errors and incidents
- increased absenteeism.
- loss of self-esteem and feelings of isolation.
- higher risk of illness and poor general health.
- deteriorating relationships with colleagues, family and friends.
- difficulty establishing trusting, reciprocal friendships and relationships.
- long-term anxiety disorders and depression.
- post-traumatic stress disorder.
- increased risk of suicidal thoughts, suicide plans, and suicide attempts.
- impact on patient care with increased risk of errors.
Harassment can include behaviour such as:
- telling insulting jokes about particular racial groups.
- sending explicit or sexually suggestive emails or text messages.
- displaying racially offensive or pornographic posters or screen savers.
- making derogatory comments or taunts about a person’s disability.
- asking intrusive questions about someone’s personal life, including his or her sex life.
Note a one-off incident can constitute harassment.
The impact of harassment can range from simple irritation to extreme depression. Those who are subjected to these types of behavior can lose their self-esteem and morale. As a result, they are frequently disrupted and are unable to concentrate fully on their tasks.
Discrimination occurs when a person, or a group of people, is treated less favourably than another person or group because of their background or certain personal characteristics. Can be based on gender, race and cultural background, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, disability, pregnancy and family responsibilities, political views, age etc.
Discrimination can happen at different points in the employment relationship, including:
- when recruiting and selecting staff.
- in the terms, conditions and benefits offered as part of employment.
- rostering and overtime, leave applications.
- who is considered or selected for training and advancement.
- who is considered and selected for retrenchment or dismissal.
An uneven playing field due to discrimination can lead to lost opportunities, inequity and loss of talent. The personal impact of discrimination can include a loss of self-esteem and self-confidence, feelings of isolation and exclusion and a decline in mental health and wellbeing.
Bad behaviour in the workplace is never acceptable. It creates a poor workplace culture which in healthcare puts patients at risk of harm as well as impacting on the wellbeing of healthcare workers. If you observe or experience bad behaviour in your workplace, as a doctor, seek expert advice from the AMA Victoria Workplace Relations Unit. Also seek support for your wellbeing from the AMA Victoria Peer Support Service or the Victorian Doctors Health Program and talk to your own GP.
Sources of support for members of the medical profession experiencing incivility, bullying, harassment or discrimination in Victoria include:
- Victorian Doctors Health Program, available 24/7: 1300 330 543
- AMA Victoria Peer Support, 8am to 10pm - every day of the year: 1300 853 338
AMA Victoria doctor wellbeing and mentoring
Resources for further reading
- Workplace discrimination, harassment and bullying | Australian Human Rights Commission
- Bullying | WorkSafe Victoria
- Bullying in medicine: the biggest losers | The Medical Republic