Workplace violence is not new in healthcare. Even prior to the pandemic, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that people working in healthcare were four times more likely to experience workplace violence than those in other industries.1 And recent data from Press Ganey suggests that instances of healthcare workplace violence have only risen since COVID-19 began.2
When considering healthcare workplace violence, physical assaults are often top of mind. Horrific events such as hospital shootings, patients punching or choking nurses, or team members throwing equipment at other team members are easy to classify as unacceptable – possibly even criminal.
But physical assault is not the only type of incident that undermines caregivers’ sense of safety and well-being, or their ability to be fully present and attentive to the needs of those around them.
Emerging research into the impact of microaggressions on mental and physical health make it clear that the adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” missed the mark.3 Names, threats, and other uncivil and exclusionary actions erode the sense of safety and well-being that are essential to excellent and resilient care environments.
Recent research by The Academy, supported by Vocera, now part of Stryker, introduces a maturity model for healthcare workplace violence prevention and response based on the following definition of workplace violence:
Workplace violence is any act or threat of:
Verbal incivility (including bullying)
Harassment, including racism, sexism, and bigotry
Other intimidation and disrespectful or inappropriate behavior
Healthcare workplace violence includes acts between staff and:
Patients, families, visitors
(This definition is excerpted from the 2022 issue brief by The Academy, Addressing and Preventing Workplace Violence in Leading Health Systems.)
Verbal violence and bigoted or exclusionary language and behavior have a detrimental impact on safety culture and team member well-being. Recognizing verbal threats, abusive language, racism, sexism, and bigotry as violence sends a clear message to team members that this kind of behavior is unacceptable, and there will be a response.
How we define workplace violence determines the types of collaboration and intersection between work streams that are necessary to create a safe work environment. The Academy’s broad definition makes it clear that healthcare workplace violence has dependencies on equity and inclusion work, culture of safety work, and leadership transformation.
The definition recognizes that physical violence undermines caregivers’ actual and perceived safety. It also recognizes that verbal violence has an equally important impact on their ability to maintain presence, adhere to safety procedures and bring their whole selves to caring for patients and improving healthcare delivery.
Team members deserve to feel and be safe at work. This broadened definition of healthcare workplace violence creates a foundation for innovation in prevention, response, and after care that ensures we are investing in safe and resilient systems and technologies for a long time to come.
Read the full Issue Brief on healthcare workplace violence from The Academy here.
1 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Fact Sheet: Workplace Violence in Healthcare, 2018 - April 2020. https://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/cfoi/workplace-violence-healthcare-2018.htm.
2 Putka, Sophie, et al. “Violence Against Nurses Worse Than Ever, Analysis Finds.” Medpage Today. Sep 2022. https://www.medpagetoday.com/special-reports/features/100679?x.
3 James-Bayly, Savannah. “Microaggressions: How and why do they impact health?” MedicalNewsToday. 2 May 2022. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/microaggressions-how-and-why-do-they-impact-health