Workplace Violence: The Unspoken Epidemic
Employee wellness seems to be prioritized by some healthcare organizations and institutions as they start to acknowledge its importance for employee satisfaction, performance and productivity. However, workplace violence remains on the top list of problems that healthcare workers face, where the pandemic has demonstrated to be a hurdle on the way to a violence-free workplace environment. This blog explores the impact COVID-19 has had on workplace violence.
Workplace violence in numbers
A study made by Spectrum Health analyzed the number of calls made by hospitals to report violence and harassment against their workers, where bites, scratches and smashed equipment were the norm. Data showed the following results:
- 564 calls were made in 2020, 57% higher than before the pandemic.
- 465 calls were made in 2021, a decrease of 21.3% from 2020 but still well above the pre-pandemic levels.
Multiple explanations for this rise in numbers were suggested; for instance, the mental health challenges the pandemic brought resulted in a record number of patients, in addition to the abrupt need of longer emergency departments, lack of staff and personal protective equipment. Which resulted in longer waiting times showing mass uncertainty and a latent sense of survival.
“Workplace violence results in significant physical and mental health impact to nurses and other healthcare workers.”
Workplace violence in nursing
According to a Health and Safety survey, nurses who provided care to COVID-19 patients reported higher rates of violence than those who did not. The survey pointed out that during the pandemic, 44% of nurses reported to have experienced physical violence, whereas 68% reported experiencing verbal abuse.
These numbers are concerning as they found that nurses that experienced workplace violence are two to four times more likely to present post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety or burnout.
4 in 10 nurses feel sad or depressed more often than they did before the pandemic. More than a third of them report feeling traumatized by their experiences caring for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Is healthcare management enough?
Even though workplace violence remains a problem in healthcare institutions where the pandemic amplifies the already existing situation puting workers safety at risk, some insights that arise include that managers and employers play an important role when it comes to employee wellness.
The lack of employer prevention plans show the employees interest in taking time off or leaving their jobs. A NNU´s survey discovered that 21% of respondents took time off after a workplace violence incident and 16% of healthcare workers left their job after being exposed to violent situations at work. This may indicate a connection between workplace violence and that shortage of good nursing jobs.
On the other hand, nurses were reported to experience moral distress due to employers disregarding their safety during the pandemic. 42% of healthcare workers reported that their employer ignored their reports, and when they did respond, the aid was unhelpful, ineffective or blamed on the affected employees. Only 39% of respondents detailed that their employer investigated what happened after the workplace incident.
“59% of healthcare workers reported that their employer fails to change practices to reduce risk of violence following an incident.”
These insights leave us with the challenge of changing workplace practices and policies to prevent and respond to workplace violence. What are your thoughts? What is your organization doing to address this issue?