How I suddenly became motivated to start my e-learning session on workplace bullying

As a researcher I have deadlines for almost everything I do. Deadlines are my worst enemies and best friends: I hate them because they stress me out and I cherish them because they help me prioritize and structure my work. Even if they are a pain at times, the truth is that without deadlines things just wouldn’t get done. So when I looked through my introductory package of e-learning at my host institution MCRI, the special part of my brain that registers deadlines zoomed in on the sessions that were due, which I completed, and stored the fact that there were more things there, among them one on bullying, with a deadline two months ahead. They didn’t look extremely exciting so I simply postponed their completion until the deadline was going to approach.

Now someone at the HR department might ask themselves: Why can’t people just do as they are told and complete the e-learning tasks as soon as they start their employment? When we are asking people to behave in one way or another, whether they are patients, clients, or employees, we are into the territory of motivation and behavioural change. A few things in life are so intrinsically motivating that people will do them anyway. Such things are eating, having sex, and seeking flow through whatever way is accessible to a person. Some people do sports to achieve flow, others play or experiment, some build, some cook, and some find their flow in art or music. All other things in life we need motivation to do.

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The health belief model (HBM) and the transtheoretical model are two helpful tools to understand why people choose to behave the way they do. Given they actually have choices, that is. Both models have been developed in the framework of prevention and health promotion. The HBM says that the perceived barriers to action have to be smaller that the perceived benefits of that action. In addition, the person has to feel susceptible to the outcome we are trying to prevent, needs to believe in his or her own capability to make that change (self-efficacy), and needs a signal for action.

The transtheoretical model was developed by Proschaska and describes the steps involved when a person changes their behaviour. In the Precontemplation phase people are unaware of the need to change and need information. Contemplators are aware of the need to change, but typically perceive barriers to change as significant and gains as too little. People in the Preparation phase are ready to start taking action and here self-efficacy and available support becomes paramount. People in the Action phase have changed their behavior recently and need to work hard to keep moving ahead. In this phase, positive reinforcement and rewards are likely to help the person to keep on the right track. 
People in the Maintenance phase have fully adopted a new behaviour, but need to be aware of the risks of ”sliding back” in the face of e.g. stress.

My signal for action was the workshop I attended at the Grand Rounds, held every week at the Royal Children’s Hospital. It was called the “Mock Court” and was a very well prepared improvisation theatre type of performance. It was held by a couple of lawyers who had started a company to educate people about the implications or labour law in the court system. In no time, we in the audience were in a courtroom where hearings had commenced for allegations of workplace bullying. The “witnesses” were actual employees at RCH, making the experience all the more real. When the cross-examination started I felt the chills down my back.

Two more witnesses came in and were equally diced during the cross-examination and I really wasn’t sure who would win the case. All the while, a slide in the background showed the legal definition of bullying. It was easy enough to understand what the employee’s lawyer was doing when he asked the employer’s representative if the consultant’s alleged bullying behaviour was repeated and inadequate. The defence lawyer, in turn, banged her points into our heads: “You had many options open to you, sir, when your manager wasn’t forthcoming with the support you wanted in this situation”. And she spat out the options with despise, again and again. I think everyone got the point.

This signal threw me into the Preparation phase so I logged onto my e-learning hub to have a look. I set a deadline and on Monday it’s time for Action. I believe now it’s important for me to learn about workplace bullying, I feel susceptible to the consequences of being ignorant to the procedures, and I feel I can overcome my resistance to put in the time needed to complete the online training. And a deadline is a deadline!

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