Bullying in the Nurseplace: How to Stop Eating Our Own Right Now
One of the first phrases a nursing student learns is that "nurses eat their young." was first used by nursing professor Judith Meissner in 1986. At least 85% of nurses have been bullied, according to research.
Nurses Can Be the Worst Bullies
Bullying happens when someone in the workplace repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards another person or group of people. Bullying can be intentional, unintentional, and even habitual. As if working long, short-staffed shifts, witnessing traumas, complex patients, and missed meals aren't stressful enough, we have nurseplace bullying at the forefront.
In my 27-year experience as an RN, I've experienced bullying on at least six occasions. I can attest being the victim of bullying is a very defeating and damaging experience. Being a nurse is one of the best choices I've made. But not feeling accepted, or even safe, in the workplace was almost enough to make me want to give it up.
I've had significant lessons in tolerance, vulnerability, and mental toughness throughout my career as a result of bullying. Being a nurse can be thankless and gut-wrenching on its own without dreading going to work. Being mistreated robs you of the joy that should come with having a career you value.
Nurses are expected to be selfless, compassionate beings and "do no harm" applies to nurses as well as doctors. Although the stellar reputation for which nurses are known behind the curtain lies a culture of gossip, name-calling, hazing, and manipulation. The American Nurse's Association (ANA) defines bullying as:
“repeated, unwanted harmful actions intended to humiliate, offend, and cause distress in the recipient,” is an extremely serious issue that threatens patient safety, nurse safety and sanity, and the reputation of the nursing profession as a whole. The ANA also states that "nurses are required to “create an ethical environment and culture of civility and kindness, treating colleagues, coworkers, employees, students, and others with dignity and respect”. Similarly, nurses must be afforded the same level of respect and dignity as others. Thus, the nursing profession will no longer tolerate violence of any kind from any source".
At least 86% of nurses have been bullied, according to a 2017 poll conducted by RNNetwork. 45% have been verbally harassed or bullied by other nurses, while 41% have been verbally harassed or bullied by managers or administrators. Nursing instructors should prepare and educate nursing students about the bullying they could likely experience in their future nursing practice.
People may think stressed-out, overworked, doctors only bully nurses. While this may be true and unacceptable, most nurses experience bullying by their coworkers and quite often, their managers. Bullying and harassment can be extremely harmful with a negative effect on the nurse's health, as well as his or her performance, both individually and as a team.
From our very first day of nursing school, we are taught to practice unconditional compassion, respect, and advocacy for our patients. How are we, as nurses, expected to uphold this mission if we can't do the same for our own? Nurses are in this profession together and should stand united, but instead, many compete, berate, manipulate, and gossip about one another with judgment and lack of empathy, generally for their gain, competition, or to maintain a position of power.
We know people are often complicated and have varying perspectives. Some are impossible to be around whether a negative attitude, problems at home, or positions of authority; however, none justify the act of bullying others, ever.
Some of My Co-worker's Experiences with Bullying
"I remember what drove me away from my passion. One of my co-workers blamed me at the nurse's station for an outcome. Bullying destroys the heart, soul, and spirit of those suffering it".--Becky
"The system fails us. The bullies seem always to win. I have reported the worst of worst behaviors over the years. Time after time, the bullies, or those who practiced inappropriate behaviors, continued to thrive in their positions. I have cried many tears and often wanted to turn my car around and go home, as I pulled into the workplace I loved so dearly".
Types of Bullying Behaviors
Bullying behavior may involve any of the following:
- aggressive or intimidating conduct
- belittling or humiliating comments
- spreading rumors
- teasing or joking
- sabotaging or preventing the target's success
- criticism or holding to impossible standards
- exclusion from after-work social events
- overt rudeness
- ghosting or ignoring
- "gate-keeping" - withholding information that prevents the success of others
- unreasonable work expectations or unfair assignments
- refusing to help or assist with work tasks
- inappropriate social media posts or comments
How to Stop Nurseplace Bullying
Bullies generally don't stop bullying on their own. You must "take the bully by the horns" and be courageous. It's easier said than done, but the goal is to take away the bully's power over you.
- Kill the bully with kindness. You could say "I'm sorry you're having a rough day," smile and move along about your business.
- If the bully talks over you with criticisms or in the presence of others, ask what they'd recommend. I'll bet you'll hear crickets and others will witness their behavior and reactions. The more people see a bully's actions, the more support you'll have. You probably aren't their only victim.
- Tell the bully the behaviors you see and avoid name-calling or labeling, such as "you're mean, nasty, or manipulative" as this only fuels the bully's fire further.
- Tell the bully how his or her behavior affects your work life, especially your ability to care for patients as they perceive you in a bad mood or uncaring.
- If the bullying occurs in email, social media posts, private messages, or texts, save a copy and document all incidents in the order they occurred. This proof will be valuable should you need to take any future legal action.
- Tell the bully that you'll no longer tolerate his or her behaviors towards you. You needn't reveal your action plan; i.e., documentation, counseling with your manager or human resources department, or even reports filed with local authorities.
- If the bully violates your space, call him or her out.
- Research and understand your company's policies and procedures on bullying and harassment, as well as the organization's values and grievance policies.
- Remind the bully that he or she is not fostering a patient-centered environment when they are targeting others.
- Be positive, confident, and assertive. Hold your head high and relax your face and body. Don't grimace, slouch or let them see they're upsetting you.
How Managers Can Prevent Nurses From Being Bullied
When one assumes a leadership role, they can no longer sit back and do nothing and must treat everyone equally across the board. Approaches managers can take to decrease nurseplace bullying include:
- Provide longer orientation periods to new graduates or any nurse who isn't experienced in that particular specialty. A one-sized orientation doesn't fit all and everyone learns at a different pace.
- Provide the new nurse or orientee with more than one preceptor/mentor so he or she can learn different techniques and perspectives and prevent burnout. Precepting new nurses can be a thankless and tiring task.
- Refrain from favoritism and exclusion with your staff.
- Don't expect new graduates to have the performance and knowledge of those who are experienced in the field.
- Provide more autonomy to the nursing staff, giving them more accountability and control over their jobs and decrease the likelihood of aggression and oppression.
- Create a culture of respect and have an open-door policy that allows the new nurse a safe and confidential place to report bullying or harassing activity.
- Encourage all staff to support the new nurses and report any witnessed bullying behavior; either directly or anonymously and have them be sure to document the date, time, location, any witnesses, and what was said or done.
- Hold the bullying nurse accountable for his or her actions to prevent behaviors from continuing.
Preventing and reporting bullying and harassment is everyone’s responsibility, not just the victim. If you see something, say something.
Call to Action Against NursePlace Bullying
Putting a stop to and reporting bullying is everyone's responsibility. If you see something, say something before things get out of hand, or someone gets hurt. Know your institutions' chain of command and the appropriate phone numbers for reporting bullying behaviors. Always remember, you're never alone, and bullying in the nurseplace is serious.
To help raise awareness and stop nurseplace bullying, please share this article on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, or even a printed copy on your nurseplace bulletin board. We shouldn't be silent and must make a stand to preserve the safety and dignity of our great profession.
Feel free to share your own experiences with nurseplace bullying in the comments below and respond to the poll below regarding your experience with nurseplace bullying.
Have You Ever Been a Victim of Nurseplace Bullying?
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Debra Roberts