Nurse bullying has been a hot topic in the nursing community for decades. In an article published back in 1986, the phrase “nurses eat their young” was coined by Judith Messiner, RN, MSN. The article explained how prevalent the hostility is among young nurses and their more experienced coworkers.
Unfortunately, the problem hasn’t improved over the years. Counteracting issues related to nurse bullying is important not only for nurses and their careers but also for patient outcomes. In this article, we will go into depth on the subject of nurse bullying and how to avoid it in the workplace.
“Rampant hazing, bullying, and sabotage [can be] so destructive that patients can suffer and, in a few cases, have died.”
How Often Does Nurse Bullying Occur in the Workplace?
Believe it or not, 44% of nursing staff members have been bullied at work.
The director of the Workplace Bullying Institute in Bellingham, Washington, Gary Namie, Ph.D., says the organization receives more calls from nurses than employees working in any other field. In fact, 36% of calls are from nurses while the next largest percentage (25%) are from those working in the education field.
In 2014, The Joint Commission discovered a mind-boggling 63% of cases that resulted in some type of unanticipated death or permanent death were traced back to some type of failure in communication between hospital staff. It is highly likely that many of these miscommunications stemmed from nurse bullying.
What Are the Different Types of Nurse Bullying?
Here are some of the most common forms of nurse bullying:
- Calling names
- Playing favorites
- Horizontal violence
- Withholding of crucial information
- Spreading rumors
Here is one story that exemplifies how detrimental nurse bullying can be:
“From her first week, Christi, a 27-year-old intensive care unit nurse at a North Carolina hospital, stood out. The hospital had a recognition program in which nurses whose patients complimented them to management got a star posted on a bulletin board. The once-bare board quickly filled with Christi’s stars. Her coworkers, a group of 14 mostly middle-aged nurses, glared at and whispered about her. When she entered the break room, they would “go dead silent,” she recalls. And Christi wasn’t the only victim. Nurses on another floor fat-shamed two of Christi’s friends, calling them rude names until they cried.
Worst of all, the clique members wouldn’t help Christi with patients who required multiple nurses. About four months into the job, Christi had a patient who suddenly lost consciousness. She pressed the code button to signal that she needed emergency assistance with a crashing patient. To her shock, nobody came. Alone, Christi grabbed the code cart outside the door, checked the man’s blood sugar levels, and saw that they’d dropped so dangerously low that he was at risk for a fatal coma. After Christi pushed dextrose through his IV, the man regained consciousness. “He turned out to be fine, but for a full five minutes, I’m sitting with this man on the floor in sheer panic. My patient could have died,” she says. “I was devastated because these are people who are ‘called’ to serve others. To imagine they would put a petty, personal bullying issue in front of someone’s life is just appalling.”
How to Deal with Nurse Bullying
All nurses have a right to feel safe and to be treated with respect in their workplaces. For many, though, it can sometimes be difficult to determine whether bullying is taking place, but nonetheless, it’s crucial to pinpoint instances of bullying and how to deal with them.
Dealing with nurse bullying successfully is key to transforming all types of medical environments into safe places to work for the nurses and safe places for patients to receive care.
To keep nurse bullying to a minimum and potentially eliminate it, all nurses and nursing department directors should keep in mind the five tips listed below.
- Always model good behavior: The key to curbing nurse bullying is to set a good example. CNO of SSM Health, Maggie Fowler, says, “I’ve always felt the best way to address bad behavior in the workplace is to begin by defining good behavior, including setting expectations on how we treat each other using common core values that embrace respect.”
- Document all instances of abusive behavior: There must be policies in place that encourage nurses to document all forms of workplace bullying. This means encouraging them to save any and all texts, emails, or letters that indicate how the bullying is taking place as well as the perpetrator(s). With documentation, it becomes easier to handle the situation in a proper manner.
- Make it easy to report instances of bullying: All nurses should feel comfortable reporting any documentation they have of nurse bullying as well as to simply talk about it with superiors.
- Learn the difference between constructive criticism and bullying: Not all reported instances of nurse bullying are actually bullying. In some cases, it is discovered that constructive criticism was simply interpreted as bullying. Understanding the difference between the two is key for reporting bullying.
- Be supportive of victims of nurse bullying: “This show of support, by physical presence, reinforces that this type of behavior is unacceptable and that the rest of the team is united against the abuse,” Fowler says.