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Bullying in the Workplace

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by Julie Reyes Julie Reyes (Member) Member Writer Expert Nurse Verified

Julie Reyes has 6 years experience and specializes in pediatrics, occupational health.

1 Follower; 44 Articles; 65,210 Profile Views; 260 Posts

You have heard it said that "Nurses eat their young", and you may actually have been on the receiving end of that. How can you respond if you are bullied at work? How do you know if you are bullied? How do you know if you ARE the bully?

Bullying in the Workplace

October is National Bullying Awareness Month. Bullying can occur in places other than on the schoolyard or in the school hallways. Bullying in the workplace is a very real occurrence that happens on a daily basis. Nurses can be victims of a bully in several ways: horizontal (from upper level management - charge nurse, supervisor, manager, etc), vertical (nurse to nurse), or even from patients. This article will focus on bullying from coworkers.

I was caring for my 16 month old patient who had a drain from her skull as a result of neurosurgery the day before. The surgeon had come in to remove her drain and she was having a scant amount of drainage from her site. The father wanted to hold his daughter, so I gently placed some gauze on her site and taped the gauze into place. At this point, the charge nurse walked in and became verbally aggressive in saying that the surgeon would not want gauze placed on the site, and then began to criticize other aspects of my care for this patient - including the temperature! I was taking a temp with the manual temp instead of the monitors - I had my reasons! The father immediately lost all trust in me caring for his daughter. I had not done anything wrong in my care for this patient, and I had already talked with the surgeon outside of the room and he said I could put gauze on her if she was draining some.

This is an example of nurse bullying. The Department of Labor (DOL) identifies bullying as a behavior that creates defenselessness or demoralizes the victim's right to dignity in the workplace (2006). Furthermore, bullying involves verbal abuse, humiliating or intimidating behaviors, threats, or behavior that interferes with the job performance (Center for American Nurses, 2007). Murray (2009) cites ten tell-tale signs of workplace bullying. Included in these 10 signs are: the inability to please a supervisor, undermining of an employee who is trying to do their job, accusations of incompetence of a previously proved area of excellence, yelling or screaming at others in order to make them look bad, degradation of the employee in front of others, and inability to get help despite requests by the victim for interventions, thus leaving the nurse to be filled with dread and stress.

The effects of bullying in the workplace should not be taken lightly. Bullying has become an increasing factor of job dissatisfaction, work related injuries, absences from work, decreased productivity, AND has been found to cost employers over $4 BILLION dollars yearly (Murray, 2008)! Workers who have witnessed the effects of bullying - or have been a victim their self - can attest to the frustration and even anger that can arise after falling prey to the bully or the "minions" who are in cahoots with the bully.

What to do? I can tell you what I did, and the bullying stopped (for the most part) for me. I say "for the most part" because after this charge nurse was given the choice of being fired or transferring out of our unit, she verbally attacked me when I transferred a patient to her care from the ICU. After the initial degrading in front of my patient's father, I told the nurse, "I want to speak with you in the hallway" in a cordial, calm voice. When we were alone, I addressed the problem head on - again, in a calm and professional manner. I told her, in no uncertain terms, that she would never address me again like that in front of a patient, and if she had anything at all to say about how I provided care that was harmful to the patient, then we could discuss it away from the patient. Surprisingly, this nurse apologized to me.

A few weeks later, the nurse was dismissed from the PICU because of her unethical actions, and given the option to quit or to be reassigned. She chose reassignment. I thought our problem was over and behind us, until I transferred a patient from PICU to her floor, and to her care. After showing the RN the patient (here are her IV's, here is her incision, etc) she accepted the patient in good condition. However, while the patient was in her care, the IV became occluded, her surgical site began bleeding, and she told the surgeon I took the patient to her "gushing blood" and had occluded IV's. Thankfully, I had a witness who was in the room when we went did the patient SBAR handoff and assessment, and she attested to the false accusation.

I love an article written by Malcolm Lewis (2006). This article consists of a table that explains features of bullying activity. Lewis cites bullying activity is planned and deliberate in order to discredit a coworker; undermining, verbally abusive, physically abusive (although this is rare), sarcastic, continuously criticizes, demeaning, fabricates complaints, sets one up to fail, and they are usually aware of the damage they are causing. Interestingly, the time frame for bullying can last from months to years ('serial bullying').

The victim should follow the chain of command when reporting bullying incidents in a timely manner. In the case of vertical bullying (nurse to nurse) the manager should be informed. If the manager is the one who is the bully, documented incidents should be reported to the next level up. It is vitally important for the victim to have written documentation and dates of each incident, as well as the steps taken to report the bully. Additionally, the victim must always act like a professional, so that repercussions will not befall the victim for actions that are unbecoming. The Joint Commission (TJC) cites the bullying behavior must be addressed in the workplace (2008). This can include a "zero tolerance" policy for "intimidating and/or disruptive behaviors" (2008).

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Julie Reyes, DNP, RN

1 Follower; 44 Articles; 65,210 Profile Views; 260 Posts

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gypsyd8 has 10+ years experience and specializes in TELE, CVU, ICU.

2 Articles; 276 Posts; 13,696 Profile Views

Well it looks like my new job might not pan out so well & I am considering how far my life insurance would go supporting my family until they could support themselves. It's a long story but basically a "preceptor" got irritated with me. When I gave her the eval she kept putting it off until on the third day of orientation she said she didn't have time to fill it out and would give it directly to my manager.

I will not get into specifics but she prepared a diatribe of lies and half truths that I could not defend at my disciplinary meeting becaue I am still on probation.

I always assumed it was backbiting women because I work in a predominantly female profession but men can be just as bad. I mean I have had women in my profession make stuff up about me to cause me to lose my license. Not just my job, but my entire career of ten years and $84000 and any ability to support my family ( at the time it was only a 2 year career with no student loans). I have met fellow "professionals" who would literally put me and my daughter and my mother and my brother out on the street where we would have to eat our eight cats.

The time that happened my husband screwed an 18 year old and I went to a very dark place. I lost like 30 pounds (and looked "hot," according to a bouncer in Vegas) and couldn't enjoy it because I was married and depressed and fighting for my livelihood. I was able to get angry and use that anger to constructive purposes. I got another job. I showed up at my "investigation" armored with righteous indignation and a willingness to go to the mat. I won. I went back to school.

Im just so tired of fighting. Getting angry and fighting is the only thing that kept me alive for seventeen years. Im just tired now. I can't do this anymore.

Edited by gypsyd8
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I had a manager who was a complete and utter narcissist as well as a bully and a liar. I felt like she drove me out, BUT it was a good thing in the end. As an ethical and straightforward person, I cannot live with the irritation of dealing with someone who has all sorts of ulterior motives. I wanted a position and this woman thwarted my attempt with lots of ambiguous "assessments" and with the support of an administration who was as unethical as she was.

I left for a better position in another organization. I have a boss who I can respect. It makes me angry that i was treated badly, but I am better off away from this person and this organization. In my opinion, if you leave a bully in place, you never solve a problem. You shift it. They bully someone else or cause another sort of drama. That is how they roll. It is very difficult to change a behavior in a 40 or 50 year old person who has used this to get what they want for years. Often this is learned. Bullying nurse managers, charge nurses, and DON's were the norm in many organizations until recently. They mentored their successors with heavy doses of bullying and they produced many great imitators.

Maybe if a bully goes to another job where they have no status, it puts them in their place. I am not sure. I have worked with bullies at all levels. I remember one very nasty unit secretary who bullied all of the nurses. As a young nurse, I tried to appease her and be "super" nice. She just took advantage of me. These days, I still try to be nice, but not to the point of stupidity. Much of a bully's targeting of a person can be jealousy. They want something you have. The nasty unit secretary was bitter that "the nurses made way more money" than she did. Of course she would qualify it with even though..."they are stupid, lazy, whiny, etc." My snotty manager did not like that I had an MSN and she didn't. She would bring it up and would say it like she was irritated. As if I went to school, (before I even knew her) just to spite her. Of course, as a bully and a narcissist the world revolved around her and all events were judged on how she was impacted.

The real solution to a bullying situation, to me, is to get the bully removed or remove yourself. Life is too short to deal with that kind of BS. If this bully in the article was too nasty to work in PICU, then she did not belong on any other unit in that facility. If the organization won't get her out, get yourself out. It isn't fair, but sometimes it is better than living with her.

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Bullying for many is a touchy, yet befuddling issue. Because often times bullying comes in the form of subtle tactics and " cheap shots" , as the OP has described. Bullying can come in any shape, size, creed, relation, and color. The best option is to ignore the bully, but many times the bully is obsessive and there may be no way to avoid the bully, so the next option is to call the bully out as the OP states and let the dice roll where they may and answer to your own conscience rather than anyone or everyone else.

Ultimately, no one is that important and I think that is a main issue with a bully(ies).

There are more important things to do... for me...Mostly, nothing.

Edited by nowayis

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Gypsyd8,

My humble opinion, this is where the bullies want you. And it can cloud your mind like a flee bite itches. But if you can see past the haze this is the point where you can grow the most, a moment in time where you are most beautiful inside- out.

Questions can come to the forefront like what is truly important to you as a beautiful, and individual human being? And how does your experiences help you to see what those truly important things are and grow in your own beautiful way in every moment?

Edited by nowayis

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dnnc52 has 35 years experience and specializes in ICU,ER,med-Surg,Geri,Correctional.

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Most of the bullies I ran into, and trust me they have been around from day one. Have always been the corporate suck ups! Usually not the best clinicians nor managers. But great at putting their noses in dark smelly crevices. The best at gossip and picking their favorites. I have had a lot of really good dependable managers in my days but just as equally amt of bullies. The best managers are the ones that can and will do what they ask you to do, very simple but seems that way to me. The worse managers are you pen and notepad type. They walk around ready to write you up for any and anything, and encourage the staff to write up each other. There is an old saying " the chain is only as strong as its weakest link". When that weakest link happens to be the manager. Its all down hill. I use to enjoy job interviews. The part when its almost over and they ask if there is any questions. Well then part 2 of the interview starts. What is the nurse /pt ratio?, How many assistance, the staffing of all the shifts, average overtime/employee, and the big one was "What is your background?. some got intimidated, some though off guard understood that although I am applying for this position, I do not want to waste their time nor mine on a poor decision or poor fit. In others words, why should I want to work for you and this system?. If this caused them not to hire me. Well glad, most likely it would have not had lasted anyway. My most longest running jobs about 22years out of my 30plus years were established in these type interviews. Nurse are not a dime a dozen, we are not going to be replace by out sourcing, yes they need us more than we need them, when your applying for a job. The ball is in your court. I always caution the nursing students who I run into at the coffee shops studying. Do NOT take the first job because you think its your only opportunity. Pick you first job very wisely because much of you opinion you will have about yourself as a nurse nursing in general will be very dependent on this first job!. Also in the event of a poor relationship with your job. Don't start always thinking it was your fault. When you feel your job going towards the pits of hell. That's when you need to start looking at other options. Because all they are going to do is slowly but surely keep writing you up and finding stuff on you. A great job is like being on top of the world, even if its the hardest job you ever had, a mediocre job is miserable. A bad job is Hell!. There are so many avenues available in nursing you will find where you belong in time. Report a bully to HR in writing and keep a copy. Bullies always seem to have their main Sub, but always back ups. What bad is some bullies are so clever you don't realize you being bullied..

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Bullying is not just in nursing profession, but in every profession. I was bullied as a teacher. My solution was to leave one school and go to another. I am now a home care nurse and I love the fact that the only people I have to deal with are one patient and his mother. My job is the least stressful. I feel that home care nursing---at least for ME, is ideal because there are less personalities to deal with.

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I will bet most of these bullies were women bosses. Man, aren't they disgusting? Women bosses are especially cruel. I don't know why that is but it's true. I'd rather have a male boss over a female any day.

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I find that the norm is usually not that the bully is asked to resign or be reassigned. The behavior continues despite all of the "thou shall not" literature/policy that appeases the Joint Commission, but is hardly ever upheld.

Some bullies are literally so manipulative that they have everyone believing including management that the victim is the problem. Then, it seems, that the "whistle blower" is constantly being monitored, undermined, shunned just this shy of a patient safety concerns ("will you check this insulin with me? Anyone.....Anyone....Bueller? Bueller?") until it gets so intolerable, that the victim just moves on as life is too short for constant behavioral issues and foolishness.

Even to the point that when you go to the "higher ups" they half listen, nod and smile, and get you the heck out of their office. You are labeled a trouble maker, pot stirrer.

A better way may be to first and foremost go onto your corporate/parent company website. You can report ethical and/or compliance issues at a non-local level. Also, there are corporate employee relations staff and specific web pages that can also help.

People deserve to go into work, do the job that they need to do, and go home. To have to deal with unprofessional, unproductive behaviors that undermine patient care should not be part of that culture.

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"This is an example of nurse bullying. The Department of Labor (DOL) identifies bullying as a behavior that creates defenselessness or demoralizes the victim’s right to dignity in the workplace (2006). Furthermore, bullying involves verbal abuse, humiliating or intimidating behaviors, threats, or behavior that interferes with the job performance (Center for American Nurses, 2007). Murray (2009) cites ten tell-tale signs of workplace bullying. Included in these 10 signs are: the inability to please a supervisor, undermining of an employee who is trying to do their job, accusations of incompetence of a previously proved area of excellence, yelling or screaming at others in order to make them look bad, degradation of the employee in front of others, and inability to get help despite requests by the victim for interventions, thus leaving the nurse to be filled with dread and stress."

 

Yup. I've been working with someone who oriented me to my current position and who fits these above parameters to a fault. As a veteran nurse, I am appalled at her approach. More than that, I am intrigued that people like this even exist.

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fawnmarie has 15 years experience and specializes in Psychiatric Nursing.

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Thank you for this intriguing article, which I read as I was trying to recuperate from an awful week at work. The bully is a female technician who loves to intimidate and criticize female nurses (she doesn't mess with the male nurses.) She is constantly making snide remarks in passing and has gone so far as to threaten one RN behind her back- "Susie had better stay the hell away from me today." This angry technician is always trying to split staff, to get others on "her" side, and just basically seems to get pleasure out of chaos and confusion. She finds a way to pick apart every nursing decision and LOVES for a nurse to make a mistake. Working on an acute inpatient psychiatric unit is stressful enough, and this workplace bully is making it miserable.

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gypsyd8 has 10+ years experience and specializes in TELE, CVU, ICU.

2 Articles; 276 Posts; 13,696 Profile Views

Gypsyd8,

My humble opinion, this is where the bullies want you. And it can cloud your mind like a flee bite itches. But if you can see past the haze this is the point where you can grow the most, a moment in time where you are most beautiful inside- out.

Questions can come to the forefront like what is truly important to you as a beautiful, and individual human being? And how does your experiences help you to see what those truly important things are and grow in your own beautiful way in every moment?

Thank you.

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