How do you decide what to do with a difficult charge nurse?

Updated | Posted
by BeatsPerMinute BeatsPerMinute, BSN, RN Member

Specializes in Critical Care. Has 8 years experience.

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Kinda long - see the TL;Dr (too long, didn't read) sentence at the bottom of this post if it's long for you atm.. appreciate any helps! 

Hey,

So, I could appreciate some feedback here... I'm an experienced ICU nurse (8yrs total) trying to figure out how to deal with a very experienced long term charge nurse (20 years on this unit, over 30 years nurse experience total) who I am having problems with. 

It's a pattern of behavior issue... Compared to other charge nurses, she does very little bedside care and only assists other nurses on the unit until she absolutely has to. She's valuable because she knows how to manage people, heads committees, has A TON of knowledge and experience, + she knows people (like, upper management). She knows how to phrase things and get things done, too. 

What's upsetting is when I clock into work, I work HARD. I'm a busy body. I check on on my neighbor nurses. I say yes to even the most undesirable tasks (help fellow nurse with a clean up - it's an ISO patient, and there's poop everywhere).I'm very good at paying attention to details and whats going on in the unit. I complete requirements / education / audits / whatever extra is asked of me - on time. 

Meanwhile, this charge nurse is sitting on her fat butt most of the time just chit-chatting with other people, being 'entertaining', laughing, joking, sharing stories, plans, vacations, whatever... When I approach her, she initially ignores me, and then I stand there until Im noticed by her. Side note - its really uncomfortable, and especially when other people are giving her subtle cues to be like "hey, she needs to speak to you' and then even that goes ignored for a lil while. When this charge nurse does acknowledge me, first response 95% of the time, is to give me a glare followed by a sigh... and then she asks what I need. When I tell her, she tries to delegate to someone else. When that cant happen and I truly need her help, her glares last longer and her sighs get louder. I can't even count the number of times this charge nurse brags about how mean she could be towards other nurses or family members. She brags about how much harder she could have come down on them.

I've received patients from the ED and other units, and the nurse giving me bedside report are nearing tears, telling me how mean this charge nurse is. 

Charge nurse will say things that communicate her intent to belittle people, to shut up, and leave her alone. It's hard to explain... I don't get it. 

Other info:

I get along with the other charge nurses and don't have issues with them. It's just this particular charge nurse I have a problem with.

I've ignored the charge nurses's behavior and moved on before. I've balled up multiple times and approached this charge nurse - again, she just uses tactics that I don't know how to navigate around...

I've brought this to my nurse directors attention before and things seemed to go well for awhile... now we are back to this charge nurse treating me like crap. I respect my nurse director and she would be totally willing to address this again, but our unit is going through a rough patch and I am trying to get creative and hold off until absolutely necessary because my nurse director has a lot going on right now and many things to juggle (not words from her... just my own observations and its all very matter of fact).

At what point do you just decide to go back to nurse director? what are things you can say to tell a charge nurse that uses intimidation when all you wanna do is communicate "XYZ makes me feel disrespected and it's unhelpful to me in just doing my job" at what point do you go to HR? is any of that of any use? am I missing something?

I'm not at the point of quitting because of this one charge nurse. sometimes it's tempting... but I've dealt with worse. So, I can tolerate it.

TL;Dr: Difficult charge nurse situation who is blatantly belittling and disrespectful towards me and others + causes other nurses from different units to become very upset. Goal here is to learn something about navigating around difficult people especially those who have leverage and much more experience than me. What do? Help?

Been there,done that, ASN, RN

Has 33 years experience. 6,895 Posts

 You could file a formal complaint with your director and HR. Bur only is you can get the nurses from other units to make statements.There is power in numbers. By yourself, you have no recourse.  I don't know why you are sticking it out, I would be gone.

JKL33

6,382 Posts

Ask for your director's presence at a meeting with her.

When it happens, none of this:

On 9/23/2022 at 4:54 PM, BeatsPerMinute said:

makes me feel disrespected

I know that's supposedly some appropriate way to state one's complaints...how something makes us "feel," but I don't go for that as if my feelings are the primary problem. The problem is she is being purposely rude and obstructive and she knows she is doing it.

So anyway, as sweet as pie and with a nice even tone while making good eye contact, you say something along the lines: Thanks for meeting. I was hoping to figure out why you glare at me and sigh very loudly when I approach you for assistance. As you know, it's been going on quite awhile and I'm hoping we can find a way to move past whatever the problem is."

Just an option. I only used it once but it was very successful.

nursej22, MSN, RN

Specializes in Public Health, TB. Has 37 years experience. 2,762 Posts

My sense is that you don't respect this person at all. You disapprove of her work ethic (she sits around on her fat butt, while you WORK HARD). You don't like the way she looks at you. You approach her and she ignores you. This sounds a little juvenile, to be honest. 

Maybe she doesn't have your work ethic. Is it actually affecting patient care? Perhaps she is physically unable to be on her feet constantly Why wait until she notices you? Have you tried being direct and actually addressing her with your concerns? "Candice, I need a hand in room 5, or my patient needs an IV placed as soon as possible." If you know she is going to ignore you, then be more direct. So what if she delegates, if you get the assistance you need. 

I don't see how you think the director will make this person respect you, especially if you don't respect her. It seems to me you are being rather passive and letting her manipulate you feelings. I suggest being more direct and stop making judgements about mean she is. Perhaps your EAP can help you with being more assertive in your communication. 

JKL33

6,382 Posts

7 minutes ago, nursej22 said:

My sense is that you don't respect this person at all.

 In fact the OP did list the work-related strengths of this person, which seemed to me like more than we usually hear when people post about a problematic coworker. I don't agree with your take. I thought pretty much everyone had some experience with a CN who tries to punish people in this way--which is most certainly a variation on passive-aggressive behavior.

 

On 9/23/2022 at 4:54 PM, BeatsPerMinute said:

I've ignored the charge nurses's behavior and moved on before. I've balled up multiple times and approached this charge nurse - again, she just uses tactics that I don't know how to navigate around...

Sounds like the OP has tried a few things.

I do think there's no way I would approach and stand there silently to receive my punishment for approaching. I would probably take the drive-by approach with someone like this and say what is needed while passing by.

An assertive response (not an aggressive, argumentative or disrespectful one, but just pleasantly assertive) is what is needed here. This person is doing this because they know they can and it is having its desired effect.

There absolutely ARE people who act this way because they really don't want to exert themselves very much. There are people who act this way just to bug people or to (try to) make them feel insignificant.

I disagree that this is the OP's fault, but it IS the OP's problem. The answer will lie in developing behavior and communication that prevent this poor behavior from having its intended effect.

 

nursej22, MSN, RN

Specializes in Public Health, TB. Has 37 years experience. 2,762 Posts

2 hours ago, JKL33 said:

 

I disagree that this is the OP's fault, but it IS the OP's problem. The answer will lie in developing behavior and communication that prevent this poor behavior from having its intended effect.

 

I don't believe I said it was the OP fault. However, I firmly believe that I am in control of how I feel about myself. 

BeatsPerMinute

BeatsPerMinute, BSN, RN

Specializes in Critical Care. Has 8 years experience. 326 Posts

18 hours ago, nursej22 said:

My sense is that you don't respect this person at all. You disapprove of her work ethic (she sits around on her fat butt, while you WORK HARD). You don't like the way she looks at you. You approach her and she ignores you. This sounds a little juvenile, to be honest. 

Maybe she doesn't have your work ethic. Is it actually affecting patient care? Perhaps she is physically unable to be on her feet constantly Why wait until she notices you? Have you tried being direct and actually addressing her with your concerns? "Candice, I need a hand in room 5, or my patient needs an IV placed as soon as possible." If you know she is going to ignore you, then be more direct. So what if she delegates, if you get the assistance you need. 

I don't see how you think the director will make this person respect you, especially if you don't respect her. It seems to me you are being rather passive and letting her manipulate you feelings. I suggest being more direct and stop making judgements about mean she is. Perhaps your EAP can help you with being more assertive in your communication. 

OK, I am going to make this very direct: 

I admit, fat but comment was petty. I'm frustrated. I'm human so just give me the benefit of the doubt here. I'm going to ask to not get too hung up on that and hear me out and the bigger picture. 

I'm concerned. The behaviors of this particular charge nurse are affecting my co workers, and nurses from other departments negatively. My share that charge nurse taking advantage of others, one who brags about her intimidation (towards patients, family, nurses on unit, and nurses from other departments who are expressing nearing tears) in my opinion, should not be dismissed because you didn't like my fat butt comment made in moment of frustration when I submitted my post. 

Also, I've dealt with worse. In my 8 years of experience, I've only approached HR once about a charge and manager (in another hospital) who were treating me poorly. In that instance (a few years ago, at another hospital) I approached HR, prepared with documentation, recent even real time evidence that something really wrong was happening. I was always told to never bother going to HR. I'm glad I did in this instance - the info I shared got HR very nervous and it was put on their radar. They listened and paid attention and addressed it. Higher management got involved. 

Unfortunately, it got brushed under the rug - I was internally transferred quietly and things appeared to be OK for a short bit. A couple months went by, and then a severe situation occured that was at the fault of the crappy charge nurse and manager at the other hospital. A suicidal patient was ignored. The concerns brought up by the nurses caring for that patient were ignored by charge and manager and even the doctors. Patient was transferred out. Details are not totally known how this happened: but the patient got a hold of a gun on the other unit after downgrade. They shot at a nurse before (and missed) and then shot themselves and died. 

Obvs those people in charge were let go pretty quickly. 

I am learning. Do not accuse my character or pretend to know me and my experiences or make assumptions.

Yes, this is an entirely separate situation. Patterns of behavior that lead to whats going on RIGHT NOW just scream red flags. I'm asking for helpful advice. Your comment is very unhelpful.

When I say a charge nurse is spending more time on her fat butt - take it however you want to take that - what I am saying is that this nurse is truly being lazy, negligent, taking advantage of her experience and power and connections with people to do as little work as possible. And its leading to patient harm and nurse burnout on my unit. Morale is low and today while at work several nurses shared with me in confidence that they plan to leave because they're fed up. Some who are staying, but in burnout or nearing it, are making mistakes and being careless with patient care because it at the point where whether you work hard or not: result is the same by this particular charge nurse: chewed out or blamed or taken advantage of. 

FYI: I am very familiar with EAP (it is a very helpful resource) and have my own therapist. 

I could go on and share more details and examples about whats going on but this would become a very long share... 

BeatsPerMinute

BeatsPerMinute, BSN, RN

Specializes in Critical Care. Has 8 years experience. 326 Posts

On 9/24/2022 at 11:52 AM, Been there,done that said:

 You could file a formal complaint with your director and HR. Bur only is you can get the nurses from other units to make statements.There is power in numbers. By yourself, you have no recourse.  I don't know why you are sticking it out, I would be gone.

Thank you for your response. Haven't made a decision yet. Thinking out loud: currently towards probably going to start by swinging back to director. .. doing a one step at a time sorta thing and see what happens then consider going to HR if things get too bad. Going straight to HR or using the "power in numbers" might create more trouble and then break down trust with boss and turn that into a situation where I end up getting myself into more trouble what its worth. I understand there's limitations with that... don't wanna shoot myself in the foot though. TBH - if I just leave, I feel like Im running and not learning anything nor standing up for self. Wanna be sure that if I do walk away I can do so knowing I did the best I could and everything I could that was in my power to change things around. IDK that I can be OK with allowing ONE person's behaviors dictating my decisions, either. 

To answer your other part of your question: I am sticking it out because sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. I have complex personal things going on. I'm in no contact with family members d/t addiction issues / abusive / physically unsafe hx and situations. I don't have their help, guidance, support, ... no security there. I have wonderful, growing friendships / relationships outside that, however, it's not quite the same. I don't have the luxury of being that picky about job stuff. Just reality for me right now.  

BeatsPerMinute

BeatsPerMinute, BSN, RN

Specializes in Critical Care. Has 8 years experience. 326 Posts

17 hours ago, nursej22 said:

I don't believe I said it was the OP fault. However, I firmly believe that I am in control of how I feel about myself. 

I'm confused. Could you expand on this and clarify what you mean by this? 

BeatsPerMinute

BeatsPerMinute, BSN, RN

Specializes in Critical Care. Has 8 years experience. 326 Posts

20 hours ago, JKL33 said:

 In fact the OP did list the work-related strengths of this person, which seemed to me like more than we usually hear when people post about a problematic coworker. I don't agree with your take. I thought pretty much everyone had some experience with a CN who tries to punish people in this way--which is most certainly a variation on passive-aggressive behavior.

 

Sounds like the OP has tried a few things.

I do think there's no way I would approach and stand there silently to receive my punishment for approaching. I would probably take the drive-by approach with someone like this and say what is needed while passing by.

An assertive response (not an aggressive, argumentative or disrespectful one, but just pleasantly assertive) is what is needed here. This person is doing this because they know they can and it is having its desired effect.

There absolutely ARE people who act this way because they really don't want to exert themselves very much. There are people who act this way just to bug people or to (try to) make them feel insignificant.

I disagree that this is the OP's fault, but it IS the OP's problem. The answer will lie in developing behavior and communication that prevent this poor behavior from having its intended effect.

 

I really like this advice and I so appreciate your reply. For sure, the stand by silent approach has obvs not been working... This is very helpful feedback. This is the first time I've heard of the "drive by" approach and will def give it a go next time I work the this CN if or when she repeats same poor behavior. Thank you! 

Edited by BeatsPerMinute
NA

nursej22, MSN, RN

Specializes in Public Health, TB. Has 37 years experience. 2,762 Posts

Good luck, OP. I hope you achieve what you are seeking. 

CommunityRNBSN

CommunityRNBSN, BSN, RN

Specializes in Community health. Has 4 years experience. 856 Posts

I definitely agree with “don’t stand there and wait for her to acknowledge you.”  She’s already rude and/or doesn’t like you, so why are you trying to be polite?  Walk up and say “Excuse me, Susan, I need you for a moment.”  I’m sure it feels like interrupting, because people are talking. But if they’re talking socially and you need help with work, you have every right to loudly talk over them to get her attention. Yes, people might think you’re being rude— so what?  She’s already being rude to you, so I wouldn’t worry too much about how you appear. Beyond speaking professionally and keeping a neutral/pleasant look on your face.