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Nurses and Bullying: 4 Things You Can Do

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jeastridge is a BSN, RN and specializes in Faith Community Nurse (FCN).

5 Followers; 104 Articles; 149,359 Profile Views; 430 Posts

What can you do about bullying in the workplace?

Bullying is real. It happens in all workplaces, including settings where we work as professional nurses. How can you recognize it? What can you do about it?

Nurses and Bullying: 4 Things You Can Do

Cindy was an older new grad. She went back to school after a long and successful career as a chemist, deciding that she wanted to be a nurse and explore other avenues of service for her “second half” of life. Capable and efficient in her first line of work, it was a shock to find herself as a novice where everything felt unfamiliar and where mastery was a ways off. Her first place of work was on a busy ortho floor. The second week at work, she called me crying. “Their expectations are so high. They keep threatening me.” I tried to listen without judging or offering advice, but something just seemed off. Every few days she texted or called and what she described didn’t seem like anything I had ever experienced as a nurse: where there should have been mentoring, there was censoring; where there should have been guidance, there was abandonment; where there should have been counseling, there was silence and isolation. The source of most of the problems was her preceptor, a young nurse, who my friend described and very physically attractive but unkind. As it turns out, she was a bully.

Nursing is Not Immune to Bullying

While we would hope that in such a caring profession, we would find a greater percentage of people with compassionate care agendas, sadly there are also a number of practitioners who exhibit the characteristics of a bully: they are critical,  negative, they isolate their victims, avoid meeting with them, and generally make life miserable.

According to a study by Etienne, “Bullying in the nursing workplace has been identified as a factor that affects patient outcomes and increases occupational stress and staff turnover.” (Exploring Workplace Bullying in Nursing)

Signs of Bullying

The trouble with bullying is that it is often subtle and therefore difficult to recognize as such. While the playground bully may be overt and even violent, the adult bully is usually disguised under heavy layers of professional accomplishment and years of experience with manipulating others. They come in all shapes and sizes, both men and women, old and young. The “mean girls/guys” from 7th grade grow up, don’t they? But sadly, they sometimes don’t leave behind their old ways of treating others, and they bring those tactics with them when they put on their scrubs and head to the nursing workplace.

One of the primary manifestations of bullying is that the victim often feels that it is all his/her fault. After exposure to the bully’s tactics, they may even think to themselves, “If only I did this or that better, then they would not treat me this way.” The thought processes at the center of the bully/victim relationships can sometimes be lifted straight from our textbooks about abuse. Just as victims of domestic abuse many times blame themselves, nurses who are victims of bullying find themselves looking inward and wondering if there is something wrong with them.

What are some of the classic signs of a bully boss or co-worker? 20 Subtle Signs of Bullying at Work

More Subtle Signs

Deceitful and manipulative- making promises but not keeping them or using promises to purposely disappoint.

Shaming and blaming- bullies want the victim to blame themselves.

Ignoring or undermining work- purposely “forgetting” to notify someone of meetings, belittling their work or accomplishments.

Intimidating and criticizing- setting impossible standards and even threatening.

Diversion and mood swings- bullies might avoid the victim so that the work issues cannot be resolved in a timely manner; and they are subject to widely varying moods (which boss/co-worker will be coming to work today? The sweet one or the nasty one?)

Overt Bullying

Aggression and intrusion- actual physical altercations with the bully entering your personal space.

Belittling, embarrassing and offensive communication- using their position to cause you harm, either physical, psychological or professional.

Coercion and threatening- pushing the victim to do things they don’t feel comfortable doing and using threats of termination or other punishment to get compliance with their demands.

So, if you or someone you know is being bullied in the workplace, what can you do?

Document- Keep a record of any threatening or inappropriate emails, texts or interactions. Should it become necessary to report the bad behavior, it will be important to have specific occurrences, words used, and frequency of episodes. Also, learn your workplace policies on bullying and what your recourses are.

Detach- Try to look at the occurrences in light of how this person treats others. Have you been “picked out” for special scrutiny? Bullies are sometimes bullies across the board but at times they pick out a few victims, zero in on those and treat others as allies, making the other staff members into (sometimes) unwitting accomplices for their own bad behavior.

Dare to Defy- Standing up to a bully is hard and practically can be impossible. Often, persistent bullying requires cutting our losses and moving on to another position. But adult and boss bullies—like those on the playground—can respond to pushback: maintaining eye contact, standing firm, ignoring or not acceding to their demands. This is harder to do than it sounds, because the victim of a bully at work frequently is not in a position to resist and finds themselves being jerked around by the perpetrator’s continually changing and escalating demands, whims and moods.

Defend- Be on the lookout for bullying behavior around you and if you see something, say something.

As for Cindy, in the end, she resigned after 3 months and went in search of another job—certainly not the route a new nurse wants to have on her resume—but a physical and psychological necessity given the bullying she experienced. After the rocky start, she went on to have an extremely successful career as a nurse and to find the profession a satisfying fit for her talents.

Have you witnessed bullying in your workplace? How have you been a victim of bullying?

Joy has been a nurse for 35+ years and continues to practice as a Faith Community Nurse. She also enjoys writing.She maintains a blog and has published a children's book and 2 Bible Studies. In her spare time she loves playing with her 3 grandchildren!

5 Followers; 104 Articles; 149,359 Profile Views; 430 Posts

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1 hour ago, jeastridge said:

I am a new nurse, and I work in a very supportive environment. A friend who graduated with me has been working on a busy med-surge floor where bullying and general meanness is rampant. We are now 10 months out of nursing school, and she has just been offered and accepted a job at my health clinic. Meaning that her hospital— which poured a lot of money into selecting and training her— has just lost an excellent, smart, bilingual nurse, who has another 30 years left in her career. In my opinion, that is what the hospital deserves, if they choose to allow nurses to bully new colleagues mercilessly. A good nurse manager would require basic respect among employees. 

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jeastridge is a BSN, RN and specializes in Faith Community Nurse (FCN).

5 Followers; 104 Articles; 430 Posts; 149,359 Profile Views

3 hours ago, CommunityRNBSN said:

I am a new nurse, and I work in a very supportive environment. A friend who graduated with me has been working on a busy med-surge floor where bullying and general meanness is rampant. We are now 10 months out of nursing school, and she has just been offered and accepted a job at my health clinic. Meaning that her hospital— which poured a lot of money into selecting and training her— has just lost an excellent, smart, bilingual nurse, who has another 30 years left in her career. In my opinion, that is what the hospital deserves, if they choose to allow nurses to bully new colleagues mercilessly. A good nurse manager would require basic respect among employees. 

Agreed. Good dynamics on the floor and among staff members often starts right at the top. Joy

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One of the issues about bullying in nursing is that the staffing issues and busyness of most floors, cause new nurses to question themselves (“is my preceptor bullying me, or she stressed from an impossible workload and I’m just dragging her down with my slowness?  Is the workload really too hard, or am I just slow—and maybe stupid?”)

A typical newbie doesn’t have any frame of reference to know.

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jeastridge is a BSN, RN and specializes in Faith Community Nurse (FCN).

5 Followers; 104 Articles; 430 Posts; 149,359 Profile Views

1 hour ago, Daisy Joyce said:

One of the issues about bullying in nursing is that the staffing issues and busyness of most floors, cause new nurses to question themselves (“is my preceptor bullying me, or she stressed from an impossible workload and I’m just dragging her down with my slowness?  Is the workload really too hard, or am I just slow—and maybe stupid?”)

A typical newbie doesn’t have any frame of reference to know.

Well said and so true. Thank you for your insightful comment. Joy

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Leader25 has 35 years experience.

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First they need to stop covering up for abusive nurse managers some can be as bad  or worse than co workers.Stop giving exit interviews while you are still working there.

They need to stop covering up for the real bullies,just because someone has drinking/money/family  problem is no reason the rest of us have to tolerate the abuse.

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Snatchedwig has 11 years experience as a ADN, CNA, LPN, RN and specializes in Medsurg.

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I dont care what anyone says. Bully can only go so far. It takes ONE time to man up and put them in their place, problem solved. Hell the ones that were considered bullies at my job and I get along perfectly well because I put them in their place the first time they tried. 

 

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jeastridge is a BSN, RN and specializes in Faith Community Nurse (FCN).

5 Followers; 104 Articles; 430 Posts; 149,359 Profile Views

5 hours ago, Snatchedwig said:

I dont care what anyone says. Bully can only go so far. It takes ONE time to man up and put them in their place, problem solved. Hell the ones that were considered bullies at my job and I get along perfectly well because I put them in their place the first time they tried. 

 

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You are right. There is a lot of truth to the need to find a way to stand up to bullies and to be firm. But it is easier for some people than for others, and in some cases, bullies make it impossible for victims to have a voice. I have no doubt that you are the kind of person that speaks up for others, as well. Thank you for your comment. Joy

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jeastridge is a BSN, RN and specializes in Faith Community Nurse (FCN).

5 Followers; 104 Articles; 430 Posts; 149,359 Profile Views

8 hours ago, Leader25 said:

First they need to stop covering up for abusive nurse managers some can be as bad  or worse than co workers.Stop giving exit interviews while you are still working there.

They need to stop covering up for the real bullies,just because someone has drinking/money/family  problem is no reason the rest of us have to tolerate the abuse.

You bring up an important point: our personal lives can "bleed over" into our professional lives so easily. We also can have a tendency to promote co-dependency and tolerance of bad behavior based on excuses. While we all want to be sympathetic to the troubles our managers and co-workers are experiencing, we also want to keep our patients front and center--while at work, they are our #1 concern and responsibility. Thank you for your comment. Joy

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Hoosier_RN has 20 years experience as a MSN and specializes in LTC, home health, hospice, ICU, ER, dialysis.

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9 hours ago, Snatchedwig said:

I dont care what anyone says. Bully can only go so far. It takes ONE time to man up and put them in their place, problem solved. Hell the ones that were considered bullies at my job and I get along perfectly well because I put them in their place the first time they tried. 

 

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My thoughts exactly!

 

Also, I've seen some accused of bullying when all that they did was tell someone something that they didn't want to hear. Nursing, or any job for that matter, isn't always roses and sunshine. And none of us is perfect. And if we do something that needs correction or that puts a patient or staff in jeopardy,  it's not bullying. I'm sure that bullying exists, as there are a$$holes everywhere, but sometimes, I think we need to look at the big picture before passing judgement 

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morelostthanfound has 27 years experience as a BSN and specializes in CVOR, General/Trauma Surgery.

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10 hours ago, Snatchedwig said:

I dont care what anyone says. Bully can only go so far. It takes ONE time to man up and put them in their place, problem solved. Hell the ones that were considered bullies at my job and I get along perfectly well because I put them in their place the first time they tried. 

 

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Respectfully, I disagree and feel this is bad advice for new nurses.  I have worked as an RN for almost 30 years and have certainly seen my share of bullies.  Often (as others have pointed out), these bullies have the tacit support of their nurse managers, and/or influential physicians.  Coworkers see and know this and for a new grad, who has no clout or cred, to 'man up' and 'put these bullies in their place, could mean career suicide.  I'm not advocating being a doormat and am not sure if there is always a surefire answer, but this rash approach could end a career before it even begins and in some locations, new grads are facing great difficulty in finding employment.  

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Yes, you have to be careful who you tick off.

I've come to realize that in the workplace, you need to get allies, fast.

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