3 Strategies to Help Nurse Leaders Tackle the Rise in Workplace Bullying and Burnout

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Workplace bullyingThe COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in profound changes within our healthcare system. Now more than ever, nurses are being challenged with a barrage of never-ending stressors: continued patient surges, new disease variants, high patient acuity, increased job demands, and continued staffing and PPE shortages.  High levels of stress and burnout coupled with the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, have created an environment that is ripe for burnout, workplace bullying, and incivility.  Recent research shows that nurses are experiencing greater workplace incivility now more than ever before (El Ghaziri et al., 2021).

While most healthcare leaders deal with disruptive behaviors daily and understand the angst this causes them and their teams, many are unaware of the tremendous impact to patient safety, the patient experience, team performance, and the bottom line. Numerous studies show the deleterious effects disruptive behaviors have on employee morale, turnover and a high rate of medical error and adverse patient outcomes (The Joint Commission, 2008, 2016). 

What can nurse leaders do to address their employee’s stress, burnout, workplace bullying, and incivility? 

Here are three strategies:

  1. Heighten awareness

Often, we find that some people do not even realize that their behavior is uncivil or that their stress has caused them to lash out at their co-workers. It may be because it’s the “elephant in the room” that nobody talks about directly but becomes the whispered breakroom conversations.

Therefore, leaders need to heighten awareness of behaviors that undermine a culture of safety by infusing content related to workplace bullying and burnout everywhere. Include content in orientation, in your nurse and physician residency programs, preceptor programs, leader orientation and ongoing leadership development, etc. Include content related to conduct in everything ongoing, i.e. staff meetings, leadership meetings, performance reviews, annual competencies, etc. Not just when employees are hired. Every employee should know that they matter AND the way they treat each other matters too.

After all, you can’t expect people to adapt their behavior if they’re not aware their behavior needs to be adapted.

  1. Don’t ignore bad behavior

Everyone can misbehave when under stress, even professionals. However, ignoring bad behavior sets your team up to normalize it. What you ignore now, even in a pandemic, becomes the norm in the future. Even if you understand it, don’t ignore it.

Say this script when employees act out, “You can be angry, frustrated, stressed, or scared, but you can’t be cruel – not today.”

As Perry Belcher said, “Nothing will kill a great employee faster than watching you tolerate a bad one.”

The same is true for negativity too.

When anyone on the team is negative, they spread that negativity to others. We all know who the Negative Nancys or David Downers are. While we tend to ignore or just tolerate them, they’re unknowingly causing more stress on the entire team. It’s because of mirror neurons in all of our brains that mimic what we see and hear. We unknowingly absorb and then allow others to influence our attitudes and behaviors. Therefore, leaders need to pull the negative team members aside and say…

“I’m not sure you realize that you come across as very negative (add specific examples). I’d like to talk to you about this. [honest and respectful].

When you spend time complaining or criticizing about ______, it influences the entire team and brings morale down.”  [what’s the impact?]

I’d like you to spend less time complaining/criticizing in front of the team and more time complimenting/praising.” [redirect]

Stop tolerating or ignoring negativity.

For more scripts you can use to address disruptive behaviors, click here.

  1. Make Wellness a Habit

Employees need to hear from their leaders that self-care is important and a priority in their organization. Leaders need to reinforce and make the physical, mental, and emotional health of the TEAM a priority.

Add wellness as a standing agenda item in every meeting. Incorporate a wellness tip in any organization circulars or publications. Use email to send a wellness tip of the week.

Most teams huddle at some point during their shift. Use this opportunity, when the team is together, to infuse self-care tips and reminders. Ask – what are you doing to cope today? Does anyone need extra support today? Remind the team to eat something healthy and to ask each other for help.

Employees need to believe that their well-being is important to their leaders!

By actively engaging in just a few simple strategies, leaders are better able to tackle the rising burnout and workplace bullying so that their teams can better focus on serving their patients and each other – pandemic or no pandemic!

To learn more about Healthy Workforce Institute and the resources and programs we offer, contact us at [email protected]

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