How Bad is Bullying in Your Organization? Find out in 4 Simple Steps

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Several years ago I attended an advisory board meeting. Our group, mostly hospital executives, started discussing how bullying had gotten out of hand in their organization. In the middle of our discussion, one executive interrupted, “Oh, we don’t have any bullying issues.” Everyone present was shocked. I knew first hand she had big problems on some of her units because several of my students in a course I was teaching were her nurses. They came to me, desperate for help. Bullying in your organization is a real problem.

“Oh, we don’t have any bullying issues.”

We all know when you admit a patient; you have to do an admission assessment. While most of us dread these assessments, they’re critical to effectively care for our patients. Sometimes, when asking a patient if he’s had surgery, he answers “no.” But when we lift up the gown, we find a road map! “Oh, that scar was my appendix…and that’s from having my gall bladder removed.” Before long, we learn that to effectively care for patients, we first need to lift up the gown.

Bullying is no different.

Bullying in Your Organization

Bullying destroys the culture of a hospital from the inside out. To eradicate bullying, you first need to lift up the gown. Thankfully, options exist to help you do just that.


Surveys provide an opportunity to identify behaviors and quantify their occurrence. Have your nurses “been excluded by certain nurses from routine lunches,” or have they experienced “having (their) accomplishments downplayed” by fellow nurses? Are they the “target of gossip or false rumors?” Do your employees feel supported by executive leadership, or just left to fight scramble and grapple just to get by?

I’ve created a simple survey that allows you to quantify bullying behaviors both experienced and witnessed.


Negative Acts Questionnaire – The Bergen Bullying Research Group of University of Bergen created a comprehensive questionnaire, to be used to determine the presence of bullying behavior. The Negative Acts Questionnaire was created specifically to determine behaviors without using the term bullying, in order to guide participants in answering questions more accurately on the basis of the behavior rather than the behavior’s label.

Nurse Incivility Scale (NIS) – This scale was created using focus groups of 163 hospitals in survey, to identify nurses’ incivility experiences stemming from various members in the hospital hierarchy, using a priori scale construction. It’s very effective for use in hospitals and nursing environments.


According to Gallup, people stay or leave their job, first determined by relationships they have with their bosses, and second by feeling a sense of belonging in the workplace. These components have little to do with benefits, pay, location or even the job itself. If these are serious enough to make someone leave their job, they’re serious enough to “lift up the covers and look under the gown”!
Many employees refuse to talk to their leaders about bullying. It’s a trust thing. Your staff needs someone who can objectively listen and assess. They won’t talk to you but they’ll talk to me. You’d be surprised the things nurses share with me during focus group sessions.
So what is the environment like your hospital? Which unit has the highest vacancy rate, and turnover (another way to assess bullying cultures)? Are there a few units that are always struggling to keep staff? Why not quantify what you may already suspect.

Remember, behavior and the social aspect of the workplace eat strategy and benefits for breakfast – always!

Renee ThompsonTake the time to assess and let me know if I can help. This is what I do best. Thanks so much for reading. Take care, be kind, and stay connected.


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Dr. Renee Thompson works with healthcare organizations who want to overcome the leadership and clinical challenges their people face every day. If you’d like to find out more about her programs, please visit her website

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