Are you a Target, Witness, or Bully at Work?

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One of the managers I’ve been working with (within my consulting practice) shared that one of his new nurses ran off the unit crying at the end of her last shift. He found out it was because one of the more experienced nurses criticized her openly in front of her peers, made fun of her in the break room (it got back to her), and threw a few zingers her way. This new nurse felt so demoralized and left crying.

Rinse – Repeat.

Nurse-to-nurse bullying is a problem. Bullying is pervasive, destructive, and doesn’t belong in a profession dedicated to caring and compassion. Although nurse bullying is as old as our profession, it feels like it’s getting worse. Every day of my life a nurse reaches out to me for help. Enough is enough!

73% of all nurses report experiencing bullying or witnessing bullying by their nurse colleagues.  Knowing that there are approximately 3.9 million nurses practicing in the United States, more than 2 million of us have experienced or witnessed bullying behavior by our colleagues.

Why are good nurses leaving?

Nurses who are subjected to repeated acts of bullying behavior internalize the conflict and actually start to believe the bully. They believe that they aren’t good enough or that they should know more; be more; do more. They start to believe that maybe they don’t have what it takes to be a good nurse. They question their competence and their decision to become nurses. These thoughts lead to physical and psychological stress. Without intervention, they leave.

More and more new nurses are quitting due to the bad behavior of their coworkers. And although nursing schools are pumping out a ton of new nurses, if they don’t stay, we will never fill the void.

What can we do?

The first step to changing anything is to engage in a bit of self reflection. In my experience working with healthcare organizations all over the world, nurses fall into three (3) categories. They are the target of bullying, a witness to bullying, or they ARE a bully. The question we each have to ask ourselves is this – which one are we?

Knowing which category you are in is a great first step. The second step is to take one action – just one. Whether you are the target, witness, or bully, here are simple things you can do.

What You Can Do If You Are The Target

Tell someone

Forty percent of all targets don’t tell anyone. Targets who stay silent suffer the trifecta of physical, emotional, and mental stress. Targets who stay silent end up quitting. Targets who speak up and tell someone are more likely to get the help they need to document, confront, and stop the bullying behavior. Please do not suffer in silence when you don’t have to. Tell someone – anyone!!

What You Can Do If You Are The Witness?

Speak up and support

Did you know that the most powerful intervention to stop the cycle of bullying is for the WITNESS to speak up – not the target? Tell the bully that what she is doing is wrong and that you will speak up whenever you witness ANY bullying behavior that undermines teamwork or a culture of respect and patient safety. After you’ve spoken up to the bully, then go and support the target. Let him/her talk about the experience and offer your continued support.

What Can You Do If You Are The Bully?

Apologize and ask for help

Every time I conduct an anti-bullying seminar or give a keynote presentation about bullying, at least one person confides in me that they think they might be the bully. Bravo!!! Self-awareness is the first step. Apologize to anyone you think you’ve harmed and then ask your boss for help.

Nursing is a wonderful profession. We get the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of other people every single day we walk into work. The public loves and trusts us. However, we MUST get control of nurse-to-nurse bullying if we are going to stop the hemorrhage of nurses out of our profession.

Thanks so much for reading. I’d love to read your comments about nurse bullying.

Be Kind –Take Care – Stay connected!


Click here to get your copy of Renee’s first book, Do No Harm Applies to Nurses Too! Strategies to Protect and Bully-proof Yourself at Work. You’ll discover Renee’s simple yet powerful confronting techniques!  Now YOU can address workplace bullying and never be a target or witness again.

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