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When discussing nurse bullying, most of us think about the crusty older nurse bullying the younger new nurse. However, lately I’ve been getting emails from older nurses who are being bullied by…yep…the newer, younger nurses! How can this be?

Before I go down this path, I want to add a disclaimer: Not all new nurses behave this way; just like not all experienced nurses “eat their young”. But it is what it is and worthy of discussion.
Here’s why I think this is happening:

Old to new distribution shift
Many older nurses are now retiring creating an unequal distribution of new to experienced nurses on a clinical unit. When this happens, most leaders worry about patient safety knowing that a predominately “young” staff doesn’t have the clinical knowledge of an experienced staff. Efforts are always made to ensure a few experienced nurses are working on every unit – every shift. When the majority of the nurses working are newer and younger this can lead to exclusion and ganging of the older nurses.
Generational differences
Generation Y has been called the generation of “entitlement”. Gen Y’s want what they want – when they want it, which is basically – NOW! They are used to getting their own way, want immediate accolades for minor accomplishments, and are not afraid to voice their opinion. Versus the Baby Boomers and Traditionalists who obey orders no matter what, are loyal to an organization, and who won’t speak up or confront authority even when confronted with horrendous behaviors and expectations.
Note:  Is this true for all? Fortunately, no. However, these characteristics do exist and can seep into the work environment leading to negative consequences.
Skill and competency differences
Younger, newer nurses are faster, able to utilize technology at lightning speeds, and are able to cope better with the variable shifts than older nurses. This gives the newer nurses a perceived power gradient over the older nurses. And they’re using it against them.
New nurse bullies are openly criticizing the older nurses, calling them slow, asking them when they are going to retire, etc.

What’s the solution?
I think the first thing we need to do is recognize that this is happening. When we focus so much on protecting the newer nurses, we get blindsided when hit with “older nurse bullying”. The second thing we need to do is to embrace our generational differences. Why not ask the newer nurses to teach and mentor the older nurses who aren’t as nimble using technology. Newer nurses should respect the wisdom and experience older nurses bring to the delivery of healthcare. We (older nurses) have learned the hard way that being a successful nurse requires both art AND science. And third, we need to address bad behavior independent of who’s behaving badly.
I’d love to hear from you regarding this topic. Whether you are a new, inexperienced nurse or an older, seasoned nurse.
Thanks so much for reading. Take care and stay connected.
For more great tips, make sure you “like” me on Facebook,”follow” me on Twitter and YouTube and subscribe to my blog. Also, check out my new book on nurse-to-nurse bullying!

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  1. Good theories. However, being from the Boomer generation, we came on board as new/young nurses en mass… too…. with only a few "token" seasoned nurses to guide us. We would never even think of degrading those experienced mentors… they were our lifelines!

    I'd like to add one more theory: Recently, schools have been highlighting the nurse bullying phenomenon… to an extreme, I think (including colleagues who now earn their living by conducting seminars, always looking to create a trendy new topic… even if it means resurrecting up tired old ones). These new nurse grads are so convinced that they are going to be bullied by older nurses, that they enter their first jobs with guns loaded! It is almost comical, if it weren't so sad. This is yet another unecessary situation in the healthcare workplace that distracts from patient care.

  2. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. Perhaps we've swung the pendulum too far! Bottom line is that when anyone in healthcare behaves inappropriately, patients suffer.

    I say we address the bad behavior – independent of who is behaving badly. At least it's a good start!

    Warm regards

  3. Last year I attended a really moving presentation by Clifton Kenon Jr. at the annual AWHONN convention regarding Generation X. It really opened my eyes on how we all need to work together and each of us brings unique abilities to the table to better care for patients. I believe that when we remove all the negative behavior from the environment and truly work as team everyone benefits. We need to be open minded and take in to consideration each others individual talents. If anyone ever has the chance to hear Clifton speak I encourage you to do so. This talented young individual could teach us all a great deal. Clifton is a certified lactation consultant and the Director of the office of Women's Health in the Aberdeen Area of the Indian Health Service. Clifton has been honored by the Secretary of Department of Health and Human Service and has spoke at the White House on the Baby Friendly Initiative.

  4. Stephanie. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. As Clinton said, if we all learn to appreciate and value each others difference, we could actually all benefit – especially our patients.

    thank you!
    Warm regards

  5. Great post, Renee.
    I think lots of times nasty or bad behavior comes from our own insecurities. If we are uncomfortable in our own skin, we are more likely to take this out on others. (At least in my own experience).
    One way to help us behave in a more team-friendly way is to take the best care of ourselves.
    When we feel good, are well-rested, cope well with stress, and are happy in our own skin- we are much, much more likely to play nice.
    I know in my own journey of well-being the more I am able to let go of the little things- the easier I am to work (and live) with!
    Have a healthy day,

  6. I have been on the receiving end of bullying by both Gen Y and X nurses. As a more mature nurse who has kept up to date with technology , I know that my skill set is superior to the Gen Yers. I really believe that there is a sense of entitlement which is at the root of their misbehaviour.
    In addition to an issue , there exists a state unconscious incompetence which is compounded with the belief that their opinions must be expressed, no matter what.

    For the Gen x the bullying relates to a core belief in the " chain of command". As a feminist , I think that
    this belief is linked to the history of oppression of nurses by the medical profession.
    Either way, horizontal, or vertical oppression impedes the provision of quality healthcare. An environment of reflective practice would certainly help to address the current status quo.

  7. There is also a gradient differential between nurses who became nurses because they had a big heart to help people.

    I was a nurse who became a nurse because I needed a job and I thought I could do it better than other nurses I had. Nevertheless, I grew a heart for patients because that is intrinsic to who I am and it flowered in nursing.

    I see some who are task oriented machine nurses. I wonder if they have a pulse let alone a heart. That may be a bully in the making. Unfortunately, they also look good to the company and will end up being promoted! Thank you for the work you are doing in this Renee. Understanding of this and support will surely help.

  8. Excellent comments from all!! This problem is so complex and stems from a multitude of human issues. I think getting people to dialogue about bullying, disruptive behaviors, etc. is a step in the right direction. I truly don't believe most people intentionally bully others (although there are many who do). But may not have good coping skills to deal with the stressors placed upon them.

    Yes Elizabeth – self care is the first step in learning how to start caring for and about others.

    We all know nurses who are competent, have excellent clinical skills but who have no compassion for other humans!! They should not be allowed to practice.

    To be a great nurse requires both clinical competence and caring and compassion!

    Thanks so much inspiring me with your comments.
    Warm regards

  9. As a 50 yr old resource nurse I had really good experiences mentoring young nurses but as a clinical instructor felt disrespected by 50% of the class. I felt the new nurses realized the value of experience!

  10. Thanks for your comment!
    Part of the problem is that we are not addressing bad, disrespectful behavior when they are students. The bad behavior then leaks into the work environment.

    I've been a clinical instructor and guest lecturer numerous times. I've also been an online instructor for 5 years. In almost every class/group, I've had to set behavioral expectations and then address their disrespectful behavior.

    thanks again for taking the time to comment.

  11. Renee
    I don't know if this already exists, but I would like to see some kind of anti-bullying pledge nurses can take and maybe a pin I can wear letting those around me know I have pledged to respect other nurses and maybe that I have had some actual training in that area.I may even become something employers look for.

  12. Hi Millie. When I do a keynote at a nursing school graduation, I always make the graduating nursing students stand, put their right hand on their heart, and say, "I swear that I will never be mean to a student nurse, new nurse, or experienced nurse or human being as long as I live!"

    I do like the button idea….hmmmm….

    Thanks so much

  13. I have been in the nursing field since 1984 & I came into the profession when respect, professionalism, & a common purpose was an understood code of nursing.
    We were all there to give empathy, comfort, & care to the best of our ability to our patients, & that was the main focus.
    Supervisors & Directors of Nursing were not "girlfriends" with their staff nurses & if they were they kept it out of their nursing.
    Regardless of whether we "liked" everyone we worked with we all did a good job of supporting, helping, & teaching each other. Report was not a place to discuss boyfriends, kids, & husbands, but we enjoyed coming up with new ways to make the hard parts of our jobs easier on both ourselves & our patients.
    But most of all we knew that some of it was in the books, but a whole lot of it wasn't & if we all worked together we could change & save lives & go home feeling tired but knowing we did our best & left it to someone who would follow-up with their best.
    There was no "it's not my job" & nobody's title exempted them from doing a job for another nurse who was busy doing something else or jumping up to help an overwhelmed nurse.
    That's when I loved nursing! That's when even short-staffed we could make a shift run like a well-oiled machine & laugh while sharing some of the most unpleasant nursing tasks!
    I don't remember any bullies then. Just nurses who worked well together & all looked basically the same.
    No extreme make-up or fancy jewelry. No fashionable uniforms, or long painted nails.
    It's only since the competitive female component creeped into nursing that the "mean girls" have evolved.
    So my theory is that old, or young, new, or seasoned.
    The nurses whom most would call bullies, I simply see as competitive, catty, women.
    Unfortunately for some of us, I see no end in sight either, because one thing that has never changed is that men will insult each other & not mean it. But women can compliment each other & not mean it.
    Sad but true!

  14. After the Anonymous1984 nurse posted, I finally see what you all are discussing concerning this variety of nurse bullying. I have been an emergency nurse since 1986, and precepted nurses for the last 15 years. I really feel the bullying stems from lack of professionalism in the nursing profession in general, and from lack of understanding of the responsibility they carry. I can't tell you how many times I have had to redirect teaching moments and discussions at the nursing station (and in front of patients and families.) "It's not my job" is a phrase I try to remove from their vocabulary, both for the patient care side and the customer service side.
    I think the previous poster is correct, what some call bullying is just catty clique behavior that needs to be called out in staff meetings or to HR. I haven't seen older nurses being slow with technology, but I have seen younger nurses too ready to make plans for the night while their patients suffer.

  15. I have been an oncology nurse since 1986. Recently a new nurse complained that she wasn't getting feedback and worried that she was making errors. So I discussed (kindly) a case in which she had made a grave error in which the patient was septic and nearly died. The next day, our manager told me this nurse had gone to her and complained that I had bullied her, that she had been bullied before and was not about to let it happen again.
    Now our manager has picked out 5 cases in which she claims I did not use critical thinking, and now my job is on the line.
    By the way, our manager is NOT a nurse.

  16. For academic purposes I can some use to group generalizations. In actual practice individual differences far outweigh group trends, which take on the flavor of stereotypes & add more disinformation than facts. I have long focused on bullies as a Psych RN & have seen every possible age combination. The universal is a bully 's attitude towards power & the availability of power imbalances to exploit. When victims gather & display power appropriately bullying stops. No teaching or show of respect or kindness is likely to deter a bully & may even fuel it if perceived as weakness. I' m not interested in what should work, because I know well what does work, based on research & many experiences over two decades.

  17. Wonderful comments!
    I've seen many people cry "bully" anytime someone gives them negative feedback. Other people are systematically abused by their co-workers yet never say anything.

    I think we can all agree that this is a complex problem. I believe the more we focus on how to support and nurture each other, it will be more obvious when someone behaves badly.

    Warmest regards

  18. I have not seen bullying in the work place as much as I have seen it trying to teach the generation Y students how to be a nurse. With a few exemptions, as there always is, the Y's do not have the people skills to take care of a patient. As their instructor, I was bullied by the students, they knew how to chart, they knew the skills, they knew all about how a heart attack, stroke, cancer, happens. I couldn't tell them anything they didn't already know. They also let me know that if they didn't like my evaluation of their performance, they would go up the chain to complain.I could not reprimand because the students are the "paying customer". It is no wonder when they hit the workforce they feel empowered and superior to their colleagues. Unfortunately, nursing is not about book learning, it is about patient care.People skills like communication, caring, and human touch. Does the Y generation have these skills? I made the comment once that new grads would be happy if they could text their patient to ask questions instead of seeing them face to face.

  19. You are so right that being a great nurse requires more than book knowledge! Patients expect…assume that we will give them the right meds, right treatments, right care. What they want from us is to treat them with respect and kindness.

    Hmmm…I think we all want the same.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    Warm regards

  20. I have been an RN since'75 and have always taken under my wing the young nurses and mentored them, many of them thanking me later. So I was shocked and saddened when I found myself the victim of bullying by several young new grads who praised me to my face while then running back to the manager and backstabbing me! Puzzled, I couldn't figure out the 'politics' behind this until another experienced nurse pointed it out to me and informed me that several experienced RN's were "run out of here" by the younger nurses who were threatened by them & their knowledge, feeling they would be shown up by them.What really hurt me was that I was known for being esp. caring and protective of the youger nurses, always supporting them.And so the hospital lost yet another very exp. nurse who felt forced to leave, rather than be 'set up' by the younger crew.I very nearly lost my license because of a blatent lie one told, and was backed up by lies from all the others in the clique.Wouldn't have believed it if someone told me, until it happened to me. I got out with my license intact, but still in need of a job, thanks to 'older nurse bullying'.

  21. Oh no!! I'm so sad to read this. Unfortunately, it's not new. I think we all need to be hyper vigilant regarding this type of bullying. I'm now working on a unit that the majority of nurses have been practicing less than 2 years. Our public needs experienced nurses to advocate and teach/mentor the new nurses until they gain the wisdom that we have.

    The ones who demonstrate bad behavior need to be eliminated immediately. It takes a strong leadership team to do this.

    Big air hug to you!

  22. In a few short months I will become part of the new, less-experienced workforce. However, I am not in my 20's as many of the new RNs will be. I am a middle-aged executive manager from the finance industry displaced as a result of the economic down-turn. This phenomenon of older, more experienced professionals being bullied by younger, less-experienced ones is disheartening and unfortunate. It is also not a phenomenon being experienced by the nursing industry exclusively. I witnessed this same "bullying" in the finance industry. The Gen. Y age group is extremely talented and confident which, in instances, can lead to a belief of being superior to those around them. I have to agree with your disclaimer not all Gen Ys are like this. It is unfortunate for everyone when a less-experienced professional does not recognize the importance of developing and fostering a mentor relationship. Personally, I am looking forward to working with more experienced nurses so I can learn from their experience and wisdom. After all, nursing is a physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding vocation and we need to be able to lean on our family of co-workers, not be afraid of them.

  23. Hi North Shore Gal
    Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. You are so right! I've never understood why some people use their knowledge and skills as a weapon against others instead of using that knowledge to support, share and mentor others. However, people like this do exist – and you're every industry. But as you stated so well, nursing is so demanding!! We neither have the time nor the energy to spend on anything other than going out of our way to support each other.

    Thank you for choosing to become a nurse!
    Warmest regards

  24. To Anonymous,
    I'm in much the same boat as you right now. I was called a bully after I was asked for feedback, as I detailed in a previous post. Now I am off work, waiting for an interview (day-long!) with the college of nurses to see whether or not I should continue to have my license. Interestingly enough, our manager likes to ask specific people to "watch" another and report certain behaviours. Awhile back, I was asked to "observe" our clinical nurse specialist and report a specific action each and every time it happened. My manager couched this request with "you are so knowledgeable and have so much seniority, and this would be soooo helpful." Needless to say, I didn't do this, but I suspect some of the newer RNs could be drawn into this, seeing it as a compliment that they were asked.
    I can't imagine going back to this work environment, but with only 4 years to retirement, I am disappointed to have to leave my area of specialization to work in another area about which I might know little.
    Good luck, anonymous.

  25. Cherri. So sad to read your story. I'd be disappointed too but better to spend the last few years in a nurturing and supportive environment than a toxic one!

    Thanks for sharing your story.
    Warm regards

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