Nurse Bullying: What’s the Impact?

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horizontal violence, oppression, incivility, bullying, renee thompson, rtconnections
Nurses behaving badly is a common theme in healthcare organizations. Don’t believe me? Every day, nurses from all over the world reach out to me asking for help.
Trust me. Sad to say but bullying is alive and well in the nursing profession.
But what’s the big deal? So what. So people at work are mean either to your face or behind your back. Toughen up like they say right?
You shouldn’t have to “toughen up” nor should have to tip toe on eggshells around your co-workers. Nursing is tough WITHOUT dealing with the bad behavior of others. When you add nasty people in the mix, feeling good about the work you do as a nurse is next to impossible.
But who suffers the most?

Bad behavior in the healthcare environment has a negative impact on individuals, organizations, the nursing profession and ultimately – on the patients we serve.
Individuals – nurses who find themselves targets suffer emotional, psychological and even physical effects. I once talked with a new nurse who said she was having a good day. When I asked why, she said it was the first day she didn’t throw up on her way into work. It’s not a coincidence that it was also the first day she broke free from her preceptor who was her bully!
Organizations – organizations with a high rate of bad behavior have worse patient outcomes, higher turnover rates, worse morale among employees, more disengagement and ultimately – higher cost. Bullying costs organizations over 6 billion dollars worldwide! Hmmm…I know many nurses who’d like that money to go into their paycheck instead!
Nursing Profession – we are losing good nurses to this problem. Many potential nurses make the decision NOT to enter into the nursing profession because of how we “eat our young.” So sad.
Patients – nurses have an ethical responsibility to our public to make decisions on what’s best for them. We need to work together as a team, support each other, feel comfortable challenging each other and have the confidence that our co-workers “have our backs” and will not “stab us in the back.” Bullying infects our ability to serve our public. Think about it. If you were concerned about your patient or needed help but you were working with a bully – would you feel comfortable going to that person? Nope. In the end, patients suffer.
Bullying is badness…and it doesn’t belong in a profession dedicated to caring and compassion.
What can we do to minimize bullying’s negative impact?
Action Steps: I write about these in great detail in my book and during my seminars. But here are the highlights:
1.   Recognize bad behavior as bad – we get so used to bad behavior that it becomes the norm. How do you know? Anytime you hear someone say, “Just ignore her. That’s just the way she is.” You know you’ve succumbed to this.
2.   Speak up– you have an ethical responsibility to your public to speak up if you are experiencing or witnessing bad behavior. It impacts patient outcomes – speak up!
3.   Confront – we need to stop ignoring bad behavior and start addressing it. Easy ways to do this are just to name it. “You are screaming and yelling at me in front of others.” Or…”I just saw you roll your eyes at me when I made that suggestion.” etc. Remember, what we ignore, we condone. 

We have to stop accepting bad behavior as the norm. It’s not okay…it IS a bigh deal and it needs to stop.
Would love to read your comments about this topic.
Thanks so much for reading. Take care and stay connected!

To learn more about how you can stop nurse bullying, you can order my book titled “Do No Harm” Applies to Nurses Too! at Amazon by clicking here.

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12 thoughts on “Nurse Bullying: What’s the Impact?”

  1. There’s also that one called lateral violence and it is taking toll on nurses of today, some just prey on “young nurses” and we don’t really know why if it is their way of establishing their seniority and authority, but either way it’s a disgusting attitude. ANA was able to come up with disturbing stats in terms of nurse bullying effects. See, 48% nurses are being abused verbally in the workplace; 43% nurses experienced insulting body language; 53% are put down by a staff nurse and 56.9% were threatened at work. Perhaps, lawmaker can start delving into this matter with legal consequence or definitive sanction for these predators in scrubs and lab coat.

  2. Yes! Bad behavior has many names Ruth but they don't belong in an industry dedicated to caring and compassion!! I was speaking about bullying to an academic organization yesterday and someone asked me if bullying depended on location (I speak across the country on this topic). Unfortunately, I said no – that it's everywhere!!! Some organizations do a better job addressing bad behavior when it happens but others turn a blind eye.

    I'm doing my best to help. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

  3. Thanks for this piece : bullying of Nurses is a widespread issue, whether by Nurses, other providers, even patients. You provide sound advice. I have neutralized many bullies over the years, at least temporarily, with firm accountability and strength, either individual or group. Bullying persists because some people enjoy the power, and the rest of us permit it. Period.

  4. Thanks Greg. You are so right. Some people just love the perceived power they have over others. Glad you're out there doing your part to stop the cycle of bullying too. We have to stop justifying or ignoring bad behavior – stop accepting it as the norm in nursing and start speaking up.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  5. We have a bully at our work place. A manager. It is very difficult to stand up to bullies when you don't have the support of the top management team. Despite many attempts of staff complaints,the bully is allowed to continue to work while the victims feel that they need to leave. It's almost like top management protect this bully.. It is sad because this vicious cycle continues. Greg I do agree with you, that bullies persist because they enjoy the power and the rest of us permit it. Do not ignore this terrible behaviour in the workplace, standup for yourself and anyone who's being bullied. I will do everything I can to help stamp out bullying. Bonita

  6. Thanks Bonita. One of the most common questions I get asked is "what if the bully is your boss?" If the leadership isn't on board to stop the cycle of bullying, it will continue. Sad isn't it.


  7. So what would you say to a person considering going into nursing (in my case, second career)? I've seen a lot written on this issue and that 46% stat is staggering. I want to be a nurse for the right reasons (caring for others, positive impact) but this may be a deal breaker. What would you suggest to someone about to embark on the profession?

  8. Thanks so much for commenting. I worry so much that we are losing really good nurses because they are not willing to enter into a profession where "nurses eat their young."

    Although bullying is a big problem in nursing, there are more of us out there who truly value our newest nurses and go out of our way to support and nurture you. If you want to be a nurse, DON'T LET THE BULLIES STOP YOU!! The key is to be prepared and to know how to address immediately. I've written a lot on this topic – my first book is titled, "Do No Harm" Applies to Nurses Too! Strategies to protect and bully-proof yourself at work" and I've been interviewed numerous times regarding this topic.

    There are things you can do to reduce your chances of becoming a target.

    Please join us!!! You won't regret it. I LOVE being a nurse despite the fact that some of my colleagues just need to leave 🙂


  9. Very informative article – I would just add that employees play a very important role in preventing violence in the workplace. They're on the front lines; they may be the first ones to see behavior in a co-worker, customer or vendor that makes them uncomfortable or even scared. It's important that employees recognize troubling behaviors and what action to take when they see them. The goal is to get the right people in your company quickly involved to handle the potential threat. This ultimately results in a safer workplace for all.

  10. Great point Dr. Grossman. When I do presentations/seminars on disruptive behavior, I always talk about the role of the witness. The #1 most powerful intervention to stop the cycle of bullying is for the WITNESS to speak up. We all need to do our part.

    Warmest regards

  11. Please please address the bullying that takes place by top management! Certainly some docs too. I was a Health Department surveyor trainee who witnessed this disgusting behavior by the lead person there and it was reported and not challenged. I left, filed charges; they settled out of court; but I lost a state career. Bullying must be stopped at the top levels and nurses who are vocal and challenge the status quo need to be given a real voice!

    1. Renee Thompson

      Thanks Jan. Of course!! As I mentioned in my last reply to you, I’ve written about bullying by managers many times. It’s so sad that while they SHOULD be the role models for professionalism, some are NOT! Everyone who works in healthcare should be held accountable for their behavior – physician’s too.

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The Healthy Workforce Institute is the global leader in addressing disruptive behavior in healthcare. Through our cadre of services, we provide the strategies, skills, and solutions to address any incidences of disruptive behaviors that show up in healthcare.

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