Stop Workplace Bullying: Make Policy Your Friend

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I wake up every morning and typically find at least one message about workplace bullying in my email, Facebook messenger, or website contact form that is very similar to this one (note: some details were changed to protect the individual):

“I am a student nurse but have now withdrawn from the clinical portion of the program after meeting with my instructor and hearing negative feedback such as, “Do you think being a nurse is a good choice for you?” and “I have the power to tell the committee that decides whether or not you graduate.” I realized that I could no longer work or thrive under this instructor as she had clearly made up her mind about me – something that I had felt strongly from her in my first 2 weeks of clinical.”

Can you help me? I don’t know what to do?

Or this one:

“I was bullied for two years by multiple people at a hospital where I worked.  I didn’t recognize that what I was experiencing were various forms of bullying.  I thought it was normal behavior given the high stress environment of working in the OR.  I attributed it to “alpha” personality types, and tried to rationalize the behaviors.  I even blamed myself.  My self-esteem tanked.  I felt alone, insecure, and incompetent.  I would often come home after an exhausting 12-hour shift and cry.  I dreaded going to work and prayed that I would have a good day.  After having to endure this toxic work environment for many months, I developed anxiety and depression.  Last summer I began to see a psychiatrist that prescribed medication for my symptoms (insomnia, fatigue, moodiness, etc.).”

Is there anything I can do?

I receive pleas for help like these almost every day from nurses all over the world. The stories, although with different details, all involve some level of bullying or incivility. And, they all finish their messages the same way – with a plea for help.

Across the globe, nurses are suffering because for whatever reason, their co-workers have decided to squash them.  Bullying threatens civilized society and undermines the core essence of what nursing is all about – care, competence, and compassion.

Did you know that up to 93% of all nurses have either witnessed or experienced workplace bullying? How in the world are we (nurses) supposed to provide the care our public deserves when we can’t even care for each other?


When nurses reach out to me, I answer them. Lately, I’ve found that I’m writing the same things over and over again, which prompted me to write this blog post. This is an email response I recently gave a nurse who is going through a severe bullying situation at work at the hands of her boss, and doesn’t know what to do.

“So…have you documented your experiences?  Also, get a copy of any policy your organization has about bullying behavior. They have one – they have to! It just might be called something else.  In this policy, they should define behaviors that are unacceptable AND include their process for addressing any formal complaints of bullying behavior.  Get a copy of that policy and compare how your administration handled your complaint.  Get very, very clear how the behaviors you’ve experienced are in direct violation of THEIR policies. I bet they are!”

In most cases where someone reaches out to me for help, I include something about documentation and something about policy. I frequently find that they are unaware of any policy or procedure related to workplace bullying and they are NOT documenting anything.  Well, that stops today!


  1. Find a copy of every policy your organization has related to behavior. You may have several. Look for policies that include words or phrases such as: code of conduct, workplace aggression, workplace violence (although this policy should be a stand alone and focus on physical violence), workplace bullying, harassment (again, should be a stand alone policy), or incivility. Print them.
  2. Read through the policies. What you are looking for are the following:  specific behaviors deemed to be unacceptable, the process for filing a complaint, and the process for how your administration (typically the human resource department) will handle the investigation.
  3. Start a documentation trail of behaviors you believe violate your organization’s policy. Use the language from the policy to guide your documentation.
  4. File a complaint according to your policy and speak to your human resource representative and/or manager about what responsibility they have to investigate (again, according to their policy).

I recently had a nurse who followed my recommendations about policy. This is an excerpt from her response back to me:  “Thank you for your support. Something is happening, I cannot explain it yet, but I know and I can feel it.” Because of confidentiality, I can’t share the specifics of what happened next but her organization is taking her complaints seriously now and already making changes.

Get a copy of your policies and start using them!!

None of us can afford to sit back and say, “Well, that’s just the way it is in nursing! Patient’s lives depend on us doing our part to eliminate nurse bullying. We all need to create a community of nurses who believe in supporting and nurturing each other – not eating each other.

Be kind. Take care. Stay connected.



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Dr. Renee Thompson works with healthcare organizations that 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

Contact Renee today at to bring her to your organization to talk about ending the cycle of nurse bullying.

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