Strategies To Make Sure You Don’t Hire a Bully

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Don’t hire a bullyWith the Great Resignation still upon us, it’s easy to understand why healthcare organizations are making hiring and retaining their existing staff their number one priority, while culture is once again placed on the back burner. However, current studies show that culture is still the most important determinant of whether someone stays or leaves their organization. Culture is determined by the behaviors that are encouraged or tolerated and by every person hired. Therefore, it’s important now more than ever to make sure you hire the right people. So, how do you make sure you don’t hire someone who’s going to be a problem later even though the temptation may be to hire anyone?  How do you make sure you don’t hire a bully?

The hiring process has changed drastically in the past few years, according to Liberty Staffing Services.  There’s no more going door to door in a suit, endless copies of your resume in hand, and selling yourself to an organization.

Now, the roles are reversed. Organizations are selling themself to the applicants. People have options – lots of options. They can be more selective. They can even wear pajama pants for an interview since they are often conducted on virtual platforms like Zoom or Teams. Heck-I’ve heard of people “showing up” to a virtual interview in their cars while running errands! And yet, we still hire them.

We get them in and then 6 months later, they leave.


They’re not just leaving for higher paying jobs; they are leaving because of toxic cultures too. Employees are leaving because they are no longer willing to work in an environment where they don’t feel that anyone cares, where they don’t feel supported, and where bullying & incivility are tolerated by their leaders. Therefore, leaders need to learn hiring strategies so that they don’t hire a bully. And there’s research that validates this.

The Negative Impact of Toxic Cultures

Toxic cultures were the number 1 predictor of attrition during the first 6 months of the Great Resignation. The organizations who have toxic “rock stars” but are either ignoring them or justifying their behaviors experienced more turnover than organizations who didn’t tolerate their toxic behavior.

We can’t deny that toxic cultures exist. However, more often, what we find is that it’s really one person who everybody ignores their behavior or justifies it because “a bad nurse is better than no nurse”.

That was my mindset many years ago when I was a nurse manager during another terrible nursing shortage. Basically, if you breathed, were a licensed nurse, and had an interest in working in my department, I hired you. I didn’t pay attention to anything else because if I didn’t have staff, then I was staffing my unit and doing my administrative work. I hired any nurse that wanted to work on my unit. Looking back, I’m actually embarrassed that I hired some of those people. But I didn’t know any better then.

I know better now.

Hire for character – not for skill

It’s more important to hire for attitude, character, and fit, than it is to hire for skills. You can teach someone skills; you can’t teach them to be a good person. You can forgive errors in clinical practice but make it clear that you do not forgive cruelty.

The following strategies will help make sure you don’t hire a bully. Because once you get them in, it’s hard to get them out!

Strategies to make sure you don’t hire a bully:

  1. Utilize behavioral interviewing techniques

Behavioral interviewing allows you to assess how well someone has performed in the past so that you can determine if they will fit in well within your department now. If you want to avoid hiring a bully, asking behavioral based questions is essential.

Here are a few:

Tell me what kind of people you find it difficult to work with.

Give me an example of a conflict at work and how you handled it.

Give me an example of when you’ve made a mistake and how you dealt with it.

Tell me how you get involved in continuous learning and improving.

  1. Ask your staff to interview them too

Some people know the right language and may have preplanned to give the “right answers” to the most common behavioral type questions. However, your staff haven’t been trained in these techniques and therefore, may be able to catch them off guard by asking questions they hadn’t anticipated. And the beauty of asking your staff to interview the potential hire is that you’re tapping into the collective power of others who might ultimately be better than you at interviewing. As a bonus, they feel more involved in the process and will make sure this person is a good fit!

I know that because of the severity of the staffing crisis, you may be reluctant to add one more thing to your staff’s plate.  However, I encourage you to slow down. Taking your time will make sure you don’t hire a bully. Yes-there is that risk of losing them to another organization but it’s worth finding an opportunity for your staff to interview them even if it takes a few more days.

And make sure you don’t just ask your nursing staff to interview a candidate. Ask your support staff too. This reinforces that every role is valued equally.

  1. Reinforce your department’s cultural norms

In one of my virtual programs, Eradicating Bullying & Incivility: Essential Skills for Healthcare Leaders, one of the activities is to establish behavioral expectations as a team. It’s a way to establish how employees always want to be treated and how they never want to be treated by each other, thus creating “department norms”.

If you’ve created norms for conduct, review them with the candidate. Actually, give them a copy and go over the expectations for behaviors. Doing so reinforces the commitments you and your team have made to each other.

Tell them, “This is what you can expect of us and what we expect of you. Kindness, respect, and professionalism are not optional here. They are a part of the job requirement.”

Provide your candidates with a copy of your norms. Ask them to read and then to identify what commitment resonates with them the most and why.

Here are some examples of questions you can ask:

                Which commitment speaks to you the most?

                What value is most important to you?

                What does respect mean to you?

                How do you always want to be treated by your co-workers?

                How do you never want to be treated by your co-workers?

What you are looking for is evidence that they understand they aren’t just an individual showing up for work; they are part of a team.

  1. Ask them to shadow a few hours with someone on your unit to make sure you don’t hire a bully.

When you meet someone for the first time, you’re not meeting the real person – you are meeting their representative. However, if left to spend a few hours or if you can, an entire shift with your staff, they may let their guard down, perhaps just a bit. But it’s enough to get a glimpse into their true character. By asking your interviewee to shadow with one of your high performers, they can observe for any signs of rudeness or incivility. You can also get a feel for how well they handle working on your unit.

When I adopted these strategies, I finally started hiring good people and avoided hiring the bad. I interviewed someone for a nursing assistant position, and right from the beginning, I didn’t think she was a good fit. She just seemed to be apathetic, not very articulate, and I just didn’t get a good vibe. Knowing that I didn’t want to rely on my own opinion, I went through the process of a staff interview and shadow. My staff LOVED her! So, I hired her, and she turned out to be one of the most competent, compassionate, committed people on my entire team.

Right now, your culture should be your number one priority. If you can’t implement all these strategies for every hire, at least do as many as you can. Remember, the goal is to make sure you don’t hire a bully.

Spend more time up front making sure you bring in the right people and avoid hiring the wrong ones.  Remember, once you get them in – it’s hard to get them out!

To learn how you can reduce incidents of bullying and incivility in your organization, contact us at [email protected].

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