Top 3 reasons why nurse bullying continues

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horizontal violence, bullying, incivility, vertical violence, renee thompson, rtconnections
I’ve spent the last 8 years learning and researching as much as I could about the topic of nurse bullying.  I kept asking the question, “How can nurses be so compassionate to patients yet so horrific to each other?” I’ve seen nurses almost in a “Jekyll and Hyde” situation where they are smiling while holding their patients hands but as soon as they are away from view, spew venom at their co-workers!! I just don’t get it.
And, why does nurse bullying continue?
Over the years I’ve talked with thousands of nurses. Based on my research and through countless hours of dialogue with nurses from all over the world, I’ve figured out the 3 primary reasons why bullying continues.
1.   We accept the behavior as the norm
Ask any student, new or experience nurse if they’ve heard the phrase, “nurses eat their young” and they will all raise their hands. I’ve heard many nurses say, “Well that’s just the way it is in nursing.” It’s similar to the boiled frog analogy:  If you put a frog into boiling water, the frog will immediately jump out. But if you put a frog into tepid water and slowly increase the temperature to boiling, the frog will just sit there until he boils to death! The frog isn’t even aware that his surroundings have become toxic.
Here’s how you know this is an issue at your organization: When you hear the phrases, “Just ignore her. That’s just the way she is.” Or…”You’re going to have to grow a thick skin if you want to succeed here.”
2.   Fear of retaliation
I’ve talked to many nurses who are being bullied by other nurses. When I suggest that they speak up and file a complaint, many won’t because they’re so afraid the bully will find out and wreak havoc on their lives – making things worse!!!
I recognize that despite organizations being held accountable for the bad behavior of their employees, retaliation is alive and well. My recommendation for any nurse who chooses to speak up against the bully is to prepare for retaliation.  
3.   Managers use silence as a strategy
Many managers don’t know how to deal with the bully either. You see, when someone becomes a nurse manager, we teach her how to do the budget, scheduling, staffing, etc. but we don’t teach managers how to deal with the behaviors of their employees. 85% of a manager’s time is spent dealing with the behavior of their employees!!! We must do a better job developing “people” skills in our managers. I’ve talked with some new managers who say, “This person’s been bullying for years!! If I do anything about it, she’ll retaliate against me too!”
No excuse but it is the truth.
What can we do?
1.   Stop accepting “nurses eat their young” as the norm. It’s not okay. Bad behavior has no place in a profession dedicated to caring and compassion!
2.   Face your fears and start speaking up to the bullies. After all, what we ignore, we condone.
3.   Help your managers to help you. Start documenting bad behavior when you see it and help your managers to get rid of the bullies if they won’t change their behavior.
Remember that nurses deserve to work in a supportive environment – free from the bullies. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
Would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. For more strategies, read the book, “Do No Harm” Applies to Nurses Too!
Thanks for reading. Take care and stay connected!
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8 thoughts on “Top 3 reasons why nurse bullying continues”

  1. Perry Fernandez

    It's great way of initiating this kind of event it really helps for the emergency response for every individual. It is a great opportunity for everyone to help prepare for emergencies in any means possible. Keeping our safety in the community, is a must be prepared and be ready. Let us always take actions for our safety and security.

  2. Renee,
    Thank you for keeping this issue front and center.

    One of the things that I have found interesting regarding the subject of nurse bullying is the physical effect bullying has on the bullied individual – there is evidence that there are physical changes in the brain's structure…and these physical changes are detrimental to the nurse and ultimately the patients. I need to jet out the door now, will try to return and elaborate more.
    Thank you for all you do!

  3. Hi Marcie. Thanks so much. So many nurses are unable to work because they suffer from PTSD. So sad! I'm doing my part to stop this behavior in healthcare. I'm not giving up…ever!

    Thanks Marcie!

  4. Bullying has been a part of everyone's culture and a habit for some. This can happen anywhere. May it be at school, family, workplace, neighborhood and in the internet. Right now there is no way to eradicate this sort. This worries me all the time as a father of two children. Both in high school. I can't be with them every single time. Me and my wife go to work everyday. It's hard to be certain about their whereabouts and situation. Good thing I discovered this amazing application installed on my children's phones. It has a panic button that my children will press in case of an emergency. As simple as that it will automatically be connected to a 24/7 Response center and if needed, your call can be escalated to the nearest 911 Station. Me, along with my wife and close friends as my children's safety network, will be notified also through text message or a conference call. I worry less. This can help you too. Just visit their site to know more about this:!/page_home

  5. THanks for your comments. Most of what we know about bullying comes from children in primary school. However, when we fail to address the problem when humans are young, we then fail to influence their behaviors as adults.

    Much of the newest research is moving away from bully prevention programs to developing heroes in kids. Teach people the right way to behave towards each other instead of telling them how NOT to behave. Interesting work. Thanks so much for sharing!

  6. Pingback: 5 Conversation Starters to Stop the Cycle of Nurse Bullying - RTConnections

  7. Pingback: Stop Losing New Nurses Out of the Nursing Profession - RTConnections

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