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What Nursing Leadership Can Do to Stop the Rising Incidents of Bullying

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Nursing LeadershipDuring the last few months, we’ve seen some healthcare teams really pull together during this crisis. They put aside their grudges, differences, and pettiness and stepped up in partnership with nursing leadership. They became strong teams, putting their patients first, and then each other.

And then we saw teams that completely fell apart.

Staff who spent their days nitpicking, complaining, arguing; making decisions based on what was best for themselves – not patients or their co-workers.

The Rise in Bad Behavior in Hospitals

At the Healthy Workforce Institute, more and more leaders are reaching out to us asking for help. These leaders tell us that they’ve seen a rise in bullying and incivility; sometimes even from their “good, nice” employees. The problem is, they either don’t have the energy to deal with it or they know how hard it is for their staff so they ignore their bad behavior.

One manager told me she felt guilty reprimanding one of her nurses who still had the marks on her face from wearing an N95 mask all day.

One of the leaders in our Healthy Workforce Academy asked for help dealing with a nurse who grabbed 20 N95 respirators (enough to cover her shifts for the month) knowing they only had 60 total for everyone. And, the nurse leader told the staff to only take 1 at a time. When she confronted her, she stomped down the hallway (in front of patients’ rooms) yelling, “This is so ridiculous! I guess we’ll all get COVID too!”

Another nurse leader said that he had worked really hard to establish a healthy workforce culture. He set behavioral expectations WITH his staff, confronted any incidents of disruptive behaviors, and worked with his HR Business partner to hold people accountable for professional behavior. He was finally starting to see the fruits of his labor when COVID-19 hit. Very quickly, some of his previous “offenders” started acting up again. However, he understood that their behavior was based on a fear response, so he ignored it – even justified their badness because he too was stressed and didn’t have the energy to deal with it. Now, he feels like his staff and he have resorted back to the way it was before – dysfunctional and disrespectful.

Triggers that cause a rise in bullying and incivility

Many triggers contribute to the rise in disruptive behaviors. These triggers can be categorized as employee (individual), leadership, or as a result of the organization (system).

  • Employee Triggers

We are well aware right now that healthcare professionals are under a great deal of unrelenting stress. There is incredible uncertainty about what they will face every day when they walk into work. And, they lack good coping mechanisms to deal with it.

  • Leader Triggers

The nursing leadership team is also under an extreme amount of stress and equally lack good coping mechanisms. Leaders also lack the skills to address disruptive behaviors and they lack confidence in their ability to hold employees accountable for professional conduct.

  • System Triggers

No organization has ever gone through a global pandemic of this magnitude. In a sense, this is uncharted territory for us all. Some organizations are being very reactive and not as thoughtful about how to navigate through the crisis, especially with ever-changing information. Coupled with the pressures to protect the business, it’s no wonder some are doing better than others.

Knowing how difficult it is right now to lead people through a crisis, here are two (2) actions nursing leadership can take:

  • Keep developing your people

Any time healthcare experiences a crisis that impacts finances, we can pretty much guarantee that one of the first “cuts” will be – EDUCATION. Yet, time and time again, leaders realize what a huge mistake it was to stop developing their people. Then they have to double up and spend even more money to re-develop their people when the crisis is over.

And here we go again.

Healthcare organizations are cutting the resources their people need when they need it most.

They’re cutting all programs, any resources for education, and, some leaders are telling me they’re not allowed to host staff meetings because they have to pay their employees to be there.

Big mistake – Huge!

It’s important to be financial stewards of your organization. Therefore, it makes sense to scale back on any major expenditure, but please, please keep developing your people. They need it now more than ever.

  • Address any incidents of disruptive behaviors

Everyone can misbehave when under stress, even good people. However, ignoring bad behavior sets your team up to normalize cruelty later on. What you ignore now, even in a pandemic, helps to shape your culture in the future.

When dealing with employees who are being disruptive, say this:

“During crisis, we see the best in people and the worst. Your coworkers and our patients need you to be your very best. Because neither you nor I have any extra energy to give to pettiness, complaining or comparing. Not today.”

And then say this, “Can I count on your to be YOUR very best TODAY?”

As Perry Belcher said, “Nothing will kill a great employee faster than watching you tolerate a bad one.”

At the Healthy Workforce Institute, we believe that the way we treat each other should be just as important as the care we provide. We’re praying for you, we care about you, and we are sending all of you air hugs.  Take care!

If you need help hardwiring healthy workforce best practices into your department, click here for my newest “done for you” resource for front line leaders.

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