Workplace Incivility: The Slow Death of the Nursing Profession

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Workplace Incivility is a big problem everywhere, not just in the nursing profession!

Incivility is defined as rude or unsociable speech or behavior. Someone cuts in front of you while you’ve been waiting in line forever, a cashier who ignores you when you say hello, or perhaps the coworker who uses the last piece of paper in the printer but doesn’t fill the tray – incivility is rampant in the world.

I hear people complaining a lot about the rude and miserable humans out there who seem to have no consideration for others.

Uncivil behavior and rudeness can’t just be everyone else. We each have to check ourselves in the mirror and ask the question: Am I contributing to an uncivil world?

Here is a simple civility test!

You get into your car, which is parked in a busy parking lot at the grocery store. While putting on your seat belt, you notice that someone is waiting for your spot.

Do you hurry up, put your seat belt on, so that you can give them your spot quickly?

Or do you take your good ol’ sweet time and let them wait?  Which one are you?

 What Happens When Incivility Shows Up in the Nursing Profession?

An experienced nurse sits back and watches a new nurse drown. Or sets them up to fail only to come to their rescue.

A MedSurg nurse is pulled to an ICU. The charge nurse takes one look at her, rolls her eyes and says, “They sent us THIS? Why bother?”

Nurses only help the nurses they like and dump on the nurses they don’t like.

Is this incivility, bullying, or something else?

I’ve written about these differences many times.  For a behavior to be considered bullying, there must be a target, the behavior has to be harmful, and most important – the behavior has to repeat over a period of time.

Incivility tends to be low level behaviors that would be considered by most as rude, disrespectful, inconsiderate, and unprofessional.

When incivility shows up in nursing, not only does it impact the work environment in a negative manner, it impacts the nursing profession as well.

Of the new nurses who quit their job in their first year, 60% quit due to the bad behavior of their coworkers. Many of these nurses quit the profession all together.

[Tweet “We are hemorrhaging really great nurses due to bullying and incivility. #NursesDoNoHarm”]

According to our Code for Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements (ANA, 2015), nurses are to, “Practice with compassion and respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and unique attributes of all people.” Therefore, bullying and incivility are in direct violation of our sacred code.

Disruptive behaviors…whether you call it bullying or incivility…. happen because they can. It takes willing individuals and leaders to stop it.

What can YOU do to create a more civil, professional, and supportive work environment?

  • Make decisions based on what’s best for patients.

This means, you go out of your way to help a nurse care for his/her patient even if you know damn well he/she wouldn’t help you. Why? Because you are helping the PATIENT.

  • Extend kindness – always.

Incivility begets incivility. And guess what…. it works the same way for kindness too!

Kindness, compassion, and respect begets kindness, compassion, and respect. When you extend kindness to a nurse who has not been kind to you, you are role modeling the way nurses SHOULD treat each other.

Because of mirror neurons in the brain, you will influence others to do the same.  If you’re not kind to other people, you can’t possibly enjoy this one life we have.

  1. Be the consummate professional

Nursing is a profession, yet we don’t always act professional. Dress like a professional; talk like a professional; act like a professional. BE professional in everything you do – no matter what.

We each have to do our part to stop the slow death of our profession. We cannot afford to lose one more good nurse if we are going to do what we were called to do: Care for the sick. And as we all recited the Florence Nightingale pledge when we became nurses, “I will do all in my power to maintain and elevate the standard of my profession…”

Together, we can stop the cycle of bullying and incivility in nursing!


Thanks so much for reading. Take care and stay connected!

Renee Thompson


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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.

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

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9 thoughts on “Workplace Incivility: The Slow Death of the Nursing Profession”

  1. I passed the civility test 🙂
    I asked my co-workers to take it as well, 70% passed, I guess I’ll steer clear of the rest. These days as long as an unpleasant act does not fall strictly under the definition of bullying, people don’t worry about it. I think if not controlled or confronted, incivility can progress into bullying.
    Very aptly put Renee, one should do his part to ensure that he is not the one not giving way to incivility at workplace or any place for that matter.

    1. I had NO DOUBT you would pass! Good point…when incivility isn’t address, it CAN lead to bullying although bullying can happen all by itself. To counter unprofessional, negative behaviors, we need to spread positivity, professionalism, kindness, acceptance, etc. Kindness begets kindness the same as incivility begets incivility. Thanks so much for reading and posting Shizza.

      1. Haha thanks for the confidence. True, kindness does beget kindness and vice versa 🙂
        Loved reading this one, waiting for your next exciting post.

      2. And I just saw a typo in my comment and it’s driving me crazy.
        “Very aptly put Renee, one should do his part to ensure that he is not the one giving way to incivility at workplace or any place for that matter”
        Now I feel better.

  2. Kindness begets kindness!!! Yes, yes, yes!!! When you get in the grove, it becomes the natural grove. Eventually, the mean, unkind people will stand out like a sore thumb.

    Keep up the message, Renee. Great work.

    1. Yes Jo! If more people started to demonstrate kindness to others – on purpose – it would be very clear who the meanies are! Thanks so much for reading and for taking the time to comment.

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