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Welcome to high school, I mean work

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Think back to your middle school and high school days. There were the stereotypical bullies that everyone tried to steer clear of. They picked on the weakest, they picked on the youngest, they picked on the ones they were most threatened by. The media even hits on this rampant problem that is still around in schools today with the production of movies such as Mean Girls.

Although as professionals we all have grown up in age since then, do you ever wonder if people that surround you at work have grown up in maturity?

We have a journal club at work that meets each month to discuss articles of interest related to nursing or healthcare. This month’s article was about bullying in the workplace, most specifically in the nursing field.

Some interesting findings? Although there has been minimal research into the issue surrounding workplace bullying, all studies that have been done nationally and internationally report that over 50% of interviewed nurses have experienced some form of bullying at work. Now, one can argue that women tend to be sensitive creatures and even constructive criticism can be perceived as bullying, but by definition bullying involves multiple efforts to cause another person physical or emotional harm or injury. Obviously in the hospital setting, there is (hopefully) no physical abuse between co-workers. But a specific type of bullying that deals strictly with the emotional aspect involved, called relational aggression, is the equivalent in the adult world to the bully that walks down the hallways in school with her elbows out taking down all the weaklings.

Some examples of bullying in the workplace? Nurses that voiced their personal experiences with bullying included instances of gossiping about a certain co-worker, the formation of cliques among groups of nurses and ostracizing others, purposeful withholding of information from another nurse, bossy nurses, pushy nurses, or nurses that always criticize another nurse in front of others, and failing to help out a fellow nurse.

Who are these bullies? I thoroughly enjoyed the portion of the article where nurse bullies were given identities based on certain characteristics they displayed. The Supernurse is always right, has always been a better nurse than you, and will always be a better nurse than you. Just accept it. The Resentful Nurse is still holding a grudge against you from when you had to give her a 4th patient when you were in charge three months back. You obviously aren’t a team player. The PGR Nurse Puts downs her co-workers, Gossips about others constantly, and spreads vicious Rumors. She is always great for lunch conversations, as long as you aren’t the one being conversed about. The Backstabbing Nurse cultivates friendships then betrays them for her own good. She is the epitome of Jekyll and Hyde in nursing. The Green-with-Envy Nurse does everything in her power to obtain a certain status that she is envious of, no matter what or who stands in her way. Although some of her patients might be green from nausea, she is green from greed. The Cliquish Nurse reveals her bullying by playing favorites or by excluding others. If you’re not “in”, you can see your way “out.”

What makes you a target? As unfair as it seems, bulling trends tend to correlate with the old nursing adage that scares many away from the profession that “nurses eat their young.” New graduates or new hires are often targeted because they haven’t quite found their niche either socially or professionally.

Those that are recognized or honored for a job well done are often the target of jealous nurses displaying covert means of bullying as they try to even the playing field and increase their own recognition. And unfortunately, much like the movie Mean Girls, those nurses with close relationships with physicians may be the target of gossiping and wide open flood gates of the rumor mill. Times of stress, understaffing, and low floor morale can also increase the likelihood of bullying. As ridiculous as these examples seem, similar circumstances exist in the workplace that should be acknowledged and addressed.

What to do? To combat this problem that has recently peaked as an interest in the field, the Joint Commission, as of January 1st, is requiring that institutions have a process in place to address and handle “intimidating and disruptive” behavior in the workplace. What that means? I’m not so sure…

Some institutions are adopting a more democratic model to their management and eradicating the hierarchy found in many floors. Awareness in our own practices does wonders for a problem as preventable as this.

  • If you see bullying first hand on your unit, without causing extra conflict, do you best to intervene.
  • Actively UNparticipate in gossiping by redirecting conversation to something more neutral or walking away from the offender.
  • If a new grad is having a difficult time, take her under your wing…we’ve all been there.

We have a council on our unit, the Recruitment and Retention Council, that I think by nature unintentionally does a nice job of eliminating some bullying tendencies by creating a sense of community among the unit. They plan team building exercises and tackle problems that are the root of low morale phases on the unit. This is an issue that can and should be resolved in the hospital setting. Nurses are nurturing and deemed the ultimate caregivers by nature of the job, so we need to start acting like it.

Has anyone experienced bullying themselves at work? How is your unit tackling the issue?

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Nicole Lehr

Nicole Lehr is a pediatric nurse. She can be described in three adjectives: content, thankful and fortunate. All credit for the aforementioned description can be given to the love she has for her profession as an RN. She graduated from University of Florida with her Bachelor’s in Nursing and moved to Atlanta to work at the Cardiac Stepdown Unit at Children’s — her dream job.
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3 Responses to Welcome to high school, I mean work

  1. Your article on bullying in the nursing field is right on, especially the immaturity angle. I’m not a nurse, but a respiratory therapist. I was the target of a workplace bully for over 2.5 years at a medical center in Boise, ID. Immature was certainly an accurate description of the bully. Unfortunately the maturity level of behavior didn’t increase when I reported the problem to management. I was diagnosed by my employer with PTSD from the bullying. The dept. manager claimed that the PTSD injury was “petty.” The HR manager ordered me to lie about the injury and threatened to fire me for reporting the injury to him. Eventually I had to leave that employer because I was becoming disabled by the bullying, which management never effectively addressed. I worked there for 30 years. Now I hear that the bully, a respiratory therapist, has completed nursing school and is in PA school without ever being held accountable for jeopardizing patient care and seriously injuring a co-worker. For more information check my blog “The Cambium Level” under the heading “Workplace Psychological Abuse.”

  2. Granny RN

    Women are passive-aggressive by nature and too many function that way in the workplace. And it is NOT only in Nursing. My husband has worked for a major aerospace corporation for 31 years and has told me of way too many women who act ‘cutthroat’ to other women of equal or lesser status. The new term for evil in the workplace is called ‘bullying’ and it is high time that the nursing profession stopped it. I have witnessed AND been a victim of organizational bullying.
    The bully picks out a target whom she perceives as a threat in some way and sets the nurse up to fail. It is all so neatly covered with paperwork, intimidation of other nurses to ‘rat out’ the target, doctors are told whatever is necessary to sabotage their trust and respect for the nurse, etc. In the end the target either is fired or leaves and takes another job.
    The really pitiful part is that the targets are usually the most experienced, educated and trusted members of the unit staff. They are the ‘go-to’ nurses, especially for new grads and others because they are approachable and will teach/share what they have learned.
    As a result, patient care and morale gets shot to hell in a unit and the bully wins, at least until she moves on to another rung up the ladder. Sometimes the bully gets ‘made’ for what she is and finds herself in some position which usually causes her to move on to another institution. I have never seen men do this to other nurses.
    The Golden Rule STILL applies, just too bad that not enough people practice it.

  3. 8th month RN

    I have been a victim of bullying in the workplace. My first job was (and still is) in a nursing home. The “bully” was an LPN with quite a few years’ experience in the profession. I am a very nice and kind person and I suppose that is what made me her new target. She would belittle me in front of coworkers for things that I knew nothing about and as a new grad nurse didn’t know I was supposed to take care of (certain paperwork forms, etc). She would gossip about me to other coworkers. Some days she would act like she was trying to be friendly but in reality she was trying to gain “dirt” on me. I thought at first I was being paranoid, but after a few months it got to the point that I would get physically ill when I got into work because I knew I would have to deal with her in one capacity or another. I went to administration over it but nothing was done. I had entertained the idea of giving a two week notice whether I had another job lined up or not because I couldn’t take the stress of being in the same building with her. She would come up to me when we were alone and say very nasty things to me, almost threatening me at one point. I even wanted to stop being a nurse because I was naive enough to think that all nurses respected each other and when reality hit me it hit me hard. I seriously entertained the notion of quitting and going back to work in retail. The nurse did end up losing her job but it wasn’t because of her bullying. It was because she got caught doing something that the administration knew she had been doing for over a year but couldn’t prove. I am learning to speak up now but it makes me sick to think that people get away with this on a daily basis in the nursing profession. Yes, the old saying is true that “nurses eat their young”. But, when I get to a position where I can stop that kind of behavior, watch out world!

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