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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?

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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