How to handle workplace bullying

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“Nurses eat their young.”

Workplace bullying happens everywhere, but nursing somehow has a patent on it. We bully so much, we even have a catchphrase.

Ever worked with a nurse who intimidated you? How about degraded you? Questioned your abilities? Made fun of you in front of coworkers? Better yet, have you ever felt like a nurse just “had it out” for you?

I, for one, have even heard stories of nurses worried their employment was at risk in a bullying environment!

I can’t even stomach the idea of this happening, but unfortunately, it does. So, what do you do about it?

Above all, never stoop to returning the favor or revert to sophomoric antics of “getting even.” As a nurse, you have a responsibility to maintain a certain level of professionalism. Do your best to be the professional and solve the problem like you would any other task. Here are some suggestions for dousing the fiery environment.

Keep your emotions in check

  • Whatever you do, don’t get emotional. As nurses, we often confuse compassion with emotion. Don’t “fly off the handle” and stoop to the bullying level. An eye for an eye doesn’t solve any problems, it only helps the world go blind.

Be honest

  • Are you really being bullied? Or are you just feeling threatened? Do you have so much blind pride and braggadocio that you tend to forget you make mistakes? Be sure to look at yourself before you look at another. Sometimes self-reflection changes your point of view.


  • Approach the nurse in question and find out what’s going on. Be honest and genuine with your communication, not accusatory and judgmental. This isn’t about who is right or wrong, it’s about figuring out if you are on the same page.

Have neutral witnesses

  • This one sounds bad, but it serves multiple purposes. It’s good to have witnesses to evaluate the overall situation. Get a non-biased opinion of the conflict to see what the source of the problem is. It also reveals the truth, no matter who is in the wrong. And ultimately, if your job really is being threatened, finger-pointing and storytelling are not going to help your argument.

What is this really about?

  • Are you out to win the fight? Or are you out to be right? Because sometimes there is a very big difference between the two. Don’t get so caught up in winning that you forget what the fight was about. Don’t just be right, solve the problem. Being right might make you feel better, but you started this to end the bullying.

Nobody wins when it comes to bullying. Not only does it cause dissidence among the staff, but it ultimately can have a negative effect on patients and the care they receive. This isn’t a popularity contest, we are here for the patients. Remember that.

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One Response to How to handle workplace bullying

  1. crespin79

    Targets, victims and witnesses of bullying have a few avenues to pursue (as compared with victims of sexual harassment) when subject to repeated and obvious acts of aggression, spreading malicious rumours, excluding someone socially or from certain projects, undermining or impeding a person’s work or opinions, insulting a person’s habits, attitudes, or private life and intruding upon a person’s privacy. Others include being rude or belligerent, destroying property, assaulting an individual, or setting impossible deadlines. Although bullying is recognized as detrimental to occupational health, there is little political or corporate interest in stopping it.

    In schoolyard bullying, the bullies are children, whose behaviour is controlled by the leaders, i.e. the school administration. In workplace bullying, however, the bullies are often the leaders themselves, i.e., the managers and supervisors. Therefore, reporting a bully to the HR dept, for example, may expose the target/victim to the risk of even more bullying, slower career advancement, or even termination, on the grounds of being a “troublemaker!”.

    Workplace bullying has severe consequences, including reduced effectiveness and high employee turnover. An employee who suffers any physical or psychiatric injury as a result of workplace bullying can confront the bully, report the bully to the HR department or to the trade union, if any, or bring a claim of negligence and/or a personal injury claim against both the employer and the abusive employee as joint respondents in the claim. If the law does not persuade employers to deal with workplace bullying, the economic reality will persuade them. Training sessions can help when combined with a confidential reporting structure, but it is difficult to alter the basic nature of some individuals, who may need counselling.

    Maxwell Pinto, Business Author