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How to Confront and End Nurse Bullying Together

Workplace bullying can be found in any workplace environment, but it’s a well-known fact that it happens often in the nursing profession. Most of us heard the phrase, “nurses eat their young,” while in nursing school. I never understood the idea when I was in school, and I still don’t today.

Why does this happen? Hasn’t there always been a shortage of nurses? Are older nurses worried about job security? Is it because nursing is a heavily female-dominated profession? Do nurses bully each other because of the underlying stress they feel from their job? Wouldn’t it serve the nursing community better to support one another and welcome/encourage new nurses to learn in a positive environment? Aren’t we a compassionate and empathetic group of people?

I have more than one question around this idea and can’t wrap my head around it. Seven years into the profession, I still don’t understand it. I do know there’s no room for bullying in our field. We must address nurse bullying as it happens, and stop it when it occurs. Our jobs are stressful enough. We don’t need to make the workplace an even more difficult environment than it already is.

What is Nurse Bullying?

The first thing people should know is how to identify bullying. Bullying is any unwelcome words or actions intended to intimidate or harm another person. The American Psychology Association defines bullying as “a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort.”

Many believe nurse bullying begins in nursing school. In this stage, it could be student-student bullying, clinical instructor-student, professor-student, physician-student, or nurses at the clinical site bullying students.

Bullying might include things like name-calling, belittling, blaming, humiliating, physical aggression, gossiping, or ignoring another nurse asking for help. Many units are cliquey and you might find charge nurses playing favorites with assignments. It’s not just nurse-nurse aggression. Many units have issues between physicians and nursing staff, as well.

Is Nurse Bullying as Bad as it Seems?

The Joint Commission found,“In the healthcare setting, 44% of nursing staff members have been bullied. Nurses tend to accept nurse-on-nurse bullying as part of the job, particularly the new or novice nurse.”

Step one is ending nurse bullying in school. Professors shouldn’t talk about bullying like it comes with the territory. Teachers should focus on dealing with bullying appropriately and putting an end to it within the profession.

The Joint Commission also claims that “the most common healthcare settings where bullying is prevalent are behavioral health units, emergency departments and intensive care units.”

Is this because these are high-stress floors, fast-paced, and oftentimes involve pretty sick patients? Could it be that nurses’ mental health is suffering, and we’re taking our frustrations out on each other?

Creating an inclusive workplace is extremely important. Nurses should feel respected and empowered, learn to work as a collaborative care team, and encourage one another.

Why Should it Matter?

We know that a lot of hospital units across the United States are suffering due to staffing issues. Nurse retention is fairly poor across the board. Many nurses are realizing they’re underpaid, working difficult hours, facing burnout, dealing with bullying, and working in unsafe conditions.

Bullying significantly adds to the burnout and turn-over rate. Studies found that “bullying contributes to burnout and drives talented and caring people out of the health professions.”

Employers and hospital administration must look at their turn-over rate very closely to address what’s happening within their facility and monitor work culture.

One reason for organizations to take bullying more seriously is because it’s expensive to replace a nurse. The Joint Commission found that “the estimated cost of replacing a nurse is $27,000 to $103,000.”

It’s in everyone’s best interest to keep employees happy and feeling appreciated. This results in nurses treating each other better, better/safer patient outcomes, and the hospital/health-care facility thrives as a whole.

How Can We Address Bullying and Put an End to it?

It’s no surprise that studies found there’s a large number of nurses who leave the profession due to bullying. What’s terrifying is that almost half of new grad nurses are afraid of bullying, and 60% of new grads leave their first job within 6 months due to bullying behaviors! Those statistics are embarrassing and demand a change.

To stop workplace bullying, we must identify it while it’s happening and speak up. Organizations should evaluate what’s going on and train management/supervisors to better handle bullying in the workplace. Leadership that’s responsible for bullying must be immediately addressed. The overall culture of each unit often stems from management.

Confronting the person bullying you in the moment is difficult but extremely powerful. The bully might not realize that you feel like their comments or actions are bully behaviors. Bystanders should also make a stand. Hold yourself accountable for saying something about unacceptable behavior if you witness bullying. This is one of the times in life when confrontation is 110% acceptable.

If nothing changes after saying something, report it to your manager, nurse lead, supervisor, or someone you trust can help you. Document everything (who, what, when, where, why) as it happens so you have details attached to each situation. Escalate your concerns to Human Resources if bullying remains unresolved with the help of those directly above you.

There must be a zero-tolerance policy in place for nurse bullying. Employees should feel safe and supported at work. There should also be zero-tolerance for retaliation from the bully if management addresses a situation.

Hospitals and healthcare facilities must offer mental health counseling, tools, and other help to protect their staff. We must take reports of bullying seriously. Otherwise, people stop reporting the issues at hand. Nurses should feel supported by their employers. When nurses feel safe and respected, the nursing field will flourish and patient outcomes will dramatically improve!

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