ARNBC does not generally print blogposts from anonymous sources. Ideally nurses could state their opinion on virtually any topic, without repercussions. However, the following blog was submitted by a nurse who feels so threatened in her workplace that she does not feel it would be safe to identify herself publicly. Bullying is a topic that we know impacts many nurses and we feel strongly that it is important to publish this piece in its entirety.
Nurses are frequently named by the public as one of the most trusted professions, second only to firefighters. Our inherent compassion, professionalism, and dedication to our patients is the root of this. While we seem to have mastered our interactions with our patients, why is nurse on nurse bullying so common? Why can’t we show compassion and respect for each other in addition to our patients? Why does the body of literature on horizontal bullying have to be so vast as part of the accepted language of nursing? Why do instances of nurse on nurse bullying continue to grow? And maybe most importantly, why do we allow bullying to continue in our workplaces?
Seattle nurse and consultant Kathleen Bartholomew has explored the challenge of nurse bullying and notes that “because nursing has its fundamental roots in caring, it’s often hard for nurses to admit that they could be hurting one another. But studies show that 60 percent of new nurses leave their first position within six months because of some form of verbal abuse or harsh treatment from a colleague.”[1. Ending Nurse-to-Nurse Hostility: Why Nurses Eat Their Young, HCPro, 2006]
You know what I’m talking about. The snide comment about you behind your back that you hear when you’re walking by the nurses’ station. The whispered tones, the smiles to your face and the lies that live underneath fake smiles. We’ve all seen senior nurses do this to younger nurses. They chalk it up to learning the ropes, or growing pains that are necessary to experience. They have to ‘toughen up’. Or, ‘my nurse manager did this to me when I was a new grad’. I’ve also seen younger nurses act like their seasoned colleagues are out of touch dinosaurs for not adopting new looks, methods or body art. Many of our younger colleagues simply don’t respect that experience is a great teacher.
What if it’s your manager or supervisor who is doing this to you? Every time that person calls into question your practice, he or she destroys a little piece of your confidence and makes you question your ability. Constructive criticism provided in a supportive and open environment articulated with respect for the individual is absolutely necessary. The problem comes when there is a lack of regard for opposing opinions and perspectives, and the blatant lack of respect that rears its ugly head when an idea is dismissed, when a person is belittled, or when someone acts like you don’t get to count. Literally and figuratively they may turn their back on you.
I know. Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me. Sorry, Mom but that’s just wrong. Names do hurt and they do inflict damage. Damage can be inflicted quickly and painfully by bullying managers and colleagues. As professionals we cover up the damage done as not to let it show in our professional lives, but in private the toll is very real. Anyone who has ever felt sick about having to go to work, afraid of what the day might bring about, knows how this feels. A job you love can quickly become a frightening and difficult place to be.
Stand up to the person. The bully is afraid. The bully is threatened by you. Don’t let anyone push you around. That all sounds great, but what if I lose my job because I was the lone person who made the choice to stand up to the bully? What will I do when a power-wielding bully takes me away from a job that I can’t afford to lose?
The literature tell us that that the roots of horizontal violence often come from workload stress, shiftwork and the emotional toll nursing care takes on people. I get it. We have stressful jobs, we work in high pressure situations and we literally have lives in our hands. Violence begets violence – if you learn it, you do it. And if someone does it to you, you will likely do it to someone else. But is that really our best excuse? If these issues are the roots of violence, then it seems to me that the better response would be to show some empathy to our fellow nurses. The better response would be to recognize that for the most part, we all do the best we can. Don’t we all want healthy and supportive work environments where our patients get the best care possible?
This seemingly too usual response of bullying and putting each other down isn’t working. Perhaps it’s time we all take a long look at our own behaviour and ask ourselves the hard questions. Are you the bully? Did you leave your work today having been a positive force for your colleagues? Or, did you let your bad day, bad mood, or just the fact that you don’t like someone allow you to be a negative force for someone today? Is it such a stressful time for you that it really justifies bad behaviour against a fellow nurse? Should your bad mood and insecurities get to dictate the well-being of those around you?
I write this blog to ARNBC’s members anonymously because I feel so fundamentally unsafe in my working environment that I don’t want any of you to know who I am. Some of you will shake your heads and say what a shame, not realizing that perhaps YOU are the bully in my workplace. Others will understand the feeling, and share my despair - because you also can’t afford to be the one to stand up and say you won’t take it anymore.
In her article Addressing Nurse-to-Nurse Bullying to Promote Nurse Retention, Carol F. Rocker identifies a number of strategies that can prevent workplace bullying:
1) Education – teaching nurses how to decrease bullying by helping them understand what to do and not do when confronted by a bully.
2) Policy – involving nurses in policy development to give them ownership and responsibility for their own workplace environment.
3) Celebration – celebrating positive, bully-free work environments
This is a start, but do we not have some responsibility for our own actions? We’re the second most trusted profession – but only if you ask non-nurses. Within our ranks, we know there’s good reason for the expression “nurses eat their own”.
It’s time to figure out how to end bullying, for the good of our colleagues, our patients and ourselves!
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety:
BC Research - Houshmand, M; O’Reilly, J; Robinson, S, Wolff, A, “Escaping bullying: The simultaneous impact of individual and unit-level bullying on turnover intentions”. Human RelationsJuly 2012 vol. 65 no. 7 901-918. (ABSTRACT - http://hum.sagepub.com/content/65/7/901.abstract)
Johnson S., Rea R., "Workplace Bullying: Concerns for Nurse Leaders". Journal of Nursing Administration, 2009; 39(2):84-90. (ABSTRACT - http://journals.lww.com/jonajournal/Abstract/2009/02000/Workplace_Bullying__Concerns_for_Nurse_Leaders.9.aspx)