While nursing is considered one of the most caring professions, there’s a prevalent and serious issue of nurse bullying in the workplace. 

“Nurses eat their young” has been around for decades and has caused much anxiety for nurses, especially those starting out. Expressions like this have become accepted as the norm and part of the nursing culture, which is not acceptable.

Sadly, nurse bullying in the workplace is often met with silence, fears concerning retaliation, and the perception that it’s too big a problem to be changed. This only perpetuates nurse bullying in the workplace.

It’s important to understand what nurse bullying is, why it occurs, and ways to stop it from happening. Nurses deserve to work in an environment where they feel safe, respected, and taken seriously regarding bullying. 

What Is Nurse Bullying?

What is nurse bullying? The American Nurses Association says, “Repeated, unwanted, harmful actions intended to humiliate, offend, and cause distress in the recipient” is the definition of nurse bullying. Nurse bullying harms, undermines, and degrades nurses through actions by others. This includes hostile remarks, verbal attacks, threats, taunts, intimidation, humiliation, and even refusing support and assistance on duty. 

Nurse bullying occurs on a wide spectrum from bullying behaviors like incivility to even violence in the workplace.

Incivility is rude or discourteous behaviors and actions. For example, demeaning comments, gossiping, rumors, name-calling, condescending tones, public criticism, or a refusal to help and assist another nurse. Violence in the workplace is composed of damaging actions both in physical and psychological forms including physical assaults, threats, and harassment.

Why Is Nurse Bullying a Problem?

There are many reasons that nurse bullying in the workplace is such a large problem, and has been for generations. 

The nursing environment seems to create opportunities for bullying to occur. One theory suggests that because 90% of nurses are female, competition occurs over status, respect, and position within the workplace.

Nurses also outnumber all other healthcare professionals, known as the silent majority. Bullying manifests by their frustration with feeling poorly treated in the workplace. That combined with stressful jobs and fatigue causes nurses to take it out on each other.

Leadership and upper management can also contribute to nurse bullying. If nurses are led by supervisors who foster a culture of fear and intimidation, the staff is likely to mimic.

Furthermore, nurse bullying statistics are alarming. Nurse.org stated that at least 85% of nurses experience bullying at some point in their career. Approximately 60% of new nurses quit their starting position within six months as a result of bullying from coworkers. 

Additionally, 48% of new grads fresh out of nursing school express fear of becoming a target of bullying. This goes to show how significant this problem has become.

Nurse sitting against a wall, defeated from nurse bullying

Effects of Nurse Bullying in the Workplace

The effects of nurse bullying are substantial. Nurse bullying leads to decreased job satisfaction, absenteeism, erosion of professional competence, heightened stress, decreased productivity, poor job performance, and reduced commitment to organizations. Nurses are now leaving facilities earlier than planned. 

Poor mental and physical health result from nurse bullying as it harms a person’s sense of self-worth and self-confidence, plus it increases risk for psychological conditions like anxiety and depression. 

Nurse bullying can impact nurse performance and impair clinical judgement. Therefore, nurse bullying not only affects the individual nurse, but also patient safety, care, and entire organizations. There are additional direct and indirect costs to both employers and registered nurses.

Nurse bullying ultimately leads to toxic and unhealthy work environments that leave the nursing profession feeling unsafe and that put patient care at risk.

How to Stop Nurse Bullying in the Workplace

With the problem of nurse bullying in the workplace so widespread, the main question is, What to do about nurse bullying? The article, The Nurse Bullying Epidemic does a great job of giving strategies for addressing nurse bullying in the workplace.

  • Admit that nurse bullying is an issue, and that nurses are at high risk for experiencing it.
  • Organizations and facilities should aim to remove or decrease situational factors that contribute to an environment of nurse bullying such as stress, fatigue, and work overload.
  • Address nurse bullying starting with the leaders. Make sure they’re trained in communication and collaboration that employees can replicate.
  • Instruct and ensure a zero-tolerance policy is in place for bullies, and that all staff are clear on what the expectations are as well as how to report and address bullying. 
  • Make the workplace environment one where nurses feel supported by their upper management. Bullying should be taken seriously and it should be responded to by formal systems.
  • Organizations and facilities should encourage nurses to utilize mental health services and recognize the toll bullying can take on a nurse.
  • Empower nurses and coworkers to hold each other accountable so that a change in culture is more likely to result.

Nurses deserve dignity and respect. It’s important to take part in collaborative efforts that improve overall healthcare settings and the system as a whole.

Organizations and facilities should be provided resources and training on a larger level. Everyone needs to work together to change this problem from the inside out.

Nurses, remember that you always have a voice! Advocate for yourself and lead others in making a change regarding nurse bullying. Change the nursing culture by speaking up when there’s unjust behavior, acting kindly towards other nurses by introducing yourself to new faces on the unit, and being polite and supportive when communicating with coworkers. Continue to stay humble and not “above” others. Remember that you all have the same goal, so lead by example.

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