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Bullying in Nursing

Nurses have a lot of responsibility: They must provide patient care, navigate the confusing requirements of the healthcare system, stay up to date on the latest techniques in nursing, and maintain a productive working relationship with other nurses. And sometimes they confront bullying in the workplace, not just from patients and their families but also from other nurses.

What Is the Definition of Bullying In Nursing?

The American Nurses Association (ANA) defines bullying in nursing as “repeated, unwanted harmful actions intended to humiliate, offend and cause distress in the recipient.”

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, the act of bullying is meant to control a targeted individual and is similar to domestic violence. Bullying can intensify when others become involved either voluntarily or through coercion. When personal agendas and mean-spirited behavior become commonplace, the working atmosphere turns unpleasant thus compromising an employee’s ability to focus on their job.

What Are the Adverse Effects of Bullying in Nursing?

Bullying in nursing threatens the safety of patients, is costly to healthcare organizations, increases occupational stress and causes high staff turnover. With the nursing shortage affecting certain areas of the country, most healthcare organizations cannot afford to lose nurses to negative working conditions.

Nurses who are bullied may experience irritability, depression, sleep deprivation and loss of appetite. Their work performance can suffer due to lack of initiative, energy and fear of drawing attention to themselves. Some nurses may start missing work, and others may drink or use drugs as a way to cope with their anxiety. All of these symptoms of antagonistic abuse are dangerous to patients. When nurses are distracted or not supported by team members, fatal medical errors can occur.

What Are the Types of Bullying?

Nurse bullying is so pervasive that in 1986 professor Judith Meissner coined the phrase “nurses eat their young.” She used this term to bring attention to the prevalence of seasoned nurses intimidating inexperienced nurses. Bullying in nursing falls into the following categories:

  • Horizontal hostility.
  • Lateral violence.
  • Hazing.
  • Relational aggression.
  • Workplace incivility.

Recipients of horizontal hostility or lateral violence are nurses who receive bullying from another nurse at the same authority level. For example, staff nurses bully other staff nurses, or managers abuse other managers. Bullying also happens between superiors and subordinates. Hazing and relational aggression can create a toxic work environment that is detrimental to quality patient care. In addition, incivility in the workplace adds to the breakdown of a cohesive nursing team when a nurse is rude or disrespectful toward a coworker.

What Are the Signs of Bullying?

The objective of nurses who bully is to undermine the self-confidence of their coworkers by imposing bullying tactics that have a negative or harmful intent. Bullying in nursing is demonstrated through different actions. Common bullying behaviors include:

  • Condescending tone and demeanor.
  • Silent treatment.
  • Yelling.
  • Impatience.
  • Public belittling.
  • Sabotaging.
  • Ostracizing.

Other signs of bullying may consist of work-related harassment such as nurse leaders assigning excessive workloads or low-skilled work, or they may block necessary assistance for the successful completion of a task. Moreover, colleagues who withhold or remove crucial information are bullies.

How Can Managers and Leaders Minimize Bullying in Nursing?

Healthcare organizations should not tolerate any kind of bullying. Leaders and administrators can forge an atmosphere and culture of respect to prevent and mitigate incivility, bullying or an escalation to violence by instituting these practices:

  • Implementing a zero tolerance policy.
  • Adopting a code of conduct for employees.
  • Addressing issues at staff meetings.
  • Educating staff about conflict-management strategies.

Aggressive or hostile nurses should be punished or fired for their disruptive attitude. A nurse’s job is hard enough without having to worry about being bullied. Abusive and disruptive habits can stop effective communication and collaboration among nurses, which may affect patient outcomes. New nurses should not be afraid to ask questions. Established nurses must remember their commitment to providing quality patient care and learn to take pride in aiding the next generation of nurses.

Learn more about the Lamar University online MSN in Nursing Administration program.

Sources: Nurse Bullying: Stand Up and Speak Out

NursingLink: How to Handle Bullies in Nursing

American Nurses Association: Incivility, Bullying, and Workplace Violence

Workplace Bullying Institute: An Ongoing Problem in the Health Care Workplace Spotlight: Nursing & Bullying

Workplace Bullying Institute: The WBI Definition of Workplace Bullying

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