“My manager is a bully!”

Gina screamed when she exploded into the Human Resource office. “She wrote me up for calling off and I’m sick of her bullying me! YOU need to do something about her!”

Is Gina’s boss a bully?

Here’s the deal. Not everything is bullying. When we label EVERYTHING as bullying, we really do a disservice to true bullying. So, let’s get very clear about what bullying is and what it is NOT!



  • The manager holding staff accountable for performance, behavior, etc.

Many nurses complain that their boss is bullying them because they were put on corrective action for not following policy, not coming into work on time, calling off too many times, not giving medications, telling a coworker to “kiss my **s”, etc. This is NOT bullying! This is about being held accountable for your nursing practice.

  • The instructor holding students accountable for performance, behavior, etc.

Many student nurses reach out to me complaining that their instructor is bullying them because they were given a bad grade or given an “unsafe” during clinical.  Again, this is NOT bullying. Perhaps the instructor is just holding his/her students accountable to a higher standard of care. Not everybody should be a nurse!

  • Conflict and/or expressing a different opinion

Just because you have conflict or disagree with a coworker or your boss, doesn’t mean either of you are bullies. Conflict is different. Conflict is NOT bullying.

Let’s face it. Nurses work in stressful environments FILLED with unpredictability and complexity. And, we are not always on our best behavior. I challenge any one of you to claim that you’ve NEVER done or said anything unprofessional at work when under stress. It’s a human thing. However, we are not all bullies!


  • There has to be a target
  • The behavior has to be harmful
  • The behavior has to repeat over time

Now. I know what you’re thinking.  There are bully bosses, bully instructors, people who handle conflict like a terrorist, and people who freak out if your opinion is different than there’s (have you watched the banter on Facebook re: political election??). Yes. This DOES exist but we have to be very clear about using the term “bully” or “bullying”.

We need to be honest with ourselves and with others if we are ever going to eliminate true bullying from the nursing profession.

In Gina’s case, she failed to comply with the expectations of the job. Gina had called off 6 times in the last 3 months, leaving her coworkers short staffed. Their policy clearly stated that after the 3rd call off within 3 months, the employee should receive corrective action in the formal of a written warning. Gina’s boss was just following the policy and holding Gina accountable.

The next time you think someone is bullying you, stop and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is this person just holding me accountable for my performance or behavior?
  2. Is this just conflict or a difference of opinion?
  3. Is this person targeting me?
  4. Is the behavior harmful towards me?
  5. Is the behavior repeated over time?

Let’s all get clear on bullying behavior, versus everything else.

Once we do, we can focus our efforts on stopping the cycle of nurse bullying. WHICH, has NO place in a profession dedicated to caring and compassion.


Thanks so much for reading. Take care and stay connected!




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Dr. Renee Thompson works with healthcare organizations that want to overcome the leadership and clinical challenges their people face every day. If you’d like to find out more about her programs, please visit her website www.reneethompsonspeaks.com.

Contact Renee today at renee@rtconnections.com to bring her to your organization to talk about ending the cycle of nurse bullying.