I’ve spent the last 8 years learning and researching as much as I could about the topic of nurse bullying. I kept asking the question, “How can nurses be so compassionate to patients yet so horrific to each other?” I’ve seen nurses almost in a “Jekyll and Hyde” situation where they are smiling while holding their patients hands but as soon as they are away from view, spew venom at their co-workers!! I just don’t get it.
Over the years I’ve talked with thousands of nurses. Based on my research and through countless hours of dialogue with nurses from all over the world, I’ve figured out the 3 primary reasons why bullying continues.
1. We accept the behavior as the norm
Ask any student, new or experience nurse if they’ve heard the phrase, “nurses eat their young” and they will all raise their hands. I’ve heard many nurses say, “Well that’s just the way it is in nursing.” It’s similar to the boiled frog analogy: If you put a frog into boiling water, the frog will immediately jump out. But if you put a frog into tepid water and slowly increase the temperature to boiling, the frog will just sit there until he boils to death! The frog isn’t even aware that his surroundings have become toxic.
Here’s how you know this is an issue at your organization: When you hear the phrases, “Just ignore her. That’s just the way she is.” Or…”You’re going to have to grow a thick skin if you want to succeed here.”
2. Fear of retaliation
I’ve talked to many nurses who are being bullied by other nurses. When I suggest that they speak up and file a complaint, many won’t because they’re so afraid the bully will find out and wreak havoc on their lives – making things worse!!!
I recognize that despite organizations being held accountable for the bad behavior of their employees, retaliation is alive and well. My recommendation for any nurse who chooses to speak up against the bully is to prepare for retaliation. Read more about retaliation by clicking here.
3. Managers use silence as a strategy
Many managers don’t know how to deal with the bully either. You see, when someone becomes a nurse manager, we teach her how to do the budget, scheduling, staffing, etc. but we don’t teach managers how to deal with the behaviors of their employees. 85% of a manager’s time is spent dealing with the behavior of their employees!!! We must do a better job developing “people” skills in our managers. I’ve talked with some new managers who say, “This person’s been bullying for years!! If I do anything about it, she’ll retaliate against me too!”
No excuse but it is the truth.
What can we do?
1. Stop accepting “nurses eat their young” as the norm. It’s not okay. Bad behavior has no place in a profession dedicated to caring and compassion!
2. Face your fears and start speaking up to the bullies. After all, what we ignore, we condone.
3. Help your managers to help you. Start documenting bad behavior when you see it and help your managers to get rid of the bullies if they won’t change their behavior.
Remember that nurses deserve to work in a supportive environment – free from the bullies. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
Would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. For more strategies, read the book, “Do No Harm” Applies to Nurses Too!
Thanks for reading. Take care and stay connected!