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Nurse-to-Nurse Bullying Among RN’s

The public likes to think of registered nurses as a group of caring, committed individuals who work together to improve the health and well-being of patients. Although this is true for most RN’s, there is a hidden epidemic of bullying in the workplace in the profession.

An online article published in American Nurse Today described that 18 percent of RN’s have reported being bullied by a coworker. Other sources report the incidence of bullying in the workplace among RN’s to be between 21 and 46 percent.  When I first became an RN over 16 years ago, we called nurses who bully other nurses as those who ate their young.

Although this phrase is a little antiquated today, bullying tactics used by RN’s is still a real problem in hospitals, doctor’s offices, and educational settings. If you are an RN or in the healthcare profession you have probably witness workplace bullying.

Let’s look at some of the bullying tactics you can find in the workplace.

nurse bullyingBullying Tactics used by RN’s in the Workplace

Although the bullying behavior among RN’s changes depending on the nurse, unit, and atmosphere of the workplace environment, the tactics RN’s use often include the following:

  • Purposefully assigning too many patients to a new graduate.
  • Verbal and non-verbal gestures of hostility.
  • Gossiping about other staff members.
  • Telling secrets out in the open to where the other person(s) can witness the behavior.
  • Harassing another nurse.
  • Attempts to undermine the RN’s level of expertise or creditability with staff and/or patients.
  • Intimidating another nurse who is new, shy, or has low self-esteem.
  • Any other behaviors that leave staff members and/or patients feeling physically or psychologically unsafe.

Most often bullying occurs among RN’s when they feel overworked, underpaid, and powerless to affect change. Although the staff on the unit is aware that the bullying behaviors are occurring, nurse administrators and managers may be unaware, ignore, or perpetuate the bullying behaviors.

Bullying among RN’s creates a toxic work environment where nurses begin to dread going to work and may eventually quit or ask to transfer to another unit. This negative work environment costs the hospital or healthcare facility thousands of dollars.

Not only does bullying result in a loss of job satisfaction among RN’s, it creates stress among coworkers who need to work as a team to provide quality patient care. This lack of teamwork created by bullying tactics among registered nurses can result in an unsafe environment for patients.

Administration’s Role in Workplace Bullying

Medical errors, medication errors, and errors related to inadequate staffing can result from bullying tactics by registered nurses. In many healthcare units, nurse administrators facilitate the abuse in the following ways:

  • Intimating staff to take on inadequate patient/nurse ratios.
  • Not allowing staff members to take breaks when short staffed.
  • Limiting lunch breaks to 10 minutes time frames or less.
  • Ignoring the abuse.
  • Asking nurses to cut back on their use of medical supplies in an effort to save the unit money.
  • Offering little reward or verbal compensation for the extra work, RNs provide.

How to Stop Workplace Bullying among RN’s

What can you do if you see bullying among RN’s where you are working? There are many things you can do to stop bullying behavior and prevent future bullying tactics in the workplace.

The first thing you need to understand is that playing the part of an innocent bystander will not stop the behavior but will instead enable the behavior to continue. Ignoring the abusive behavior demonstrates to the bully that their behavior is acceptable. There has to be a no tolerance policy for bullying in the workplace to end.

You can protect your work environment from bullying tactics in the following ways:

  • Welcome each staff member as an important member of the group.
  • When you hear an RN spreading gossip about another member of your team make it known that you do not participate in gossip.
  •  Remember what it was like to be a new staff member and go out of your way to welcome new employees.
  • Refrain from taking on assignments that are against the standard nurse-to-patient ratios.
  • Address the bullying behavior as soon as it starts. If management refuses to address the situation, instigate a grievance procedure.

We all know that working in the healthcare industry is a job that can be highly stressful, fast-paced, and perpetually be changing. All of those factors can contribute to low morale and extreme burnout among nurses. All of these factors increase the chance that workers, who are stressed and dissatisfied with their job, will lash out to their coworkers with bullying tactics.

Healthcare units experiencing high amounts of workplace stress need to hold staff accountable for their actions, offer in-service training on effective communication and stress management, and implement team-building interventions among staff members.

There can be effective teamwork where all staff members support one another when there is a zero-tolerance policy on bullying in the workplace.