What Is Workplace Bullying?
Any type of repetitive abuse in which an individual suffers threats, humiliating or intimidating behaviors, verbal abuse or other actions that interfere with job performance is considered workplace bullying. A serious issue within the nursing profession, bullying behavior can put both nurses and patients at a significant health and safety risk. It usually involves the misuse or abuse of authority and power by the bully, with the intent to create a feeling of defenselessness in the victim. Ultimately, this inappropriate use of authority compromises the nurse victim’s sense of workplace dignity, leading to a considerable loss of morale that may cause him or her to seek employment elsewhere.
Why Does Bullying Occur?
Nurses bully others for a number of reasons. Frequently, nurse bullies, as with bullies in other professions, feel the need to control the entire work environment. The bully may have an exaggerated sense of self, or have a stubborn, shortsighted mindset. Bullies often have low self-esteem and controlling those around them with less power and authority gives them a false boost in self-worth. Typically, Bullies do not feel any remorse or guilt over the harm they inflict, justifying their actions in a variety of ways. Most workplace bullies lack the capacity for empathy and compassion toward others.
What are the Signs of Bullying?
- Undermining the professionalism and tormenting a fellow nurse, while he goes about trying to perform job duties.
- Bullying supervisors never offer well-earned praise or express satisfaction with a staff nurse’s best efforts to complete a task or learn a new procedure.
- A nurse with an excellent work history and positive performance reviews may find a fellow nurse has accused her of incompetence or unprofessionalism.
- Bullied nurses may find that no one takes action to stop the bullying, even after asking for help numerous times, further hindering the victim’s job performance and degrading job satisfaction. The victim constantly feels stress and anxiety during work shifts in anticipation of the bullying.
- The perpetrator yells at, or demeans, the nurse in front of others, and may demand that colleagues stop interacting with the victimized nurse.
- Workplace bullying involving multiple nursing staff members has the potential to dramatically decrease the quality level of patient care and satisfaction.
How Can Nurses Prevent and Stop Bullying?
- First, nurses must recognize that the bullying exists regardless of what others think or say. Nurses must not allow others to make the determination for them.
- A bullied nurse must understand the damaging effects of this abusive behavior on her personal health and ability to effectively provide quality patient care. Ongoing bullying can result in one or more physical and mental symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and eating disorders. Health care facilities should educate their nursing staff that bullying can affect their health in this way. Nurse victims should seek counseling or other supportive mental health services to help alleviate these symptoms and other overwhelming feelings.
- The health care facility should have a bullying and harassment policy in place and ensure that all nursing staff members know their rights. Professional organizations, such as the American Nurses Association or the Department of Justice, can provide additional assistance to the victim. If all other attempts to stop the bullying fail, the nurse should prepare to seek legal assistance.
- Victims of should document all incidents of bullying in writing, including the date, time, site where the abuse occurred and the names of all witnesses. Nurses who experience frequent victimization by a workplace bully should keep a small notebook with them to log details of each individual incident.
How Can Co-Workers Help?
Many operating room nurses use the “Code Pink” method to let co-workers know when they are being abused. Colleagues go to the bullying location and stare at the bully, typically causing him or her to back off, once they realize their behavior has been exposed.
After an incident, co-workers should provide support to the victim and help determine the proper follow-up procedure to take. Co-worker witnesses should never side with the bully; ideally offering to serve as witnesses to any meetings between their co-worker and the bully. Co-workers can also help by supplying documentation, written statements and/or testimony during any legal proceedings.
Everyone has the right to work in bully- and abuse-free environment. By increasing awareness to this growing problem, nurses can take action to stop bullying from gaining a foothold in their workplace.
Editor’s Note: Please join me in welcoming guest contributor, Sam Omulligan. Omulligan is a writer and educator interested in finding and sharing information relating to the healthcare profession. Primarily working with and for nurses who have an interest in better education, and developing a more substantial career.