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How to Address Nurse Bullying and Incivility


It may have been a comment you heard long before graduating from nursing school -- the one about nurses "eating their young." It's a statement that is unfortunately true for some nurses. For a profession seen as the most honest and ethical, it would seem unlikely that nurse bullying could be an issue that many nurses face. But the bullying that some nurses face hastens their departure from the profession and leads to high turnover rates and contributes to the already severe nursing shortage. Bullying can often start in nursing school, with one report stating that 78% of nursing students experience bullying while in school. This bullying trend continues after school and can affect nurses in all areas of practice and healthcare settings. These behaviors should never be tolerated and can lead to nurse burnout and unsafe working conditions And bullying isn't the only issue. There is also the problem of general incivility. To quote the American Nurses Association, "Incivility is one or more rude, discourteous, or disrespectful actions that may or may not have a negative intent behind them." In addition to bullying, incivility is frequently encountered by nurses from other nurses.

Signs of nurse bullying and incivility

Bullying and incivility in the workplace can take many forms, from obvious bullying to more subtle insults. Some signs of nurse bullying can include:

  • Frequently being put down by others
  • Rude responses to questions
  • Spreading gossip, rumors, or lies about someone
  • Micromanaging aggressively and inappropriately
  • Being deliberately given patient assignments that are difficult or unsafe
  • Rude or aggressive comments via email or text
  • Gaslighting
  • Yelling

In some cases, bullying and incivility can escalate into threats of violence. It bears mentioning that, of course, none of these behaviors are acceptable in any way. If experienced, any instance should be reported. Let's discuss how else bullying or incivility in the workplace should be handled by nurses.

What to do if being bullied

The American Nurses Association has suggestions on what to do if you're a nurse experiencing bullying. The first is to know the policies at your workplace. Knowing where to locate them and what they say is important. If you feel comfortable doing so, address the bullying behavior with the perpetrator. This may be difficult for some, but if you can do it, having those discussions can be helpful and important. If you're feeling unsafe, it's OK to skip this. Your safety is important. Report bullying if you're experiencing it. Each facility may have a different means of reporting this behavior, which is why it's important to know and follow your organization's bullying policy. Another important thing to do is to document every step of your process. As a nurse, you're already used to documenting on your patients, and it's critical to do it for yourself as well. Document those individuals involved, their behaviors, dates, times, and what was said. Document who you told and when.

Addressing nurse bullying and incivility

It's not up to the nurse to stop all bullying behavior. Preventing bullying should be a focus of the healthcare facility at all leadership levels. Healthcare systems should take a zero-tolerance stance on bullying and incivility in their workplace. If you witness bullying or incivility, say something. Don't be a silent witness. If you feel comfortable doing so, have a conversation with the bully about their unacceptable behavior, and escalate your findings up the appropriate channels. If it's happening to someone else, reach out to that nurse and offer your support. If possible, lend your ear and help support them, especially if you were a witness to the offense. Help the nurse locate resources that can help them work through their feelings on what is happening, such as counseling services offered by the employer. Another important step in preventing bullying is evaluating your own behavior. Reflect on the way you speak to others and the way you treat your coworkers. Nursing is a high-stress profession, and the stakes are high. Certainly, there will be times where you're experiencing that pressure, but that should not be an excuse to treat your fellow nurses poorly. Each of your coworkers deserves to be treated with respect. Make sure you're not the bully. Ultimately, you should feel safe and supported in your workplace. You have invested so much into your nursing education and career, and you should be able to do your job safely. The "eat their young" culture of nursing should not be tolerated, and unfortunately won't go away overnight. However, that doesn't mean you should put yourself in harm's way to do your job and accept untenable situations as "just the way things are." If you've gone through the proper channels and don't feel supported by your employer, it may be time to look elsewhere. You're an asset to the nursing profession, but it shouldn't come at the expense of your personal safety and well-being. To talk about nurse bullying and incivility (and other topics) with your fellow nurses, download the social networking app.