Incivility and Bullying in the Workplace, Part 2: What Can YOU Do?

Article Categories: Legal and Ethics & Nurse On the Job

"My preceptor rolled her eyes and looked at me like I was stupid every time I asked her a question. I finally stopped asking. Doesn’t she realize I’ve only been a nurse for 3 weeks?" (From “Break the bullying cycle” by Terri Townsend, MA, RN, CCRN, CVRN)

Can nurses really be mean to each other? The answer is a resounding “yes.” When the American Nurses Association published a position paper on Incivility, Bullying, and Violence in the Workplace in July, 2015, the issue was finally addressed.

Here are some examples of incivility and bullying that nurses have reported (Felblinger, 2008; Longo & Sherman, 2007; Murray, 2008a):

• A supervisor is never pleased, no matter how hard the nurse tries.
• A bully co-worker undermines another nurse’s work, even when the nurse is simply doing his or her job
• When a nurse reports the bully to the supervisor, he or she is told to “work out your differences.”
• A nurse is called incompetent, even when he or she does excellent work or has attained certification
• A nurse asks for help during a shift or learning a skill, but the bully interferes with the nurse’s job performance
• Colleagues stop speaking to a nurse or are slow to provide assistance
• Nurses are given unreasonable patient loads as a set-up for failure
• Bullies are late, texting, or “bored” during a co-worker’s presentation

The responsibility for ending bullying among nurses belongs to every single nurse. Here are some suggestions:

If you are being bullied:

1. Document each incident, including date, time, and details.
2. Approach the bully in private and explain how the behavior makes you feel.
3. If the bully doesn’t respond appropriately, walk away. Don’t engage in a debate or argument.
4. Consider asking a “neutral” person to be present for the discussion.
5. If there is no resolution, report to a supervisor or Human Resources.

If you see another nurse being bullied:

1. Immediately and openly support your co-worker.
2. Report the incident to your manager.
3. Do not side with the bully, thinking you will be “safe.”
4. Offer to go with your co-worker when he or she meets with the bully.
5. Support your co-worker with statements and documentation.

If your organization needs a boost:

1. Check to see if the Code of Conduct is current, with a zero-tolerance for incivility.
2. Policies should apply to all employees, as well as providers
3. Find out if complaints are handled in a timely manner.
4. Ask for education or training for everyone.
5. Excuses (“That’s just the way she is”) are not acceptable. Don’t give up.

Everyone deserves to work in a healthy environment. The natural stress of healthcare shouldn’t be increased by bullying from co-workers. When nurses are respectful and supportive, teamwork develops, and productivity increases. Patient care can soar to new levels. Isn’t that what is most important, after all?