There are nurses that are born with thick skin and those that grow it. I am of the grew it camp. I was a highly impressionable, even shy new graduate. You can imagine the culture shock I experienced on witnessing bullying in the workplace for the first time. Being a nurse has given me the unexpected gift in the form of a backbone-a life lesson for which I will be forever grateful.
I have spent most of my career working as a traveler and have found that the bully personality exists in every hospital, every specialty, every unit across the globe. Bullying knows no boundaries of culture, class, gender, or age. Nurses are not the only bullies-it can be a doctor, respiratory therapist, nurse’s aid, and/or manager. A bully targets any unsuspecting or willing victim.
While I have witnessed some degree of bullying since nursing school, my first personal experience was in a highly respected university hospital. I was among a large group of newly hired nurses that were ignored, undermined, and sometimes verbally abused by the seasoned nurses and respiratory therapists of the unit. Though I try to avoid conflict, I have never been one to idly stand by for long or not speak up.
As long as it is accepted practice, bullies will exist. It is a sad reality. The problem will likely never entirely disappear. The problem is that it not only affects the individual by decreased morale, increased sick days or leave, and decreased productivity, but it affects the patient as well. It is a serious issue that too often gets swept under the rug. While more legislation aims at eradicating bullying in the workplace, here is just a bit of personal advice if you fall victim to a bully.
The Bullying Has Nothing to Do with You
Let me repeat this, it has nothing to do with you. It is not a reflection of you, so get that out of your head right now. Stop trying to analyze another’s bad behavior. You have no control over someone else’s behavior. The only control you have is your reaction to it. The best reaction is non-reaction. Deflect it.
Ignore the Behavior
Once you realize the kind of person you are dealing with, imagine and treat the bully behavior the way you would a toddler having a tantrum. Ignore it. Plain and simple. Do nothing. You see the individual coming toward you, put up your blinders. Look past them. Remove the individual from your radar with the exception of any necessary professional interaction. Be the professional, be the adult.
Know & Embrace Your Worth
A wise woman once told me that it is your responsibility to teach others how they are allowed to treat you. This starts with knowing your worth. You are worthy of respect. You are worthy of being heard. Believing in yourself and your ability sets the bar for how others are allowed to treat you. When you recognize your own worth, the criticism and bad behavior of others, while hurtful initially, will not shake you at your core.
Perhaps the above suggestions have not worked? Confront the bully. Sometimes this is all it takes. Speak up. Chances are there are others who have suffered in silence and are afraid to speak up. Be their voice as well as your own. Speak to your manager If necessary. I have worked with some truly involved and committed managers that would not tolerate mistreatment of their staff by each other, a doctor, or any other individuals. They do exist. If your manager does not seem responsive or does not act, move up the chain of command. If you are lucky enough to have a union in your state, get the union involved if necessary.
The anti-bullying campaign in healthcare is gaining strength, but needs voices. The ANA (American Nursing Association) defines bullying as “repeated, unwanted harmful actions intended to humiliate, offend and cause distress, such as hostile remarks, verbal attacks, threats, intimidation and withholding support.” In 2015, the ANA President, Pamela F. Cipriano, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, spoke firmly against bullying by stating that “taking this clear and strong position is critical to ensure the safety of patients, nurses and other health care workers.” “Enduring physical or verbal abuse must no longer be accepted as part of a nurse’s job.” While there is no federal standard in place for anti-bullying and violence against nurses and other healthcare workers, some states are working toward preventative programs, mandatory reporting, and/or penalties if convicted of assault of a nurse or other healthcare worker. For more information, click here. To get involved and have your voice heard, click here. Being vocal and united against bullying in the workplace is the only way to make a change.
There are unfortunately some instances where the best choice is moving on. If the bullying is affecting your work and/or personal life in spite of all efforts, it may be best for you to move on. The fact is there are some units where the manager is indifferent to the bullying or may themselves be the bully. In this case, moving on might be best. It does not mean you are weak, have surrendered. It means you are brave and refuse to spend your entire career being mistreated. Sometimes walking away sounds counterintuitive, but it is up to you to decide what is best for you. I have done it. Leaving what I thought would be my dream job after only a year was the best decision of my life. It was hard at first. I felt defeated, but realize in retrospect it was one of the strongest moments in my life. I knew my worth and refused to work in a place that did not support and respect each and every employee. I have since found plenty of supportive and respectful places to work.