Bullying

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Journal (ANMJ) is currently preparing a feature story on the issue of horizontal violence and bullying in nursing (nurse to nurse). We’d like to hear from nurses and midwives who have experienced bullying, who know they’ve been guilty of bullying or have witnessed bullying at work.

What happened? What impact did it have on you or the other person? Did you receive appropriate support? What are your thoughts about this issue?

If you’re happy to share your experience for other nurses and midwives to read about in ANMJ, please email Kara at kara@anmf.org.au or post a comment below.

We know it’s a difficult issue to talk about publicly, so ANMJ will only publish your first name and a non-identifying description of your workplace, eg. ‘Kate works at an aged care facility in regional NSW’.

Image credit: rnspeak.com

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18 Responses to Bullying

  1. Jane says:

    Nurse to nurse bullying is just shooting ourselves in the foot.

    Congrats on doing work on this subject.

  2. Vanessa says:

    I was bullied in the workplace during my midwifery training.The bullying was so bad that I suffered anxiety and felt physically sick as I approached the workplace. I made an official complaint to the management of the hospital yet nothing was done about it. I will never work in the birth unit of this hospital again.

    • Brett says:

      I too was bullied during my midwifery training and when you report it, nothing was done about it because they value senior midwives more than the junior ones, also this leads to others joining in the bullying as nothing was done about it … like piranha they saw an easy injured prey and went on the attack. I thank the Lord I left that place before I lost my confidence and sanity.

  3. Rose says:

    After a few decades, it gets really tedious seeing someone do another study on bullying in the profession: they never result in any kind of change. I started nursing in 1982, it was there then and it’s been present everywhere I’ve worked, all across the globe. It’s endemic in hospital-trained nurses as well as Uni-trained and I’ve seen dreadful instances of bullying perpetrated by 23 year olds as well as 60 year olds. The consistency is, nothing actually ever gets done about it and nothing changes, other than people bandying about that stupid cliche, ‘Nurses eat their young’.

    I went to an excellent seminar a couple of years ago in the UK where someone pointed out that nursing doesn’t seem to have the ability to resolve bullying within its ranks because no one will take responsibility for the problem. That is, nurses blame bullying on everything but their own actions or inactions. Until nurses ‘fess up that they are a profession rife with bullies and individual nurses say ‘I’m part of this, it’s my fault, now I’m going to change things’, nothing will change.

    I’ve seen some shockers in my time, really awful cases of bullying. The very worst have been instances where nurses have treated ancillary staff such as cleaners and orderlies as if they were worthless. But amongst nurses, the most common I see is the way experienced nurses are treated when they arrive in a new job. All of them, even if they have decades of valuable experience up their sleeve, are treated like a new grad. Shameful.

    Over the years I certainly have seen at least a couple of cases where a nurse has punched or slapped a colleague they took a dislike to, once saw a female colleague refer to a male nurse as “F**khead” where his real name should have been used and keep it up for a year because “It winds him up”.

    Look, it goes on and on and on ad nauseum.

    As an exercise, think of where you worked that you really enjoyed. I bet the principle reason you enjoyed it wasn’t so much for the clinical work, but because the staff were nice to each other and you.

    And I bet there’s only one or two places like that you can name in your whole career.

  4. Kara says:

    Thanks Jane and thank you to everyone who emailed in about their experiences. We’ve had a huge response. Look out for our feature story on horizontal violence and bullying in the March issue of ANMJ.

  5. Emma says:

    Everything Rose said is spot on – thanks Rose, you’ve put things into perspective for me quite a bit.

    The worst bullying I’ve experienced was as a new grad. Bullying when I was young and just starting out meant my nursing career, while I ended up working as an RN for around 12 years, never really took off the ground until I studied postgrad to enter another profession. I went from being a confident, happy person to pretty much floating around from ward to ward, hospital to hospital, not specialising in anything because I had no confidence, often dreading going into work but just muddling through. My skills were there, I loved my patients but never really fit in, yet at school and uni I had a lot of friends and had never experienced bullying. I can’t help but think things might have been different if I’d had a more supportive manager and less bitchy co-workers when I first started out. Who really knows.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that nurses generally are an unhappy bunch (if you’re not unhappy going in, you probably will be); as an example, one of the things I made an effort to do with staff coming onto a new shift was to reassure them they should have a good day/night even if ours hadn’t been so great (I had hippy parents who told me to always think positively even if you don’t feel it ). I’ve lost count of the number of experienced RNs who would deliberately sneer at the new shift coming on, telling them how crap their shift was going to be. It’s a small thing I guess, but just one example of a toxic work environment. People are unhappy, so they spread it around.

    One thing I can say to new nurses starting out is: find a speciality you love, find a good workplace through friends or other contacts and stay there. Also, if you aren’t confident, fake it till you make it because you can’t show any sign of vulnerability in the nursing profession.

    • Briony says:

      Emma, that’s a great post and very insightful. Often it is a toxic work environment and your introduction to the shift you are coming on to usually begins with someone predicting your day is going to be crap. It happens at all levels, believe me, and is nearly impossible to stamp out. If you tell someone they are going to have a great day and they don’t, there’s hell to pay! Unfortunately, this is part of the disease of extreme pessimism that has afflicted nursing for a good couple of decades at least. I have tried countless solutions and nothing seems to work. As a manager, I’m now tending to the theory that it is not so much the profession that makes people like this, as it is a profession that (at the moment) seems to attract fully formed pessimists, negative personalities and bullies. We may just have to wait out the culture change and wait for this huge population of miserable people to either retire or leave. I think your idea is good and will help progress a more positive culture: only work in a speciality that you love and listen to recommendations by friends and colleagues when you are sussing out a place to work.

      So, here’s hoping for more Emmas in the profession and fewer of the negative, miserable bullies (go work in retail: they want you there!)

  6. Anon says:

    Last week I resigned my job as nursing unit manager anaesthetics and recovery for a small private hospital. I had worked there for eight years and have many happy memories. However 15 months ago a new theatre manager was appointed and everything changed.
    At first I felt we got on well and I certainly endeavoured to make her feel welcome and to help her familiarise herself with how we functioned as a highly skilled professional team of mature, responsible, loyal and hardworking nurses. Within three weeks one of my colleagues said ‘Look out you’re being sidelined’. I was surprised because on the surface I felt I had established a good relationship with my new boss.
    Over time this prediction became painfully real. I was frozen out of all decision making, although 2IC I was never allowed to be in charge and instead had to answer to whichever nurse was most favoured by our new boss. While I found this humiliating it was also dangerous for the unit as the person had no broad idea of the unit or issues which could arise. My entire team were asked to report to the new boss, bypassing me completely. In order to curry favour, my team, which been cohesive and collaborative, withdrew from each other, seeking only to survive. Information generously shared, assistance offered, tasks undertaken jointly all became a thing of the past. Our boss’s shifting favouritism and general dishonesty painted bleak pictures, confronting colleagues and developed an aura of suspicion and paranoia. Xmas gifts delivered to the unit were witnessed being bundled into large bags then secretively dispatched to her car boot never to reappear.
    The pogrom against me involved intimidation, lying, calling me a liar, refusing to speak or even turn in her chair to speak when addressed in a polite manner. Denial of critical information, false accusations of poor performance, dismissal during attempts to discuss issues, withholding of items addressed to me directly and significant reduction of working hours and my ability to function as a manager.
    When I attempted to escalate this problem after 15 months and witnessed by many, I was informed by the CEO that all Surgeons, anaesthetists and nursing staff had expressed their delight and support with the new manager and that I was the only person who had a problem. I was then also informed that I had a history of having negative relationships with managers and others.
    At that moment I realised I was living in a parallel universe and withdrew my services by resigning. I feel battered and bruised by the experience and resent leaving a position where I had previously felt respected and enjoyed friendship and camaraderie with each and every person I had contact with.

    • kazza says:

      I wonder if the new manager was younger and could talk the talk that secured her the job. Unfortunately nursing seems to be going the way of the corporate world where younger, less experienced people are employed because they have the marketability with not much experience. Also management like to be surrounded with like minded people and are probably bullies themselves and therefore employ people who will bow and scrape before them but crack the whip with their juniors in order to get brownie points from management.

      Bullying comes from the top of the organisation. If you have bullies running the hospital, then you can expect bullying to be the practice that is rife throughout the ranks. Recently a nurse who accidently set off the fire alarm at work was approached by a divisional manager who informed the nurse that the CEO of the hospital wanted her (the nurse’s) name and wanted the nurse to know that he may be charging her for the call-out fee that the hospital would have to pay the fire department. This was an extremely frightening experience for the nurse, who was very remorseful about the whole incident. It had been noted that the electrical equipment in the kitchen had not been checked for the last two years. So in effect it could have been the equipment that was faulty and not the nurse’s fault at all. But to be approached by someone so high up the organisational ladder and be told that the CEO wanted her name amounts to scare tactics which equals bullying.

  7. Jane says:

    Here’s a blog by a former nurse that clearly didn’t enjoy her time in the profession. It’s a bit vitriolic, but still interesting

    http://justsaynotonursing.wordpress.com

    • NU_admin says:

      *Very* vitriolic – in a sense, she’s doing what she accuses other nurses of doing – being very condescending, dismissive and derogatory. It’s a shame, as there are doubtless grounds for some of her feelings.

      • Helen Lim says:

        Vitriolic is the word, but some points are perfectly relevant and I agree with them.

        I especially agree with the point she makes about nursing not ‘creating’ bullies, but being a magnet for bullies that are fully formed before they commence the profession.

        The career is fine, great even, but the virtues that make it so great make it very unlikely that we will ever do anything about the bullying problem.

        As a friend of mine once noted: “Another year, another study on bullying that will result in not a lot being done about it”

  8. Jenny B says:

    In 40 years of nursing, I have seen probably hundreds of nursing workforce studies done on the topic of bullying. Every one shows the same results: between 50% and 80% of nurses think they are bullied in the workplace. And every study results in…. nothing happening. For 40 years I have never seen bullying effectively tackled, and I have never seen someone accused of bullying disciplined. I see no reason to see anything change for the next 40 years.

    • NU_admin says:

      Actually Jenny, there is a big change afoot. New anti-bullying in the workplace law came into effect on 1 January and in fact the NSWNMA has now acted in one case on behalf of a member – so members can get in touch with us (or with your union in other states).
      http://www.nswnma.asn.au/are-you-being-bullied/

    • Karen says:

      I agree so far nothing effective has been done regarding bullying in hospitals. I also agree that usually the culture of the place depends on who is at the top of the ladder – that also includes the HR manager and whether they are arrogant enough to think they are above the law. Most of the bullying I have seen has been done by nurse unit managers and the studies I have seen never mention this aspect. I think APHRA needs to have a unit that investigates bullying because it does impact on patient safety and bullies should be fined and moved on to a different area of the hospital or be forced to resign. If it happens on three occasions and if they keep up the behaviour they should lose their registration because they are an OHS risk.
      Saying the victim is the liability quite often is nonsense. The hospital spends more money training up new staff and it costs the hospital in agency staff when the victim has to take time off work. Furthermore, if it affects a patient there is the legal liability too.
      Internal investigations are usually biased. I always think this, when I see an article in a paper saying that “an investigation was done” in a hospital. I also think bullying needs to be defined to staff in writing. I hope other people on this forum can come up with ideas on how to stop it. I see time and time again stories about nurse bullying but rarely solutions – we all need to start thinking about solutions and putting them on the web etc. The more people that read these ideas, the more likely we will eventually get change.

      • Siobahn says:

        I’ve always been of the opinion that any possibility of dealing with bullying from a HR perspective went down the gurgler when anti-bullying activists introduced the concept (now a mantra) that “you are bullied if you feel that you are being bullied”. Which, although perhaps true, made the concept so abstract that it became impossible to deal with the perpetrator in a punitive or restorative manner. I’ve come across scores of colleagues over the years who feel they were victims of bullying because they were directed to do something by the nurse in charge in a no-nonsense, businesslike manner, irrespective of whether the direction was reasonable at the time. I’ve also come across colleagues who have complained they were bullied by the doctor giving curt directions in an arrest scenario. This is such a pervasive mentality, I note that some employers now include in their HR policies that “no appropriate direction given by a senior staff member in the course of work will be regarded as intimidation or bullying”.

        What needs to be taken into account is that nursing, and medicine, are hierarchical (with the hierarchies being based on skills and qualifications) professions and directions are sometimes given curtly, but may be appropriate. Same as when you screw up doing something, it’s not bullying if someone points it out. The real approach to dealing with bullying should focus on where the perpetrator has a malicious intent.

  9. Old Nurse says:

    About time NSWNA did something for the money they receive from us.

  10. Marnie Mc says:

    I too have experienced bullying in the workplace as a student, nurse on the floor and then in aged care management. It is prolific in our industry and I experienced it from my own staff making up lies and accusations about me after I found out about a workplace extra-marital affair and expressed concern to the individuals that this was inappropriate conduct in the workplace. I was suspended from duty for 7 weeks after they made a claim that I physically abused residents, which was totally untrue. I was not supported by my management team and had to sit through 4 hours of interrogation from 2 managers, a lawyer and a witness. The individual also attempted to put in a stress claim against me following an overdose because she was scared that her husband would find out and then tried to blame that on me also. There was no disciplinary action taken against the individuals that made the false complaints about me and they still are in their jobs. I left the organisation in disgust which is a Christian organisation.
    I then moved on to my dream job to experience bullying from 2 male managers. Thankfully I spoke up as did 6 other managers and one of the managers was fired from his job. If your employer does not support you when you make a complaint about workplace bullying you can go to Workcover yourself and lodge a complaint and they may investigate it. If we simply move on and do nothing then nothing will happen. It is a great shame that nurses and managers working in the so called “care industry” treat their staff in this way. I have met wonderful nurses that have experienced the same treatment if not worse and it is important that we maintain those relationships. Victims blame themselves and take it personally which is basic human nature however if we don’t report and act then we cannot expect anything to change.

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