A Culture of Bullying

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Bullying is always a hot topic of conversation on Nurse Uncut and continues to be a problem for many nurses and midwives. It really is concerning that so many people continue to be affected by this disappointing behaviour of others. Registered Nurse, Emily, has taken the time to share her experience and offer some thoughts on what can be done to fix the issue.

When I graduated as a Registered Nurse three years ago, I was well prepared for there to be a sink or swim element to my transition year. I knew there would be long hours and chaotic shifts with blood, sweat and tears in every literal sense of the phrase. What I was unprepared for was the blatant bullying and intimidation that took place within my workplace on an almost daily basis.

We enter the nursing profession not only with a duty of care towards our patients, but also commit to ‘practicing kindness and modelling consideration and care towards each other’ (Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia 2008). I was therefore surprised to discover that over 30% of new graduates report bullying, harassment and violence at the hands of their co-workers (Read & Laschinger 2013). Nurses are suffering serious health effects ranging from stress, anxiety and reduced self-esteem to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (Australian College of Nursing 2016). This lasting damage impacts not only individuals but also increases staff turnover, which thereby compounds already critical staff shortages and affects patient welfare (Rush et. al. 2014).

As a new graduate I was yelled at, sworn at and humiliated in front of patients, families and co-workers on numerous occasions. In addition to this, a more insidious form of bullying was subtly present. Despite a team nursing approach, it was common for me to be allocated a patient load but then isolated without support for most of the shift. Questions, requests for help and attempts at conversation would be met with blank stares, raised eyebrows and accusations of not being a team player.

During handover my documentation, rationales and patient care would be interrogated and demeaned. I’ve also seen co-workers fall prey to primitive pack behaviour, berated for their stupidity, ridiculed and reduced to tears. When raising my concerns, some mangers appeared too afraid to intervene, whilst others enabled or participated in this behaviour. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told – ‘Watch out for such and such’ or ‘don’t worry about her she’s like that with everyone’. My question is why? Do we really believe that this rite of passage produces tougher and more resilient nurses?

At a workplace forum with nurses differing in age and experience, several rationales were suggested. The first was that new graduates were an easy target for nurses to vent their built up frustrations. This may be due to heavy workloads, ‘difficult’ patients, and their own lack of power. Others believed that experienced nurses may feel confronted or threatened by a new graduates’ knowledge or qualifications. One colleague highlighted that she had observed a pattern whereby each year’s new graduates received the same hostile treatment. As soon as the next new intake commenced however, the hierarchy changed and the previous graduates were integrated into the team without further targeting. It was also suggested that fatigue and workload stress reduced nurses’ patience and capacity to provide mentorship.

During the forum it was acknowledged that debriefs were usually offered after major events. Yet the ‘every day’ grief, abuse and physicality, was considered to be part of the job, with no proviso for ongoing physical or mental health checks. Studies by Croft & Cash (2012), also suggest that bureaucratic restrictions and repression may result in bullying tactics as an attempt to maintain hierarchy or gain respect. In addition, these factors contribute to burnout and stress, which result in unmanaged feelings of bitterness, disillusionment and cynicism (Laschinger & Read 2016).

This culture of bullying is so deeply ingrained within the profession, that it is more often referred to as nurses ‘eating their young’. So how do we evolve towards a more nurturing future? I believe that the first step is to empower our nurses to speak out against bullying. There are however multiple contributors, and through addressing the driving behaviour, maybe we can look at providing better care for our caregivers.

Have you had a similar experience at work? Please let us know in the comments. Also, check out the NSWNMA page “Keep calm and stop bullying at work” which has useful information on what is bullying and some advice on how to deal with it.

References:

  • Australian College of Nursing 2016, Position Statement, Bullying in the Workplace, viewed on 1 November 2017, <https://www.acn.edu.au/sites/default/files/advocacy/submissions/ps_bulling_in_the_workplace_c2.pdf>.
  • Croft, R. K. & Cash, P. A, 2012, ‘Deconstructing contributing factors to bullying and lateral violence in nursing using a postcolonial feminist lens’, Contemporary Nurse, vol. 42, no. 2. pp. 226-241.
  • Nixon, J. 2014, ‘Looking at the culture of nursing through fresh eyes’, Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 26-27.
  • Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia 2008, Code of Ethics for nurses, viewed on 10 November 2017, http://www.nursingmidwiferyboard.gov.au/Codes-Guidelines-Statements/Professional-standards.aspx.
  • Read, E. & Laschinger, H. K. 2013, ‘Correlates of new graduate nurses’ experiences of workplace mistreatment’, The Journal of Nursing Administration, vol. 43, no. 4. Pp. 221-229.
  • Rush, K. L., Adamack, M., Gordon, J. & Janke, R, 2014, ‘New graduate nurse transition programs: Relationships with bullying and access to support’, Contemporary Nurse, vol. 48, no. 2. pp. 219-228.
  • Spence Laschinger, H. K. & Read, E. 2016, ‘The effect of authentic leadership, person-job fit, and civility norms on new graduate nurses’ experiences of co-worker incivility and burnout’, The Journal of Nursing Administration, vol. 46, no. 11, pp. 574-581.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Yes I have been bullied from the top to the psa’s. It is disgusting, one workplace was so toxic I kept a journal as I could tell from the outset things would go bad. I spoke personally with the premier of the state and the police about my experience and the lack of care in the hospital. That state has no anti billing laws and the highest suicide rate for Australia. Another workplace my new grad placement was unable to pay me for 2 months, they didn’t understand why I wasn’t getting paid and asked wasn’t my old man giving me enough spending money? I explained I was a single mother and never before have I had my ability to support my family threatened. On finding out I had 3 daughters the after hours shift manager of the whole hospital suggested I didn’t need a job I just needed a red light. To prostitute my 3 daughters. Writing this now upsets me bullying in nursing is soul destroying. Now I am still bullied 2 weeks ago the last incident with a psa?? I speak up calmly professionally directly to the person and then relay it to my boss. I will intervene if I see bullying as not to makes me a bully, I will not listen to gossip or hear say.
    I would like to make an Erin brokovich type movie and blow bullying out of the water.

  2. I found that when I went back into the hospital system after 20 years in the community there were some nurses who were rude, disrespectful and unhelpful. One would ask them a question and they would appear to be deaf – eventually I worked out that asking students was better as they were far more helpful. The NUM ignored their behaviour but the hospital had a massive turnover of staff – of which I was one as I decided to go elsewhere. This sort of behaviour needs to be quashed immediately and until management start doing that it will probably continue.

  3. Sadly bullying is across the board, starting with senior managers and flowing on down the line. Where it is impossible to address is that the Nurse Manager of the ward/department is aware of these perpetrators and they are actually protected, with complaints regarding bullying never leaving the office. In my department there have been a number of known serial bullies, who thankfully over time some have moved on, of their accord. One staff member finally left after assaulting a colleague in the workplace, in front of too many witnesses to make it disappear. I personally experienced our unit HR manager verbally and physically intimidate me over rostering, and despite a witness who provided a damming statement, the Nurse Manager above her campaigned to avoid dealing with this person for 10 months. When I did not back down I was “gaslighted” and the accusations where thrown back at me, that I was the aggressor. They also declined to talk to 2 other witnesses during this time, despite repeated requests to do so. Following this I was threatened with an interview with HR department, by the Nurse Manager. I had just handed all my documentation and email trail over to the HR department. Nothing happened that I could see. I later found out the HR manager was stood down, when senior executives found she had bullied another staff member who was too distressed to turn up for work. This is a deplorable standard to work under, but the belief is it is better to stay with the devils you know, that to move on and have to deal with the new ones you find there.

  4. Yes it happens a lot where I work. The senior nurses tell me to “let it go” and “not rake up trouble with the person who does my roster”. Being humiliated by senior nurses or my NUM is just supposed to be part of my job. I just keep my mouth shut and my eyes open. So now I clock on and clock off. They will get nothing from me anymore other than my best but it’s for the patients not for colleagues or superiors. I have and will continue to document every incident because one day I might need it. You need a bloody thick skin to be a nurse and it’s nothing to do with the patients who are amazing!

  5. I’m a new grad who has been the subject of bullying from day one. I’ve endured hell on a daily basis including being demoted to an AIN without an investigation …I’ve lost my new grad year….now with no references, no experience except as an AIN, a record full of accusations & made up complaints I will never be able to find another job. So much for going to uni to get off centrelink.
    This the crux of what’s happening – I just can’t work anymore…union involved but looks like the person/s involved will get away with it. I regret my decision to become a nurse.

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