3 Steps to Combat Bullying Among Nurses
HealthOctober 22, 2019

3 steps to combat bullying among nurses

By: Katie Manoy, MSN, RN, CPNP, Wolters Kluwer Health Clinical Editor

When I began my career as a registered nurse, I was extremely fortunate to be placed at a hospital in which nurses volunteered to be preceptors, took pride in nurturing junior staff and demonstrated professionalism in encounters with both patients and other staff.

But, unfortunately, this isn’t the case at all hospitals. There are stories about nurses who “eat their young,” bullying new nurses so often that they may dread coming to work, question why they entered the profession or even quit.

How do we help combat bullying amongst our nursing staff and build an environment in which any nurse would feel welcome?

Step 1: Assess the problem

The first step in waging a war against bullying behavior is to determine the scope of the problem. Dealing with bullying in the workplace can be more difficult to deal with than simply disciplining an employee who has made an error because the facts aren’t as clear cut.

Typically, there isn’t a chart to review or objective data to analyze, so you must instead call on your medical training—that is, look at the symptoms of the problem. When bullying is a problem, your unit may have an unusually high turnover rate or a lower sense of morale. Nurses may be less willing to help each other solve scheduling issues or cover when there is an unexpected crisis. Rates of sick calls may be high, and staff may express dissatisfaction with teamwork or assignments. Cliques may form on the unit, and some nurses may be left out completely.

Once you’ve determined that there is a problem, you must investigate further to find the root of it. In many cases, the problem may stem from specific individuals. It only takes one or two rotten eggs to spoil the whole salad, so to speak.

In many situations, these troublesome personalities are often established and valued nurses. You need them on your team. So, what do you do?

Step 2: Make a plan

Now that you have assessed the situation, it is time to make a formal plan. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Listen to those on your staff who have been on the receiving end of mistreatment. Have an open-door policy. Make it known that you would like to be informed of the issues.
  • Sit down with the individuals that you perceive as being part of the problem and have an honest conversation about expectations and the culture that you are trying to create. Establish clear rules for behavior. Encourage them to see the negative consequences of their actions.
  • Discuss teamwork at all scheduled staff meetings. Reinforce positivity and professionalism.
  • Look to the positive influencers on your unit and see if they would be interested in forming a committee or a workgroup to help combat the problem.
  • Evaluate your charge nurses and decide if they are role modeling what you expect from your staff.
  • Identify “up and coming” leaders on your unit and empower them to take on expanded roles.

Step 3: Stick to it

Changing the culture of your workplace is not going to happen overnight, but it’s important to do so for more than just the well-being of your staff. Eventually, if it hasn’t already, patient safety will be affected by a negative workplace. As you may be well aware, lapses in teamwork and ineffective communication can greatly disservice your clientele.

Eventually, your interventions will start to make a difference, but they require consistent monitoring. Periodically evaluate your actions and look at how things are going. What’s working and what isn’t? What strategies have you yet to try? How have your peers dealt with similar issues?

Keep working at it, and don’t lose faith. Ultimately, the safety and care of our patients depend on maintaining a healthy, harassment-free workplace.

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