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Bullying Doesn't End in High School

Posted on: February 13, 2020

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You might think you’re done dealing with bullies once you graduate high school and enter the workforce. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Bullying can be a significant issue in the nursing workforce. Although nurses provide care to others, they are often the recipient of uncaring behavior from their peers, physicians, management or patients.

According to a survey by RNnetwork, 45 percent of the nurses surveyed reported being bullied or harassed by other nurses. Bullying can be accompanied by incivility, which is considered as rude or disrespectful actions that may have a negative intent. Some nurses are affected by bullying to the extent that they’ve considered leaving the nursing profession.

Understanding Nurse Bullying

Bullying can affect more than those involved, and can negatively impact the culture and comfort of the work environment. The American Nurses Association (ANA) defines bullying as repeated, unwanted harmful actions intended to offend or humiliate. This behavior is often targeted at an individual, meant to cause harm, and occurs over a period of time. The motivation for the behavior can vary. It could be due to envy, competition, stress, or a variety of unknown reasons.

Not all bad behavior is bullying. Providing appropriate constructive criticism isn’t bullying, and an individual act of a nurse behaving unprofessional or disrespectful may just be them having a bad day. Regardless of the rationale, it’s important to work to eliminate, or display no tolerance of, unacceptable behaviors.

Bullying can be obvious or covert and some behaviors can be easier to identify than others. Nurse bullying can consist of behaviors such as:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Sabotaging others
  • Downplaying accomplishments
  • Withholding information
  • Unfair assignments
  • Excluding others
  • Projecting blame
  • Physical violence
  • Threatening comments or actions
  • Withholding help or information
  • Acts of intimidation

How it Impacts the Organization

The challenge for employers doesn’t end with gaining nurses, but also maintaining them. One of the toughest tasks is ensuring adequate healthcare staffing, especially with nurses. Due to an ongoing nursing shortage, available nurses are limited, and the job offerings they can choose from are plentiful.

Managers may become frustrated, feeling that they spend valuable time acting more like a referee. Even if this task may seem tedious at times, it’s important to listen and validate employee concerns to help ensure that the work environment, and the culture, is meeting the expectations of you and your staff.

Bullying can impact the work environment in various ways and can result in:

  • Job dissatisfaction
  • Decreased productivity
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Negative effects to physical and mental health
  • Increased employee turnover
  • An unpleasant, or toxic work environment
  • Poor morale and damage to the culture
  • Communication failure
  • Impaired ability to care for patients

Be Proactive

Often nurses don’t report bullying behaviors at all, or managers don’t address it. Don’t wait until bullying becomes a problem by establishing clear lines of communication so it’s easy for nurses to report an issue, even if they’d like to remain anonymous. This may provide an opportunity to work proactively to address other issues that can lead to tension in a workplace.

Other methods to be proactive against nurse bullying include:

  • Work to obtain adequate staffing,
  • Reassign schedules if there are personality conflicts
  • Define the expectations of the culture
  • Model appropriate behaviors
  • Educate staff on what is unacceptable behavior
  • Support your policies and procedures regarding inappropriate behaviors
  • Investigate, while remaining unbiased
  • Be mindful of your tone of voice and body language

Work to Prevent Nurse Bullying

Nurses often work with inadequate staffing, and care for patients who are angry or in pain, which can result in a high stress environment. Take steps today to address issues that could lead to incivility or bullying.

If your work environment is infected with bullying, or other unsavory behaviors, it can affect your ability to maintain nurses and impact patient care. If you’re struggling with maintaining adequate staffing and it’s contributing to issues in your workplace, consider help from Barton Healthcare Staffing.

Maureen Bonatch MSN, RN
About Maureen Bonatch MSN, RN

Maureen Bonatch MSN, BSN, RN draws from years of experience in nursing administration, leadership and psychiatric nursing to write healthcare content. Her work has appeared in numerous health system websites and healthcare journals. Her experience as a fiction author helps her craft engaging and creative content. Learn more about her freelance writing at and her fiction books at