Nurses and workplace bullying

If asked to identify an occupational group that has been pro-active in addressing workplace bullying and related behaviors, nurses would quickly come to mind.

Over the years I’ve had many interactions with nurses of different certification levels and with organizations that represent their interests, ranging from participation in workshops and conferences to individual exchanges. Here in Massachusetts, for example, I’ve spoken at programs on bullying at work sponsored by the Massachusetts Nurses Association and the Massachusetts Association of Registered Nurses, and the latter has endorsed the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill.

Uniquely situated

Nurses are uniquely situated to address workplace bullying for several reasons:

First, bullying is common in the healthcare workplace, and nurses are on the receiving end of it from doctors and other nurses. This is no small matter to them.

Second, nurses are at the heart of healthcare workplaces. They see a lot and they know a lot, and they are in a position to understand how organizational dots connect.

Third, many nurses are unionized. This provides them with a structure for raising concerns about mistreatment at work through advocacy, member education, and collective bargaining.

Finally, nurses are part of a professional structure that includes health care associations and colleges of nursing. These entities can play a key role in education, prevention, and response.

Lots of blog posts!

I’ve written many posts about nurses, workplace bullying, and related topics on this blog. Here is a good sampling:

Nurse can proceed with age discrimination claim against employer seeking “rising stars,” federal court holds (2013)

Why we need psychologically healthy workplaces in the healthcare sector (2012)

U of Cincinnati conference examines workplace violence, bullying, and incivility in healthcare (2012)

Cheryl Dellasega’s When Nurses Hurt Nurses (2011)

Nurse writes about bullying by doctors, other doctors respond (2011)

Nursing as a Calling: Aspirations and Realities (2010)

Workplace bullying in healthcare IV: Nurses bullied and responding (2009)

2 responses

  1. The bullying that I experienced which eventually ended my career was done by nurses. I was a Medicaid eligibility worker at a county health department. My supervisor was a nurse and a nurse co-worker–they are the two that forced me into severe depression leading to disability retirement at age 42.

    Nothing was done to them because upper management sided with them.

    Sharon D.

  2. Rarely considered are the social workers out there who are also bullied by this same multidisciplinary teams that you refer to. This is includes the nurses who are bully’s also. We are also situated to address workplace bullying for a number of reasons.

    I have been in my profession for 26 years, and I am the first in my area to stand up and speak out about my experiences. I have worked in various front line areas including child protection, income support, addictions, and I am currently a medical social worker. I am astounded by how many are following me and now sharing their stories. We are sometimes bullied by our clients/patients and their families, but more so, we are bullied by our managers, supervisors, and colleagues. I have witnessed and/or experienced being bullied by doctors, nurses, a psychiatric nurses, psychologists, a pastor, social workers/non social workers (in the role of social work), 2 admin staff supervisors, HR representatives, and one Union Rep.

    We are expected to be the profession that is creating programs for prevention, supports, resources, resolutions, training, policy, and treatment for those experiencing bullying. This adds to our shame and self doubt about speaking out.

    We are expected to be the experts in identifying and addressing various forms of abuse and we are ‘trained’ to give the benefit of the doubt and see the bigger picture. For this reason, I believe the abuse continues on a little longer for us. Like everyone else we become entrenched in this insidious abuse before recognizing what is happening to us. We are expected to be professional advocates, yet we lose our voice when entrenched in WPB. This all adds to our shame and self doubt about speaking out.

    Social workers are at the heart of all areas of human needs. We see a lot and we know a lot. We are in the position to understand how organizational dots DON’T connect, gaps exist, and processes fail.

    Yet our voices are rarely heard unless it is about easing a client or patient crisis. I know this is not the case for ALL social workers, I do believe I speak for the majority. We are seen as the caregivers, sometimes as door mats, and it seem we are less important than nurses and other helping professions. Like nurses, we are also at risk of WPB, burnout, vicarious trauma, secondary stress trauma, compassion fatigue, and our high crisis case loads (with low supports and resources for staff), with high staff turnover which add further risks for us. The more risks, the more vulnerability to WPB . This includes becoming a bully, and/ or a target and/or bystander.

    We are also unionized and we raise concerns with our reps only to discover they know little or nothing about WPB. My (seasonsed) union rep attended a 3 day weekend conference on WPB which I discovered months after I contacted him about my worst experience of WPB. I asked him why he didn’t tell me (months ago) that my case was a perfect example of WPB? He stated to me “social workers don’t experience WPB, on the rare occasion that they did they would simply fix it’. I told him he could have saved me months of cruelty and my resulting chronic illness. I share this example whenever possible and have discovered that many professionals, including social workers, think the way as he did! For this reason, I believe my profession is forgotten and further isolated and/or shamed when it comes to WPB.

    Social workers are also a part of a professional structure that includes our regulatory body. These can play a role in education and prevention, but in my area, have played a minor role over the past 2 years since I began my work. I have turned my experiences into learning and growing experiences and now I present a workshop and resource kit specifically for social workers. I am meeting with HR, and Unions, and many others to support my colleagues. I want to break the silence and secrecy that exists in my profession and I hope that you help us also.

    I ask that nurses and all others who are speaking out remember Social Workers too. Help us come out of the closet on this issue. The more of us who share, the more who will be helped. There is a lot of work to be done. I am happy to say that I am attending the WBI training in August. Thank you

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