Workplace bullying in health care IV: Nurses bullied and responding

Here’s a quick assignment: After you read this post, go to Google and type in these two words as a search request: nurses bullying.  If you had a dollar for every hit, you could retire right now and live very, very comfortably.

When it comes to workplace bullying in the healthcare workplace, nurses get the worst of it.  They are bullied by doctors.  They are bullied by fellow nurses.  And when patients act out, they’re more likely to take it out on a nurse than someone else, at times using physical violence.

Studies and More Studies

A recent study by the Joint Commission “found that more than 50 of nurses have been the target of some form of abuse at work and more than 90 percent have witnessed abusive behavior.  Furthermore, 75 percent of nurses who responded believed that this type of behavior can reduce patient satisfaction and disrupt care.”

A well attended symposium on bullying in hospital settings held at the Work, Stress, and Health Conference in November further highlighted the experience of nurses.  Paula Grubb (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) and Michelle Kaminski (Michigan State U.) presented papers on bullying of nurses that generated considerable discussion.

Two studies from the United Kingdom by psychologist Lyn Quine add support to these concerns.  Her 2001 study of National Health Service nurses found that:

Forty-four percent of nurses reported experiencing one or more types of bullying in the previous 12 months, compared to 35 percent of other staff. . . . Nurses who had been bullied reported significantly lower levels of job satisfaction and significantly higher levels of anxiety, depression and propensity to leave.  They were also more critical of aspects of the organizational climate of trust.

Quine’s 1999 survey of National Health Service employees found that 38 percent “reported experiencing one or more types of bullying in the previous year,” resulting in “significantly lower levels of job satisfaction.”

Nurses’ Unions as a Collective Voice?

Lots of nurses are unionized, and their unions may be in the best position to serve as a staging area for raising issues about bullying in healthcare.

For example, the Massachusetts Nurses Association has incorporated their concerns about workplace bullying into their workplace violence campaign.  Workplace bullying has been a topic of their workshops and annual meetings.  Several years ago, a small delegation of their members participated in a two-session roundtable on workplace bullying that I hosted at Suffolk University Law School, and the discussions were detailed and very personal.

Nurses’ unions can educate members in responding to bullying situations, negotiate abusive supervision clauses in collective bargaining agreements, support workplace bullying legislation, and provide assistance to bullied co-workers.  Along with healthcare organizations, they can work toward constructive responses to workplace bullying on individual and systemic levels.


This is the fourth and final post in a short series about workplace bullying in healthcare.

Link to the first post, discussing the Joint Commission standards

Link to the second post, discussing the Vanderbilt University Medical Center remedial program for physicians

Link to the third post, discussing tort (personal injury) claims that have been brought against doctors by co-workers for bullying behaviors

5 responses

  1. Pingback: Workplace bullying in healthcare III: A sampling of legal cases « Minding the Workplace

  2. Pingback: Workplace bullying in healthcare II: Vanderbilt U program for doctors « Minding the Workplace

  3. Pingback: Workplace bullying in healthcare I: The Joint Commission standards « Minding the Workplace

  4. A critical element in responding to incivility at work is developing a group’s capacity to reflect on their working relationships. Explicit conversations on behaviors that individuals find annoying, offensive, or intimidating can make a world of difference. In our CREW interventions, we help workgroups develop their own procedures for enhancing the quality of their workplace communities.
    Problematic interactions are more often the result of thoughtlessness rather than aggression.
    All the best,

  5. women are brainwashed into subtle and not so subtle social bullying techniques from kindergarten onwards . Time to address the problem up front , and develop ways of dealing with it , to establish stronger working relationships, safer patient care, job satisfaction and to model a way forward out of the wasteful morass of petty competitiveness .

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