Staff Bullying: How to Identify It And Protect Your Team

What specifically constitutes staff bullying?
According to the American Nurses Association, bullying is defined as the practice of using “repeated, unwanted harmful actions intended to humiliate, offend and cause distress in the recipient”.  At first, the idea of nurses using intimidation techniques against each other seems to completely go against the notion of nurses as warriors of compassion. However, over the course of the past decade nurse bullying has become a main point of concern from both a leadership and quality of patient care standpoint as a whopping 45% of nurses reported being bullied or verbally harassed at work in 2017 alone. 1
What contributes to a culture of bullying?
One common characteristic that allows nurse bullying to manifest itself is a lack of boundaries. This lack of boundaries can lead to bullying behavior through gossip and conflict in addition to gatekeeping which can have serious negative impacts on patient care in terms of increased infection rates, medication errors and more. Ultimately, all these behaviors can have detrimental effects on an organization’s performance overall. A good indicator of whether or not staff bullying is an issue can be increased turnover rates for staff members that have been there for less than two years.2
How do I stop it?
In one word, the most effective strategy for reducing staff bullying is support. Not only is a team that feels supported by leadership less likely to create a toxic work environment where bullying is more frequent, but also leadership will be better able to address cases of staff bullying as they arise in an environment where individuals being bullied are encouraged to seek the support of the organization. While the idea of supporting your teams may seem broad, three techniques to help leaders at every level take action against bullying include:

  • On-site support. As a healthcare leader, one person can only see and hear so much. That is why it is crucial for staff members and leaders alike to be well educated on where they can locate on- site support should they need it for either themselves or a staff member.
  • Policies and procedures: Acronyms like L.I.S.T.E.N. are tools that leaders at every level can utilize to mitigate staff bullying. Additionally, similar policies and procedures as outlined by the Joint Commission and the American Nurse Association can be found online.
  • Enforcing the organizational code of conduct. In other words, if you hear something, say something. Leaders can sometimes be reluctant to report instances of staff bullying if they fear the fallout from doing so will negatively affect their team. For example, a nurse manager might fail to report a case of bullying if one staff member is being targeted by 5 other nurses on their team. If the manager is more concerned about potentially losing 5 team members instead of one, this might cause them to look the other way. However, organizations that operate based on their code of conduct stand to gain in the long-run from low attrition, better quality higher, improved performance and higher standards of quality of care.

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