Nurse Bullying: Does it really happen

This article is an update to the College’s past article titled Bullying, published November 5, 2015.

When most people think of bullying, they think back to the days of grade school when a jerk would shake down a smaller child for their lunch money or give them a knuckle sandwich. However, bullying does not stop after elementary school. A good majority of adults report situations where they were a victim to a bully. It is important to recognize the many forms of bullying and know how to handle the situation.

What is Bullying

So, what is bullying? Bullying, as defined by the Workplace Bullying Institute, is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is

  • Threatening, humiliating, or intimidating
  • Work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done
  • Verbal abuse

Types of Bullying

As the most obvious form of bullying, physical bullying is just one type of bullying. A good way to prevent bullying is to be aware of the types of bullying and how to handle it.

  • Physical Bullying: Occurs when someone uses physical actions to gain power and control over their targets.
  • Verbal Bullying: The use of words, statements, and name-calling to gain power and control over a target.
  • Emotional Bullying or Relational Aggression: A type of social manipulation where individuals try to hurt their peers or sabotage their social standing.
  • Cyber Bullying: Use of the Internet, a cell phone or other technology to harass, threaten, embarrass or target another person.
  • Sexual Bullying: Repeated, harmful and humiliating actions that target a person sexually.
  • Prejudicial Bullying: Preconceived opinions toward people of different races, religions or sexual orientation.

Bullying in the Workplace

Unfortunately, in the nursing profession, as in any profession, there are bullies. Nurse bullying is so prevalent in today’s society that in 1986 nursing professor Judith Meissner coined the phrase “nurses eat their young” as a way to encourage nurses to stop bullying new and inexperienced coworkers. However, it’ not always senior staff that do the bullying. Often it is experienced and inexperienced nurses who are both the bullies and victims. (Hutchinson et al, 2006).

In a survey of 521 clinical nurses conducted in 2011 on incidents involving workplace bullying, 102 (19.6%) had been subject to physical violence, 268 (51.4%) had experienced verbal abuse, 155 (29.8%) had been victims of bullying/mobbing and 67 (12.9%) reported having experienced sexual harassment. The survey also showed a high correlation between working grave shifts and the increased likelihood of sexual harassment (Pai, Lee, 2011).

For nurses who may be a victim of bullying, consider the following steps to take action.

  • Report it. Any incident in which an employee feels harassed, is made to feel uncomfortable in their workplace setting, and/or bullied should be reported immediately to their supervisor. There should be a culture of zero-tolerance for bullying at every organization and all leaders should take this initiative very seriously.
  • Keep composed and maintain the upper hand. Don’t lower yourself or stoop to the bully’s level. If you feel comfortable and safe, calmly confront the bully by acknowledging and pointing out the negative behavior and asking them to stop.
  • Be a role model and do not bully others. The negative cycle of bullying will only continue if its victims eventually become the bullies.

Don’t be afraid to seek out help if you feel as if you are being bullied. The same is true while in nursing school. Here at Nightingale College, we have a zero-tolerance policy for bullying. Our Learner Services Department and faculty can help determine if you are being bullied, so reach out if you feel the need.