As a nurse manager I have addressed reports of nurse-to-nurse bullying, however, it was very difficult to do so in a formal manner. Much of my interaction with the bully was framed as counseling on how to be a better nurse, taking responsibility for a safe working environment, and so on. Typically the response I received was feigned surprise and defensive, reluctance to acknowledge their behavior and lack of concern that another person perceived them as a bully. This makes it difficult for a manager to address without refined interpersonal skills and facility policies.
I enjoyed the findings in an article by Drs Johnson and Boutain specifically describing nurse manager awareness and handling of bully behavior. In their publication, they indicate that anti-bullying policies are weakly enforced by management. Facilities may inflate the jargon by including bullying in inappropriate or disruptive behavior policies. Many nurse managers report handling bullying as communication or behavior issues but are not likely to discuss it with their peers. The authors also indicate that nurse managers face difficulty in correcting bullying behavior when it is from an otherwise good nurse, their boss told them to let it go, simply did not know what to do, and no clear definition of bullying at the facility.
There are few things more toxic in the workplace than a bully wandering in the midst. Flagrant behavior can lead to staff turnover, legal issues, and distracted patient care delivery. Nurses with bully inclinations need to be given opportunities to learn how to make their responses more constructive, create teachable moments and rely less on a power-gradient of fear and more on building one another into strong clinicians. A sophisticated employee assistance program should also be leveraged to provide support for both the bully and their victims, up to and including professional therapeutic counseling.
It is time for nursing leaders to do better at creating a safe place to report bullying behavior, commit to effective resolutions, and set clear expectations for a mature, professional work environment.
Johnson S & Boutain D. Managerial and organizational discourses of workplace bullying. The Journal of Nursing Administration. 2015;45(9):457-461.