Dr. Renee Thompson: Three Strategies to Tackle a Bullying Boss

Dr. Renee Thompson: Three Strategies to Tackle a Bullying Boss

This post is the fifth in a series of posts on nurse bullying and conflict in the workplace written by Dr. Renee Thompson, DNP, RN, CMSRN. Dr. Thompson is one of the top professional development and anti-bullying thought leaders in nursing.

Bullying behaviors happen because they can. It takes willing individuals and leaders to stop it. But what if the leader is the bully?

According to Gallup, the number one reason why someone stays or leaves their job is the relationship they have with their manager. Unfortunately, more and more nurses share their stories about nurse bullying – NOT from their co-workers but from their boss.

Common ways bully bosses behave:

  • They show favoritism to nurses they like via better schedules, time off, and easier work while the nurses they don’t like get impossible schedules and harder work.
  • They openly criticize nurses they don’t like and openly praise the ones they do like. Oh, and they do this in front of others.
  • They micromanage some nurses while allowing other nurses to do whatever they want. Sometimes to the point where some nurses are formally disciplined.
  • They downplay the accomplishments of some while making a big deal and rewarding others.
  • And, if a bully boss really wants to torture one of their employees, they will get the other nurses to “gang up on them” by giving them the toughest assignments, ignoring them during the shift, and deliberating sabotaging them at work.

Although addressing the bullying behavior of a boss is more difficult, it is not impossible. The following represents three strategies you can take to tackle the bullying boss. 

1. Recognize the boss’ behavior as bullying

Many nurses don’t realize they are being bullied, especially when the bully is the boss. They may think they’re overreacting or being too sensitive when the boss shows favoritism, uses exclusion, or openly criticizes in front of others. They start to accept their behavior as the norm (thinking ‘well, that’s just the way she is’). Similar to the famous “frog in a pot of boiling water” example (if you put a frog in boiling water, it will jump out. But if you put the frog into tepid water and slowly heat the water to boiling, the frog doesn’t notice and boils to death). Nurses get numb to the behavior and think it’s normal too.

ACTION STEP: Spend the next few weeks observing your boss’s behavior. Pay attention to how he/she treats other employees compared to how he/she treats you. Can you identify any patterns? Are there other nurses who are being targeted too?

2. Speak up

You may not be comfortable speaking up to your boss about the fact that you think he or is she is a bully, but you do need to tell someone. Is there an educator you can confide in? Can you talk to someone in your professional nursing organization (if you belong to one)? Is there an experienced nurse who you can talk to? The point is this – TELL SOMEONE!!!! Telling another person might provide the support and objectivity you need to address it.

ACTION STEP: Make a list of a few people whom you trust. Then, schedule a coffee or lunch date (off of the unit) and tell them what you’ve been going through. Ask for an objective opinion and perhaps a recommendation on how they would proceed.

3. Document, document, and document!

If you are being bullied, START DOCUMENTING your experiences. Documenting the bullying behavior is one of the most powerful weapons you can use to stop the cycle of bullying. There are many nurses who have successfully addressed bullying behavior of their co-workers and their boss. The one common strategy was that they all documented their experiences over time.

ACTION STEP: Keep a small notebook with you and write down dates, times, witnesses, verbatim comments, and any facts you believe validate bullying behavior. Keep growing this documentation trail until you are at the point where you can file a formal complaint.

Please note: sometimes the bullying is so bad that I recommend leaving. The negative impact to your health isn’t worth it!

The bottom line is that you deserve to work in a supportive, professional, and collegial environment. When the boss is the bully, their behavior minimizes your ability to be successful. However, don’t be a passive victim. Take action instead!

Thanks so much for reading. Take care and stay connected.

Dr. Renee Thompson is a keynote speaker, author, award-winning nurse blogger, and professional development/anti-bullying thought leader. Renee spends the majority of her time helping healthcare and academic organizations address and eliminate workplace bullying. To find out more about Renee, please visit her website. American Sentinel University friends and family can get 25% off Renee’s great anti-bullying products – simply enter in the code: AMSENT16.

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