Dr. Renee Thompson: How Bad is the Bullying in Your Organization?

Dr. Renee Thompson: How Bad is the Bullying in Your Organization?

Several years ago I attended a meeting with a group of community nurse leaders. The group started discussing the topic of nurse bullying and how they were struggling to stop it. In the middle of our discussion, one nurse executive interrupted and said, “Oh, we don’t have any bullying issues in my organization.” There was silence in the room. I knew first hand she had significant problems on some of her units because several of her nurses reached out to me, desperate for help.

Did she really think her organization was immune to nurse bullying? What evidence did she have to support her claim?

When nurses admit patients; we have to do an admission assessment. While most of us dread these assessments, they’re a critical aspect of patient care. Sometimes, when asking a patient if he’s had surgery, he may answer “no.” But when we lift up the gown, we find a road map! “Oh, that scar was my appendix, and that’s from having my gall bladder removed.” Patients forget and that’s why, to perform a thorough assessment, we have to pull back the covers and lift the gown.

Bullying is no different. To “pull back the covers” on bullying, organizations can select any one of the following options:


Surveys provide an opportunity to identify common behaviors and quantify their occurrence. Have your nurses “been excluded by certain nurses from routine lunches,” or have they experienced “having (their) accomplishments downplayed” by fellow nurses? Are they the “target of gossip or false rumors?” Do your employees feel supported by executive leadership, or just left to fight scramble and grapple just to get by?

I’ve created a simple survey that allows you to quantify bullying behaviors both experienced and witnessed.

Validated surveys

Negative Acts Questionnaire – The Bergen Bullying Research Group of University of Bergen created a comprehensive questionnaire, to be used to determine the presence of bullying behavior. The Negative Acts Questionnaire was created specifically to determine behaviors without using the term bullying, in order to guide participants in answering questions more accurately on the basis of the behavior rather than the behavior’s label.

Nurse Incivility Scale (NIS) – This scale was created using focus groups of 163 hospitals in survey, to identify nurses’ incivility experiences stemming from various members in the hospital hierarchy, using a priori scale construction. It’s very effective for use in hospitals and nursing environments.

Focus groups

According to Gallup, people stay or leave their job, first determined by relationships they have with their bosses, and second by feeling a sense of belonging in the workplace. These components have little to do with benefits, pay, location, or even the job itself. If these are serious enough to make someone leave their job, they’re serious enough to “lift up the covers and look under the gown!”

Many employees refuse to talk to their leaders about bullying. It’s a trust thing. Your staff needs someone who can objectively listen and assess. They won’t talk to you but they’ll talk to me. You’d be surprised the things nurses share with me during focus group sessions. It’s shocking!

So what is the environment like your hospital? Which unit has the highest vacancy rate, and turnover (another way to assess bullying cultures)? Are there a few units that are always struggling to keep staff? Why not quantify what you may already suspect by utilizing one of the options above?

Before you claim that you have or don’t have a bullying problem in your organization, assess first. Just like in nursing – assess before you treat.

Remember, data doesn’t lie. Take the time to assess and let me know if I can help. This is what I do best.


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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