Dr. Renee Thompson – Six Essential Bullying Basics You Must Know

This post is part of 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 and incivility is on the rise. It is now estimated that up to 93 percent of people who work in healthcare have either experienced or witnessed bullying or incivility. I have had conversations with nurses all over the world, and based on those conversations, it is clear bullying is alive and well in the nursing industry. As I spend time helping individuals and organizations address and eliminate bullying behaviors in the workplace, I continue to be appalled at the behaviors displayed by adult professionals.

One nurse told me that she was sitting in another nurse’s “chair” to finish her charting. When she didn’t immediately get up, this nurse threw a cup of water in her face. Another new nurse asked her coworker for the pharmacy number so that she could call to ask about a medication, he replied, “It’s 1-800 go f*** yourself.” The other nurses sitting next to him laughed.

I could go on with example after example of so called “professionals” behaving badly, but I have come to realize as I am out there trying to help, there are a few bullying basics that everyone needs to understand if we are truly going to eliminate this bad behavior in healthcare.

1 – Bullying is a behavior, not a person

I hear nurses refer to their coworker as a bully or will say, “she’s bullying me.” What does that mean? Seriously. When someone says, “She’s bullying me,” what can we do with that? Nothing. We have to get very clear on the behavior someone is exhibiting – not the label – if we are ever going to address it. Calling someone a bully is not helpful.

2 – Bullying behavior is destructive to individuals, organizations, and patients

Targets of bullying pay the price with their physical, mental, and emotional health. Organizations pay the price of bullying with their profits, but ultimately, patients pay the price with their outcomes. If you’re working with someone who you’re afraid of, make no mistake about it, your patients will suffer because of it.

3 – Bullying behavior undermines teamwork, communication, and the culture of safety

Your organization may brag about establishing a culture of evidence-based practice, of high quality, of compassionate care – but if your subculture is bullying and incivility, it becomes your culture. Culture trumps strategy every time.

4 – Addressing bullying behavior is everyone’s responsibility

If you’re a leader, this is good news for you. It’s just not your job to stop bullying. However, if you’re a nurse at the bedside, guess what? It’s your job too.  If you truly want to eliminate bullying and incivility, everyone needs to take responsibility.

5 – Addressing and eliminating bullying behavior is a skill that can be developed

More good news!! Addressing bullying and incivility is a skill that can be learned! Trust me, I know because this is what I do!! I teach front line leaders and individuals practical strategies to finally stop bullying.

6 – Eliminating bullying behavior relies on organizational commitment, front line manager training, and employee involvement

I call it the trifecta approach. You really need to get your executive teams (this includes human resources) involved so that they can set aside the resources needed and remove any barriers. You need to equip your front line managers with the skills they need to set behavioral expectations and hold their employees accountable for their behavior. And you also need to involve the employees – who are the ones impacted the most.

Here’s the deal – bullying behavior will not go away on its own. If we continue to ignore the bad behaviors of our coworkers, we are basically condoning them and saying it is just fine to behave that way. However, we can all start doing our part by first getting very clear on what behaviors we consider bullying and second, learn the skills we need to address.

We are hemorrhaging really great nurses to bullying and incivility! Thanks for reading, take care and stay connected.

-Renee