Bullying against or by nurses has gotten a lot of attention in recent years. Aside from the suffering bullying inflicts on its victims, research tells us that bullying (which takes a number of forms, from overt insults to more subtle acts that undermine and demoralize) can also endanger patient safety and quality of care.
As described in our February article, “A Task Force to Address Bullying“ (free access until March 1), recently a large Magnet-designated academic medical center in the Northeast developed an initiative to evaluate and address the issue at their institution. In order to first measure the problem, the task force developed a confidential online survey.
The survey had a 38% response rate. Here are some of the findings about who’s doing the bullying, who’s suffering it, and how its victims are affected by it:
. . . . two-thirds (66%) of respondents reported having experienced or witnessed bullying in the workplace; and ‘bullies’ were most frequently identified as staff nurses (58%), followed by physicians (38%), patient care technicians (34%), and nurse managers (34%). Among the individuals who reported having been bullied, more than half experienced the following personal consequences: loss of confidence (63%), anxiety (59%), and diminished self-esteem (50%); and more than half experienced the following work consequences: decreased job satisfaction (83%), decreased teamwork and collaboration (72%), and impaired communication (63%)
When asked how they dealt with the bullying, 58% of participants said they discussed the situation with family or friends, 53% ignored the bully, 42% spoke to their nurse manager, 41% confronted the bully, and 30% considered resigning.
It’s obvious that bullying is far too common, and highly damaging in a number of ways. The task force developed a plan to address bullying, sharing the survey results with hospital staff and starting a slogan-based program called the Be Nice Champion program. Central to the plan was promotion of “third-party intervention,” not to confront the bully but to support the victim and short-circuit the isolating effects that being bullied can have.
The program described in the article met with some success—nurses at other hospitals may be able to more easily develop their own initiatives based on the work described by the authors.
There’s little doubt that current pressures within the health care system can set the stage for divisive bullying behaviors. These systemic factors will need to be addressed over time, but no workplace is perfect, and anger at an unfair or stressful system is never a good excuse for bullying one’s colleagues. Read the article to learn more.—Jacob Molyneux, senior editor