Nursing literature has for more than 30 years reported about the persistent problem of bullying among nurses.

There are many reports about what policies and protocols need to be implemented to reduce bullying in the profession.

But the prevalence of bullying has not decreased.

What is it about the culture of nursing and our workplaces that makes it a toxic place to deliver safe and effective patient care?

Studies have reported that nurses have experienced bullying between 27% to 80% of the time.

It is  such a wide range but if you think about it, at a minimum one in four nurses have experienced bullying.

Why don’t nurse leaders actually want to make their sites a better place for all nurses to work?

They may say they do but that is lip service as the evidence is in!

How many nurse leaders actually acknowledge that this is a regular problem for nurses?

Study after study has demonstrated that nurse bullying and other disruptive behaviours impede effective communication.

The result of this reduction in effective communication between health personnel is that essential information that would assist patients does not occur.

Bullied nurse have higher rates of absenteeism and high job turnover.

It is a no-brainer to work out that if bullying occurs in the workplace that this will occur.

There are different definitions about what is workplace bullying.

Bullying is a negative behaviour towards a fellow employee.

It can involve non-verbal behaviours such as eye-rolling, ignoring the person or walking away when approached.

Verbal bullying behaviours include derogatory comments, yelling, teasing, and snide comments.

These are all undesirable behaviours and makes the workplace a terrible place to be.

All nurses will have experienced these behaviours at some time.

What makes it bullying is when the behaviours are severe and occur over a length of time.

This does not excuse momentary behaviours as they are just as damaging to the person who experiences it as to people who experience it on a daily basis.

Nurses who are bullied will experience high levels of stress.

The outcome of high stress levels is damaging to physical and mental health.

Bullied nurses have a high level of musculoskeletal disorders, sleep disturbances, headaches, elevated blood pressure, anxiety, depression and gastrointestinal issues.

Sauer and McCoy have looked at resilience as a solution to reducing the impact of bullying.

They considered what were the specific traits that nurses could use to manage bullying and reduce the impact upon their health.

It was thought that nurses with higher levels of resilience would have higher levels of job satisfaction and reduce job turnover.

It did not.

What they did find was even more disturbing.

Nurses who witnessed a colleague being bullied were also more likely to be bullied themselves.

Women who witnessed these behaviours had a higher incidence of depression.

The impact of a culture of bullying affects not only the individual who experienced it but also the other individuals in the vicinity.

Imagine the impact upon patients who may overhear or see this behaviour.

They would have good reason to question the quality of the care these people provide.

As Sauer and McCoy said

“This phenomenon of witnessing bullying and then being bullied occurs in environments that foster negative behaviours.”

Nurse leaders are responsible and accountable for their workplace.

Most organisations have implemented zero-tolerance policies.

To see something, say something is just the first step.

Bullying is a complex problem and any tolerance towards it directly undermines nursing values.

Despite zero-tolerance policies, the behaviours still occur.

It is sad that nurses have to be provided with education on how to recognize and address bullying behaviour.

And that nursing schools have to educate students about bullying to prepare them for the workforce.

No one should be bullied, period.

To learn more about bullying:

Sauer, Penny A., and Thomas P. McCoy. “Nurse Bullying: Impact on Nurses’ Health.” Western journal of nursing research (2016): 0193945916681278.