Oct 10

Once again: enter the NO BULLY ZONE!

I cannot believe how many nurses I speak with that feel bullied in their workplace–and I have been asked to repost these comments on the “No Bully Zone”. This is very concerning; is it symptomatic of the pressured workplaces registered nurses are now in? The academic literature calls it “horizontal violence”. By any other name, it is old-fashioned bullying. It has been described as classic behavior for oppressed groups—are registered nurses an “oppressed group”? Surely not. We are well educated, self-regulated professionals, working in a profession that is always described in public opinion polls as one of the most trusted, and respected. Is the workplace of today oppressive? Is it a leadership issue?  The literature also tells us that those who bully are typically profoundly insecure, dealing with their insecurity and often their incompetence by being overly aggressive and demeaning to colleagues. Many of us have seen this in action, and seen it explained (often by the bully him or herself), as unintentional behavior that has been misinterpreted as bullying when it is ‘really’ misunderstood assertiveness, or strength. Not a chance.  In my experience, the bully knows exactly what he or she is doing, and  thrives in a workplace where there is no will to hold him/her accountable for their destructive behavior. Behavior that emerges from assertiveness and strength of character does not leave others feeling diminished, ridiculed or demeaned. True strength and assertiveness in a person nourishes team efforts by seeing challenges and struggles as TEAM struggles, to be overcome by individuals that are secure enough in their abilities to recognize and value the strength and wisdom in each other—secure enough to help each other shine. I have observed that bullies are jealous of shared success, and have a singular, self-serving agenda.  If this sounds like anyone you know, take heart. There are more non-bullies than there are bullies—and the secret of our strength is in the very thing the bully seeks to destroy—our sense of team and community. From that secure foundation, we can confidently and respectfully challenge bullying behavior—it is tough, but if you see it, take the next step and name it, and then give voice to its corrosive effects on you, and on your team. Mutual respect is the key, it can’t be an interaction that turns into bullying of the bully! Make it clear that ‘we don’t treat one another that way here’, and back each other up. Do this consistently, and I think you will be amazed at the results.

Do you have a story of bullying in your workplace? Let’s talk about it—and about what you did about it.  Have you found effective ways of dealing with this tough issue? Please, share your comments, stories, and wisdom!


  1. Shannon

    You have hit on some really important points here–especially about the role-modeling you see–both positive and negative. We forget sometimes as instructors that student nurses are exquisitely observant, and hypervigilant because of their anxiety. Students are watching our every move, eager to emulate what “real nurses do” and fit in with the team. When “real nurses” are cruel to students, or often to one another, they generally get a reaction–usually people cave to their bullying just to avoid conflict. Students see this, and can misinterpret this as “leadership” or “power” when in reality, it’s usually a mask for the “real nurse’s” deep insecurities and unhappiness. Thanks for the powerful reminders Andrea–keep speaking up–we have a lot to learn from student nurses like you!

  2. Andrea

    I remember reading this in our 2nd year RN course Professional Seminar in ‘Ethical & Legal Issues in Canadian Nursing’ by Margaret Keatings and O’Neil Smith. I still have the pages marked, pg 358-359. Here I was reading and these were things happening to students by Nursing Instructors as well as in our clinical settings by other RN’s.

    From my own personal clinical experiences I have run into this as a student by other RN’s whom I feel should have known better. At one point in everyones lives you have been a student before entering your professional practice. I wish that some would not forget that. You were once a student who felt very insecure and unsure of yourself in a new setting and what a difference a well trained, knowledgeable Nurse would make in helping to guide you in your own knowlege.

    Canadian Nurses Association Code of Ethics for Registered Nurses states: Registered Nurses in all roles share the responsibility of supporting nursing students in safe, competent, compassionate and ethical care.

    I do realize that most RN’s working are not getting paid to teach student nurses, but you have an ethical obligation to help and mentor us as students who may one day be taking care of your family and potentially you. Wouldn’t you want to make sure that any knowledge that you could have shared, you did?

    When I think of places that I would eventually like to work at, I look for a sense of teamwork and trust on a floor. I can sense your exclusiveness to other staff and your unfriendly attitude does not make me want to return to work. Really would it take that much effort to help a struggling student nurse when they need it the most. We are often in clinical with 5-6 other students and the instructor can not always be available. I will say this though, I have worked in several areas with phenomenal nurses who are more than happy to share their experiences and to help and guide us as novice nurses. To you all I say thank-you and also thank-you for being a role model to your other colleagues. I hope that they will see your example and follow suit.

    Please do not complain when students come and aren’t doing things perfect, step in and give constructive criticism and guidance. You will be the ones that we remember and the ones that we will model our own practice by.

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