NEW YORK NURSE: November 2010
Q.: I am on the executive committee and one of our members came to me with a complaint about being bullied. What advice should I give this nurse about bullying?
Bullying is a serious workplace issue and a form of violence. The prevalence of bullying has reached epidemic proportions, with one in five workers singled out as the “target” (source: Campaign Against Workplace Bullying). It is the deliberate, repeated mistreatment of another with the intention to hurt or harm them. Bullying takes many forms, from the subtle exclusionary cold shoulder to the more overt actions of verbal humiliation and vicious rumors.
First, acknowledge to the nurse that you are concerned and appreciate the fact that they are taking some positive action in requesting help. Targets often get isolated, feel inferior, and may even resign from their job rather than be subjected to the abuse. Your role is to support the nurse and help insulate them against these negatives. Support must be of a positive nature.
All too often, well meaning members, faced with this type of situation advise the target to “get over it” or to “toughen up and stop being so sensitive.” Such advice serves to reinforce the negative feelings and further isolate them.
A positive alternative, which will take some commitment, is to rally other committee members, rank and file members, and provide education on bullying. Knowing the dynamics of bully behavior will be the first step all of you can take in supporting the target. Targets of bully behavior should not, nor are they able to, confront the bully alone.
The next step is to identify the opportunities the bully takes to “hit” their target. These opportunities are usually when the target is alone, or when there is a perceived weakness which the bully can exploit to make themselves look superior, more skilled, or smarter. At these times, the members need to come physically to the “rescue” and stand in support of the target. Bullies generally do not want confrontation by a group and are afraid that their own vulnerabilities will be exposed.
Further steps include documenting the pattern of behavior of the bully. Bullies are generally pretty good at “plausible deniability,” that is, being able to explain a one-time behavior as a “misunderstanding” or the result of the target not making themselves clear. However, patterns of behavior are more difficult to justify and defend.
But perhaps the most important tactic you and your committee can take would be to help the facility recognize the problem, craft policy language, and establish a process to address bullying behaviors. This can be done as a health and safety initiative, brought to the labor/management meeting, and tasked to a multidisciplinary team to design and implement.
NYSNA has a workshop on bullying called “Lateral Violence, Learning how NOT to eat our young.” This may be helpful in launching your campaign to stop workplace bullying. A good resource that may be helpful is an article written by Martha Griffin, RN, CS, PhD, titled “Teaching Cognitive Rehearsal as a Shield for Lateral Violence: An Intervention for Newly Licensed Nurses.” While the title would lead one to believe it is only for new grads, the content is appropriate for all targets and those who would support them.
The NYSNA EGW Program receives many inquiries each month from members who have problems in their workplaces. If you have a question about labor relations at your facility, contact your NYSNA nursing representative. If you have a question you think should be featured in this column, send it to: RNs at Work, NYSNA, 120 Wall Street, 23rd Floor, New York, N.Y. 10005.