Bullying from above: Working in a hostile environment as a nurse leader

Many organizations are focusing on implementing a zero-tolerance policy for bullying behavior that has historically been done at the staff nurse level. New nurses enter the workforce, eager to begin their professional journey, and then are faced with the harsh reality that “nurses eat their young”. They are met with criticism and intolerance; sometimes even cruelty. We have all gone through it at varying degrees; most of us developed a “thicker skin” until we proved ourselves to be competent, and were gradually accepted into the team. It is not an easy process and some nurses don’t even last a year; they decide that this was not what they signed-up for, and opt to transfer to another unit, another organization, or even decide to leave nursing altogether. 

When bullying or incivility is tolerated in the work environment, job satisfaction and retention are affected (Lachman, 2014). Smart organizations are proactively focusing on retention, and are inviting staff nurses to become part of the solution through peer mentoring and retention committees. But what if the bullying is being done from above, at the administrative level? Nurse leaders are not all created equal. There are many levels to leadership roles, from a Manager or Supervisor, to Chief Nursing Officer, or Vice President of an organization. To presume that hospital administrators and nurse leaders are above bullying behavior is a great falsehood; it happens all the time in competitive organizations. I’ve witnessed it firsthand, and it left quite an impression; it makes one question the integrity of the entire organization. While some leaders “talk the talk” about transformational leadership and anti-bullying initiatives, they do not always “walk the walk” when it comes to their own behavior to other managers and leaders. The environment can become hostile, and many mid-manager level leaders are unable to speak-up for themselves out of fear of making a mistake, and concern over job security. While nurse leaders must try to follow the vision and goals of the organization to implement changes that ensure patient safety and improve outcomes, they still face obstacles on a day-to-day basis that can be challenging to overcome. The most justifiable and well-intentioned suggestions can fall on deaf ears from the powers that be when one is working in an environment that doesn’t foster collaborative change. Even very experienced leaders can feel pressured by upper administration to perform tasks that are above and beyond realistic expectations, often without help or support.

When someone from administration decides that the organization wants to “go in a different direction”, no one’s job is safe. The Union does not protect managers, and leadership jobs can be filled quickly, with enthusiastic candidates looking for a new opportunity and career advancement. In fact, other leaders from within the organization can often begin to sense when a colleague is being left out from the “inner circle” and start to distance themselves from you in fear of being connected to the outcast. You begin to wonder when and how you will be “let go”, or asked to resign with reputation intact, so it is easier to find another job, as if it was your idea to leave instead of being fired. Sometimes, a small severance package may be offered to make the dismissal somehow less offensive.

If bullying is being tolerated at the administrative level, what options do we have? Casale (2017) states that if incivility is not being addressed in the workplace at the highest level, it projects a general acceptance of bad behavior that provides the bully with a degree of power and control. For change to occur, administrators need to model, and commit to, a culture of respect and civility to ensure a healthy work environment (Casale, 2017). 

References

Casale, K.R. (2017). Exploring nurse faculty incivility and resonant leadership. Nursing  EducationPerspective,38(4), 177-181. 

Lachman, V.D. (2014). Ethical issues in the disruptive behaviors of incivility, bullying, and horizontal/lateral violence. MedSurg Nursing, 23(1), 56-60.

*This article was published on Allnurses.com

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