Dealing With a Bully at Your Nurses Station


Bullies come in all shapes and sizes, and there’s a fine legal distinction between being bullied and outright hostility. Although it can take many forms, bullying is a behavior that may be identified by being unwelcome, offensive, unsolicited or objectionable. Bullying can be physical, psychological or verbal, and may be found frequently in healthcare. Although this may seem strange, operating as a per-diem nurse exposes you to highly charged emotions under high-pressure and high-stress environments.

This type of environment is often referred to as a “pressure cooker,” where emotions can reach a breaking point and lead to aggression. Although you might have experienced bullying in the workplace, you may not have been aware since some actions don’t always fit the traditional definition and the workplace may be the last place you expect to find it. It’s important you first identify your experience with bullying and then determine your actions.

Overt Bullying

This may be one of the easiest forms to recognize because it’s often done in front of others, is blunt and clearly disrespectful. As a contract staffing nurse, you may experience verbal criticism or name-calling, blaming, ethnic jokes, slurs or overt fault-finding in an attempt to discredit your ability. In some instances, you may experience threatening behavior to scare or coerce you into certain actions, including physical violence. Another form of overt bullying is ignoring or exploiting your personal values or beliefs. Colleagues who criticize your morals, ridicule you or ignore your concerns are exhibiting signs of discrimination.

Covert Bullying

Unlike obvious signs of bullying, this may be a little bit more difficult to identify. You might even be unsure if it’s really happening as it is often subtle and difficult to describe to others who are not directly experiencing it. In fact, those who use this form of sabotage may seem outwardly nice and helpful. It can take the form of gossip or bad-mouthing you to superiors in order to smear your abilities and competence. Other forms of covert bullying are excluding others from the group, unfair assignments or extra work, undermining decisions and accomplishments or downplaying your accomplishments.

If you’ve identified experiences at work that fall under one of these types of bullying behaviors, it’s important you do something about it and don’t just let it continue. This type of behavior is detrimental to your mental health, the environment of the nursing unit and the safety of the patients. Here are several strategies that may help per diem nurses reduce or eliminate bullying behaviors and develop a more cohesive and collaborative environment.

Stand Up — If it’s safe to do so, stand up for yourself in the situation. A bully may only be testing their boundaries, and when you set clear lines, you may find they won’t cross them again.

Speak Up — It’s not tattling or snitching to let others know about the behavior of a bully. Others may also be impacted by a bully’s behavior, and by speaking up, you’re letting your superiors know of the situation and potentially helping someone else avoid being the object of objectionable behavior.

Document Behavior — You don’t want a situation to turn into he said/she said, so document the behavior and try to get witnesses to corroborate the actions.

Understand If it’s Bullying or Harassment — Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it’s illegal for your supervisor to take actions based on your sex, religion, skin color, race or nation of origin. Bullying may also be considered harassment if your supervisor knows about it and does nothing to stop it.

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