The Impact of Nurse Bullying on Nurse Retention

The Impact of Nurse Bullying on Nurse Retention
Marketing Specialist

In today’s society, you often hear numerous accounts of bullying and teasing in America’s schools. You don’t hear much about these kinds of harassments in the workplace, especially on nursing floors. Although bullying exists in all professions, the problem seems especially prevalent in the nursing field – hospital floors, clinics and nursing schools.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines workplace violence as any assault, threatening behavior or verbal abuse occurring in the workplace. Unfortunately, because of this growing trend, the term “Lateral Violence” (sometimes referred to as “Horizontal Violence”) was developed to describe distasteful behavior nurses sometimes portray toward other colleagues. This kind of bullying can be overt or covert acts of verbal and nonverbal aggression causing psychological distress. It affects new hires, new graduates and even nurses who have incomparable years at the facility.

Today, the U.S. is experiencing a crisis of deficiency in Registered Nurses (RN) due to the growing demand in the healthcare sector. Recent studies indicate that approximately 70% of nurses who leave their jobs were bullying victims; roughly 60% of new-coming RN leave their first position within 6 months due to some form of verbal abuse or harsh treatment; and one in three new graduate nurses considered quitting nursing altogether because of humiliating encounters on nursing floors.

The consequences of lateral bullying are substantial. These behaviors deteriorate the quality of patient care because he or she is distracted, unhappy and/or intimidated. It generates unmanaged anger, leading to insomnia, hypertension and depression – resulting in low staff morale, increased absenteeism, attrition of staff and, ultimately, nurses leaving the profession.

Sociological literature shows that oppressed group members tend to act out against each other because they lack control over their situation. They find it difficult to express their frustrations and concerns to their bosses for fear they will get reprimanded. Their inability to express their feelings leaves them powerless and diminishes their self-confidence, resulting in the cycle of oppressed group behavior – which helps them boost their self-esteem. 

In the hierarchy of healthcare industries, many administrators enable and perpetuate this kind of conduct by allowing interrupted breaks, inadequate staffing ratios, limited supplies, and little recognition of the nurse’s ability to think critically. Bullying behaviors also vary by gender – males often channel their frustrations physically or by working their way up to positions of power; females tend to deflect their aggression through psychological means, such as, defamation, humiliation, negative criticism, sabotage, finger pointing and bickering.

As you can see, bullying has a corrosive effect on the morale of staff members. When you are consistently hiring and training new nurses, you are losing more than time and resources, it also affects the overall quality and effectiveness of your facility.

Although, there is no federal standard that requires workplace violence protection, effective January 1, 2009, The Joint Commission of Accreditation of Healthcare Organization created a new standard on the “Leadership" chapter that addresses disruptive and inappropriate behaviors. This acknowledgment led several states to enact legislation or regulations on violence. Hospitals can end abusive behaviors by implementing clear zero-tolerance policies. In 2004, the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses issued a public policy statement that serves as a clear mandate for facilities to adopt a policy to end abusive and disrespectful behavior. In 2008, the Center for American Nurses released a position statement on Lateral Violence and bullying in the workplace that calls for promoting a culture of safety that encourages open, respectful communication.

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