April 17th, 2009 | The Blog
There is a pervasive problem within the nursing profession. It’s been called nurse-to-nurse hostility, lateral violence, intergroup conflict, and eating our young. There are a lot of different names for it but whatever you chose to call the problem, it’s responsible for ruining a lot of nursing careers.
A Bully In Scrubs
There are many reasons why a nurse turns into a bully. Nurses have little autonomy in the workplace while being held accountable for everything that happens on our unit. We are also low man on the hospital hierarchy structure totem pole. Doctors and hospital administrators outrank us, and we work in a very intense environment. Throw in a few hostile patients and family members and you get the recipe for a bully in scrubs. Nurses who feel overwhelmed and oppressed at the bottom of the health care ladder engage in passive aggressive acts. Unfortunately, this type of behavior only perpetuates the cycle of lateral violence on the unit.
Lateral violence comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be verbal or non-verbal and either overt or covert. The most common forms of lateral violence include undermining, withholding information, sabotage, infighting, backstabbing, scapegoating, and undermining nursing colleagues. Bullying is a type of lateral violence that is generally associated with individuals at different levels of power and authority, but can also occur nurse to nurse. This type of behavior includes humiliation, intimidation, victimization, and verbal abuse.
It doesn’t take long before new nurses experience these types of destructive behaviors in the workplace. According to research conducted by Martha Griffin, RN, PhD, clinical specialist and program coordinator of nursing professional development at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, 60% of nurse new to practice leave their first positions within six months because of some form of lateral violence being perpetrated against them. Griffin’s research also shows that 20% of new RNs leave the nursing profession within three years due to lateral violence in the workplace. Even seasoned nurses can run into lateral violence when they chance jobs.
Bringing Down the Bully
It isn’t easy facing a bully, especially if you’ve been bullied in the past. However, you can transcend your fears and establish a healthier relationship with your coworkers by using a few simple techniques.
Improving the work environment starts with open, honest, and respectful communication. People must hold themselves and each other accountable for unacceptable behavior on the unit. Confront and address inappropriate behavior immediately as it occurs with the perpetrator. This is important because it shows that you will not tolerate the behavior. It is also helpful in some cases because the other person is not aware of their own behavior. Make “I” statements when you talk about your feelings. “I feel… when you.” Keep repeating yourself if the other person makes excuses, denies, or dismisses the incident. Keep records of incidents and communications if all else fails, and show them to your supervisor.
Patient care suffers when nurses can’t get along with each other. It’s time for the infighting to stop. Do you have stories about lateral violence in the workplace? Come to Nursing Voices and tell us about it. We’re waiting to hear from you.