Why Incivility Still Exists in Nursing

by | Aug 15, 2016 | 33 comments

Why Incivility Still Exists in NursingNurses experience a wide range of workplace environments. From supportive to violent, a nurse may never know what to expect in their nursing career. How can the most compassionate people on the planet (nurses), treat each other in such an uncivil way?

Colleagues of mine such as Beth Boynton and Renee Thompson teach methods for coping with nurse bullying and workplace violence. They advocate for improved communication and safe working relationships.

While the very first step to any change is having the awareness of why issues are being caused, there is more to be done. Role models are needed. Mentor programs must be put into place. When nurses feel that their ability to choose is taken away- bad things happen.

Find out why this is and how to deal with it in this video blog.

What would you add to this topic? How do you deal with bullies in the workplace? Have you ever been treated badly and how did you cope with it? Share a comment below and thanks for watching!

Elizabeth Scala, MSN/MBA, RN; Founder of Nursing from WithinAbout the Author: As a keynote speaker, bestselling author and virtual conference host, Elizabeth Scala, MSN/MBA, RN partners with hospitals, organizations, associations, and nursing groups to help transform the field of nursing from the inside out. In her bestselling book, ‘Nursing from Within‘, Elizabeth supports nurses to make those inner shifts that are required to more fully enjoy our nursing careers.

33 Comments

  1. reneefava

    Great article Elizabeth. You are so right. Nurses can be so caring and compassionate to their patients yet can be so horrific to each other! Thanks for keeping the conversation going. We are hemorrhaging really great nurses to this problem!

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      Thanks, Renee!

      Reply
    • Charcie

      I quit the 2 jobs I was bullied in by Co workers and some Supervisors. The days are over when ranting and talking down to people was okay. The successful Leaders know how to motivate instead of bullying.

      Reply
      • Elizabeth

        Right on, Charcie

        Reply
    • deirdrebrunton3

      Dear Renee, Sadly I have experienced this happening and find it personally upsetting but recognise the importance of remaining professional and compassionate to my colleagues ( role model approach). You are so right- you do have to go out in a limb to do the best that you can to improve care but difficult to bring colleagues with you who are feeling the need to attack laterally. You have explained simply but succinctly why this behavior might occur.
      Hopefully this video will bring comfort to those experiencing the incivility ( as it has for me) and possibly enlighten those who choose to take this path of behavior. Thank you so much.

      Reply
  2. Anne Llewellyn

    Good post and interesting video. One question, do you think the reason we are not civil to each other is because the profession of nursing is made up of women and many times women can be mean to each other. I would love to see a survey if this is true in other industries and what they are doing to address it. We don’t seem to have the same problem with men? In fact when you have more nurses that are men, units and organizations don’t seem this issue.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      Thanks for the feedback, Anne. I am glad that you enjoyed the post/video.

      I would totally agree with you. There is something different about men and women in nursing (or any profession, for that matter). It is like this- if a man has an issue with you, he will tell you. That or beat your face in (totally joking). I watch the way my husband deals with his co-workers. If there is a problem, he brings it straight to his boss. They deal with it. Then move on. No hard feelings and he continues to work with these same men after the issue is discussed.

      It is almost like a woman will hold a grudge, become resentful, and then be unable to work with co-workers down the line. Why is this?

      I am not sure if there is data on this point. It would be interesting to go to the literature. That and, if nothing is found, do a study on it!

      Thanks for bringing this up. Great point!

      Reply
      • Kelli Thomas

        I observe nurses speaking negatively or gossping about their coworkers and it seems to me it is in an effort to make themselves appear competent, as if that is how they themselves will be recognized

        Reply
        • Elizabeth

          Interesting, Kelli. And also, quite awful. The only thing I would recognize in a nurse like that is how negative they are. Yikes! Thanks for bringing this to our attention. Appreciate the comment.

          Reply
  3. bethboynton80539889

    wesome post and video and comments, Elizabeth et al! ( I am glad you are “out there”!!! I love the question and your thoughts. Creating forums for discussing in ways that are safe, professional, and even show ownership are all vital steps for positive change in this very complex problem. I do agree that the oppressed group behavior is part of this story and that phenomenon is r/t the percent of women in the field and old (slowly and thankfully changing) social values including the medical hierarchy. A lack of self respect and esteem complicates the matter further. Sometimes I think our ‘voices’ are like energy in that they can not be destroyed and that when we don’t have healthy channels for assertiveness (i.e. both the skills to speak up and colleagues, leaders who listen respectfully) then we find another way to have our say. Here we are VERY creative with passive and passive-aggressive behaviors!

    After I got divorced many years ago and into counseling where I began to understand my own behavior and develop my assertiveness, I found it extremely hard to do practice these healthy skills in my direct care role as an RN. This raised my awareness about how important the culture can be in supporting assertiveness (or not!). Anyways, I think it is wonderful to be talking about it and I sure appreciate your mentioning my work and specifically Medical Improv. Improv activities require sharing power and helps explain how and why this experiential teaching method can be so transformative.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      Wow, thank you for sharing your story in such a transparent way, Beth. Thank you for sharing your additional comments. I think this is very helpful for others to read… and then reflect on… in their own situations. Great thoughts!

      Reply
  4. Margaret M Helgert

    Typically, this behavior starts long before ever entering into nursing possibly even in childhood. Not being a psychiatrist; this behavior is extremely competitive in nature. We are socialized as women to be kind; lady-like; pro-social; honest; valued and to be “other than” is deemed unacceptable. One can probably see this is every single walk of life from the CEO boardrooms to the local PTA meetings to the 3rd floor nurses station. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/insight-is-2020/201309/women-who-hate-other-women-the-psychological-root-snarky

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      Thanks for adding to this discussion, Margaret. Appreciate the comments and thoughts.

      Reply
  5. Stephanie Frederick

    Thank you, Elizabeth. I heard an administrator once bragging about sending “his nurses” to hotel customer training so they’d learn how to “smile more”. Many administrators and managers don’t know how to lead, much less communicate. Rather than EVERYONE in the organization practicing these skills, assumptions are made, and mandates are given. Do more, be more, give more, and put a smile on your face, or else you’ll be out the door. FEAR and bullying are strong drivers. I’ve seen and experienced many abuses in “healthcare” over the years, and until we own the collective problem, and offer collaborative solutions, we’ll still be talking about these horrors in years to come.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts, Stephanie.

      Reply
  6. Monica Stark

    I’ve been licensed as an RN for 6.5 years now (midlife career change). However, mostly in part to this very issue, I have struggled to stay convinced that it is my calling. I’ve worked in several different environments with a heart full of the desire to just care for people. Yet, no matter what I do or where I practice, I’m left always feeling like I just don’t belong because I’m such a genuinely nice person that I end up on the receiving end of the bully’s negative behavior. It’s like I’m the bully whisperer because they flock to me. It’s destroyed my confidence. I hate that it exist, but I hate more that I can’t seem to find a job to call home, a place that I can retire from, a place where the team would welcome me and help me to grow and flourish as a professional registered nurse.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      Monica, thank you for coming by and sharing your experiences. It is terrible that the various places you have worked have been like this. I would be so frustrated, as I imagine you are. In all honesty, I know it may be difficult to believe… there ARE good places to work out there. You just have to stay patient and committed to finding the right fit for you. I have seen other nurses struggle and stay focused on the course… and then… WAM! They find their dream job and are so grateful that they stayed true to who they were as people. Again, I am sure this is terribly challenging, yet I hope that you can remain hopeful that there is a great nursing job and team out there for you. You may want to join our group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/YourNextShift/) for support and encouragement. Other nurses in this group have experienced challenges in nursing and are starting to see things turn around for them! Thanks for coming by and sharing your comments on the blog.

      Reply
  7. Willie Dolowitz

    To expand a bit on Margaret Helget’s theme:
    I personally believe most females are taught to complete for resources (the most productive and attractive males), whereas most males are taught by team play to cooperate to win. They seem to mostly even cheer each other on when competing for the same adult female.
    Females seem to be taught”all is fair in love and war…..and love is usually war”,
    Especially when an adult male will be the prize.
    This behavior seems to usually allow almost any behaviour, no matter how hostile, even in the work place, especially if their supervisor is also female.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      Hmm… great points. I do agree that I see guys ‘competing’ in the most friendly of ways. This past weekend I watched my husband play a ‘friendly’ game of pool basketball with his 5 male co-workers. Even though it appeared they were out for blood, they were all laughing and having a great time. Such an interesting phenomena we have here relating to men and women. Thanks for your comments, Willie!

      Reply
  8. Chele Jones

    Hi Elizabeth!

    Ok, so we know the how, the why, etc. Honestly, I think this is something that happens in any profession, but in Nursing I feel there is absolutely no room for it. We should be focused on patient care and not wasting precious time belittling co-workers nor having to spend said precious time attempting to A) “learn” how best to deal with these types of behavioral issues B) Asserting ourselves, and asserting again until stalemate (essentially unresolved conflict) C) Reporting to the proper upper level staff or going the chain of command route (this type of thing is really bothersome for all parties; not room for in the time management platform, also seems like tat-el-taling, etc. ad nauseum.).

    As a relatively new Nurse (at 48yrs old), I have experienced this type of behavior first hand from my preceptor, who, by the way, graduated only six months before me and only had six months on the floor. This to the point where I ended up having to resign from my position, which I absolutely loved. Her behavior was reprehensible at best while worse she actually put patient(s) safety at risk and inconvenienced a whole host of other staff while performing her antics. I had no problem asserting myself with her, however the behavior continued even after I sat with her and the charge nurse calmly discussing our “communication difficulties” (I swear she was a personality disordered person). I actually have much life experience, worked in many different types of fields with most involving a pretty major level of customer service and involving a great deal of responsibility, as well as have a wealth of knowledge about the human condition all of which makes for a really great caregiver. All of this and have never witnessed the kind of behavior that I have witnessed in the Nursing field. I was extremely disappointed as I had thought that being a professional Nurse meant that a certain type and level of behavior was the professional standard. Respect of individuals is one of the many reasons I chose the Nursing field. I would like to see a lot more respect in the medical field in general. I realize that as healthcare providers we are ALL stretched pretty damn thin, but if we all know and understand this, there really shouldn’t be any difficulty. We “should” have the wherewithal to at the very least be civilized even with people that we don’t mesh well with. I would also like REAL ideas and to know how to deal with these types of behaviors outside of the traditional route of the usual standing up for myself, going the chain of command route, simply tolerating it until I find something better, cry uncle, or worse yet blow my top and literally kick some Nurses ass because she won’t leave me the hell alone. I am seriously and sincerely an extremely understanding and patient person with many, many things, but these types of behaviors involving what literally amounts to abuse I have grown seriously intolerant of whether it be aimed towards myself or I am witnessing it being done to others.

    If anyone asks me, one of the myriad reasons there is such a critical need for Nurses on the floor is because people that behave in an abusive manner to their co-workers chase off a lot of new grads. In my humble opinion, these types of behaviors exist because as a collective we all have been tolerating it. What does it take to deal with a bully? Gather together and get rid of THEM. Not hard stuff.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      Wow, thanks for sharing your story with us, Chele. It sounds challenging and I am glad that you left a job where your work was not valued. And being that I used to be a psych nurse myself… oh my… so sorry you were dealing most likely with a personality disordered person- that is Tough! Great points on how we ought to be treating each other in healthcare. I think everyone reading this blog (and those not reading too) would agree. I commend you for your work experience, in all fields… not just nursing. These life experiences certainly do continue to shape us over time. Hopefully one day each and every nurse will wake up to this bad behavior and show up to work in the kind and civil way we all are to be treated. I appreciate your comments. Thanks for watching the video and taking time to share your thoughts on this post.

      Reply
  9. Kate Nickel

    Have you read Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Frerie? It’s an interesting read.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      No, I will have to check it out, Kate. Thanks for the heads up.

      Reply
  10. Carmen Davailus Buck

    Wow! Obviously this is a hot topic for nurses, Elizabeth. Thanks for your post including the video. I enjoyed reading the comments of others as well. It’s such an interesting phenomena, and certainly not new. Thanks again!

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      Thanks, Carmen.

      Reply
  11. Dr Amanda Ruler, RN, BA (Hons), Grad Dip Gerontological Nursing , PhD.

    Amanda Ruler . I am an Australian nurse and have experienced and published on very similar problems. There is an article I wrote very recently about these experiences and you can find it by googling my name. I will try to attach it here also but I am not sure if I will be able to. I work as a practicing clinician in nursing, as well as a writer.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      Darn, the article did not come through. Can you tell us the name and we can search it that way? Thanks, look forward to reading it!

      Reply
      • Dr Amanda Ruler, RN, BA (Hons), Grad Dip Gerontological Nursing , PhD.

        Thankyou so much for getting back to me, Elizabeth. I have been away and only just come back to this discussion. The article is titled ” Bullying , relational aggression and nursing” It was published by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Journal, Volume 23, issue 6, (Dec 2015-Jan 2016). It is available online. I was the sole author. With the permission of the journal, I may be able to forward you an electronic copy.

        Thankyou again. Regards, Amanda Ruler.

        Reply
        • Elizabeth

          OK, I will look for it again now that I have more information. Thank you!

          Reply
  12. Christine

    Hi Elizabeth, I have also have a huge interest in this topic and I’m devoting my dissertation to it. I would like to share with you an article I just published on this, I’m hoping my new point of view will bring more attention to it. Here’s a blog post which contains a link to the article.

    https://ansjournalblog.com/2016/08/14/workplace-mistreatment/

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      Wonderful, thank you for sharing this with us! I will have a look.

      Reply
  13. Sarah Mott

    Thank you Elizabeth, for talking about this very important issue in nursing.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      You’re welcome!

      Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Women vs Women: Reducing the Culture of Hostility in the Workplace ⋆ The Vibrant & Dynamic Woman - […] I thought that by writing about this topic, I would bring awareness and solutions to my readers who are…
  2. As a Nurse, What Achievement Are You Most Proud Of? - […] are contemplating or on the verge of quitting nursing altogether. Gosh, with the staffing ratios, workplace violence, nurse burnout,…

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