Share this article on:

Five steps to reduce bullying

Langlois, Barb MSN, RN

Nursing2017 Critical Care: January 2012 - Volume 7 - Issue 1 - p 48
doi: 10.1097/01.CCN.0000408505.42425.1f
Department: Pearls

Nurse-to-nurse bullying is widespread, infiltrates most nursing units, and creates a harmful work environment. Follow these five easy steps to ensure you're not one of the culprits.

Barb Langlois is a professional speaker and certified workshop leader from Delta, British Columbia.

The author has disclosed that she has no financial relationships related to this article.

Bullying is a serious and pervasive problem in nursing.1 This behavior can include the silent treatment, refusal to help someone, eye rolling, denigrating others, and withholding information. The often-paternalistic nurse-physician relationship accounts for some bullying. Families and patients can be responsible for some bullying at the bedside, but the biggest perpetrator typically is another nurse. Unfortunately, nurse-to-nurse bullying is widespread, infiltrates most nursing units, and creates toxic and harmful work environments.2

Bullying is certainly easy to see in others, but you're less likely to notice it in your own behavior. Here are five steps you can take to ensure you're not one of the culprits:

  • Address people by name. Neglecting to use someone's name when you know it is often the first sign of contempt. Bullying often occurs toward those with less power, such as new hires or new RNs. References such as “Hey, you,” “What's her face,” and “Who-cha-ma-callit” are outward signs of disrespect.
  • Give help when asked. This doesn't mean you neglect your own patient care. If you're able, help your colleagues when they ask (and even when they don't). Refusing to provide assistance or pretending you're too busy to help another is another form of bullying.
  • Accept your fair share of the workload. Sometimes some assignments will be heavier than others, but speak up if you notice that someone else (maybe the new RN) is frequently assigned the most time-consuming patients. If you have some spare time, seek out others and offer your assistance instead of sitting and chatting at the desk. No one likes to be the person running their feet off while colleagues sit at the desk.
  • Stop talking behind others' backs. Have an issue with a colleague? Sure, it's easier to vent to other colleagues, but doing so sets up a dynamic called triangulation—the two people avoid the issue between them, and instead of speaking to one another, one or both people gossip to someone else. In doing so, they share judgments and stories about the other person, thereby rallying others to support their side of the story. Triangulation is a breeding ground for bullying between nurses.
  • Stop the white wall of silence. The most important thing you can do is stop watching silently.3 If you witness bullying, name it, call it, address it, just don't pretend you didn't see it. Being a silent witness is as traumatic to the victim as the offenders' words or actions. By not speaking up, you're acknowledging bullying as acceptable behavior.

Each nurse is responsible for his or her own actions. Every action either supports or detracts from creating a healthy work environment. The choice is yours. What kind of actions are you taking?

Back to Top | Article Outline


1. Hutchinson M, Jackson D, Wilkes L, et al. A new model of bullying in the nursing workplace. ANS Adv Nurs Sci. 2008;31(2):E60-E71.
2. Johnston M, Phanhtharath P, Jackson BS. The bullying aspect of workplace violence in nursing. Crit Care Nurs Q. 2009:32(4):287–295.
3. Eggertson L. The impact of bullying and what needs to be done to eliminate it. Can Nurse. 2011;107(6):16–20.
© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.