How to Catch a Professional Bully Nurse A Guest Post by Dr. Renee Thompson

Stethoscope and broken heart concept for heart disease or illness
Stethoscope and broken heart concept for heart disease or illness

 

Peg is a legend. Not because of how great she is. Peg is a legend because of how HORRIFIC she is! Peg is a bully and everyone knows it. Her stories are legendary and are told by her victims around the campfires of the 21st century – Starbucks and wine bars.

Peg befriends new nurses until she gains their trust and then she stands back and watches them drown.

Peg deliberating withholds important details (like the patient needs to lie flat for 4 hours) when giving report to the nurses she secretly hates so that they make mistakes.

When in charge, Peg assigns the most acute and complex patients to the newest nurse on the unit while her “friends” get the easiest assignments.

Everyone knows Peg’s reputation, even administration. Yet Peg is still employed and terrorizing new and existing employees.

Why?

Because nobody can ever really catch Peg in the act.

Peg is a professional bully.

Peg and bullies like Peg are some of the biggest challenges nurse leaders face. These are the employees who they KNOW are bullying others but they can’t seem to catch them. They can’t find a clean way to fire them.  However, these folks pose the greatest risk to the organization.

Workplace bullying has been linked to intent to leave, poor patient outcomes and poor productivity.

How to Catch a Professional Bully

STEP 1:  JOIN FORCES

Just like tracking down a criminal, numerous departments get involved – FBI, Secret Service, local police, CIA, etc. They meet to discuss the criminal and then use their specialized skills to capture him!

Schedule a meeting with human resources, the bully’s front line manager, clinical director, CNO and CMO.

  • Discuss the bully and ask these questions: What has been done so far? Is there anything documented in their file? Any disciplinary actions? Any written documentation, etc?
  • Develop a strategic plan for how you will collect information and confront bullying acts.
  • Determine what you need to terminate the bully. Your human resource representative can help with this piece.

STEP 2:  CONFRONT THE BULLY

When I ask leaders if anyone has actually had a conversation with the bully about behavior, the answer is either no or they don’t know.  Using silence as a strategy is one primary reason why professional bullies remain employed. It’s because when called into the HR office, they often can’t be held responsible if nobody sets the expectations.

  • Meet with the bully. Tell her that you KNOW she is behaving in ways that are compromising patient safety and a healthy workplace.
  • Look her in the eye and say, “This is what I expect from you starting today.” And then spell it out very clearly how you want her to behave and what will happen if she violates your expectations.
  • Get a commitment from her by saying this, “Can I count on you to meet these expectations?”

STEP 3: REMOVE HER POWER

Why do we put people who we KNOW are destructive into power positions?

  • If she is a preceptor, stop letting her precept new nurses.
  • If she is in charge, take her out of that role.
  • If she is leading any committees, remove her.

Strip her from anything that gives her power.

STEP 4:  BUILD A CASE

I know you think you can’t catch her. That she is so stealth – always hovering under the radar. However, SOMEBODY knows and witnesses what she’s doing – ALWAYS. You need to figure out who are the witnesses (they are usually the victims and support staff) and empower them to act.

  • Meet with folks individually who work with her. Ask for their help by documenting any incident involving a patient safety risk. I would even go so far as to admit that there have been reports of this person putting patients at risk by behaving in unethical ways and that you need their help so that you can protect patients (again, this will all be decided in your strategic meeting).
  • Gather any and all documentation about behaviors. It doesn’t matter if this documentation is anonymous, has a signature, is something verbalized to you, etc. Gather ALL EVIDENCE. Because what you’re doing is building a case. Just like a jury, they make decisions based on the preponderance of evidence.

STEP 5:  FIRE THE BULLY

Stop letting one person have control over you and your organization. Focus all of your efforts on the steps above until you have enough evidence and then FIRE THE BULLY! Don’t wait until you have everything – remember, you’ve just built a case. Now do something with it!

A culture of silence must be replaced by a culture of safety. Disruptive behaviors happen because they can. It takes willing individuals and leaders to stop it.

 

About the author: Dr. Renee Thompson is a keynote speaker, author and professional development/anti-bullying thought leader. Renee spends the majority of her time helping healthcare and academic organizations address and eliminate bullying behavior.

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