Florence “SeeSee” Rigney is the oldest working nurse in the United States. Last May, a video of her 90th birthday celebration went viral. The recording captures her in blue scrubs and a bedazzled “happy birthday” tiara holding back tears among her cheering colleagues. For 70 years she’s worked on and off as an operating room nurse at Tacoma General Hospital. When she first started, she got paid $115 a month. These days, she gets a ton of attention for being a high-energy compassionate nurse who still moves down the halls of the surgical unit faster than women a third her age. In 2015, Rigney was on The Dr. Oz Show and nominated for a March of Dimes Nurse of the Year award. Her birthday video was shared by The Huffington Post, The Today Show and BuzzFeed. She admits she feels a bit like a local celebrity even though she’s bashful about all the publicity. “I feel very honored to think that all of this has happened to me just because I turned 90, and I’m still here!”
Original Article Featured in OR Today Magazine, November 2016 Edition
Do you believe that workplace bullying and incivility are the same?
No. Workplace incivility can best be defined as low-intensity unpleasant behavior that is rude, impolite, or inconsiderate. While the target can feel insulted or angry; an actual desire or intent to harm the other person is ambiguous. Anyone has the potential to behave inappropriately towards a coworker given the right circumstances coupled with a lack of self-management.
Workplace bullying however, is ongoing, offensive, abusive, intimidating or insulting behavior or actions directed at a person(s), causing the target to feel threatened, abused, humiliated or vulnerable. The person experiencing prolonged bullying can feel a range of psychological and physiological symptoms. The research supports that, those who bully, are very aware of their behavior and its effect on the others; even though they may deny that there is intent. Fortunately, there is only a very small percentage of the workforce that is capable of such sustained disregard for another individual.
So these behaviors are very different. Should the management be different as well?
Yes, they should and I want to be clear as to why. The two keys here are insight and sustainability. The person who behaves in an uncivil manner has the ability to self-reflect on that indiscretion, feel remorse or regret and make the active choice to work on their self-management skills and achieve personal growth. A bully does not have this ability.
It is vital that we understand and accept that a nurse bully is a narcissist with a license. A narcissist lacks the capacity for empathy. The ability to reflect empathically on the consequence that one’s poor behavior has on another is vital for driving the desire to change. Bullies (narcissists) are incapable of this.
An uncivil staff member can gain insight though coaching and training. Positive, sustained changes in behavior can be noted within six to twelve weeks of working a clear emotional intelligence improvement action plan. A narcissist typically reacts in one of two ways to someone attempting to hold them accountable. They may escalate their behavior and retaliate or they will tell you what you want to hear and vow to reform. However, they cannot sustain any improvement because they lack a connection with the need to improve.
So why is managing bullying behavior in nursing so challenging?
This is a complex issue but one reason is that nurses are professional caregivers. Nursing leaders have a good deal of difficulty coming to terms with the fact that a bully/narcissist cannot be fixed. It is not a part of our caregiver DNA to “give-up” on someone. We talk ourselves into believing that if we just try a little harder that this individual will have an epiphany and the problem will be resolved.
The bully/narcissist is hoping that you will react exactly in this manner. They are experts at taking your wonderful qualities of empathy, patience and the need to heal and use them against you to achieve their goal of never being held accountable to sustained improvement. Essentially, we need to get out of our own way in order to take charge of this situation. Nurse leaders must try to accept that once someone shows you their true colors, you need to resist repainting them.
The only performance improvement plan for a bully/narcissist is a collaborative effort put forth by administration, human resources and the nurse leader that is time sensitive and rich with mandatory training. The documentation should discuss the need for improvement to be demonstrated within three to six months then sustained for six months as well.
Most bully/narcissists will not be able to withstand this type of scrutiny and may decide to move on. The others may stay but will find it very challenging to sustain the improvement. Should termination be the only option left, you can have the peace of mind that a sincere effort was made on your part; and twelve months’ worth of documentation to support your action.
Originally published in the AORN Periop Insider Weekly Newsletter July 28, 2016. Authored by Carina Stanton
The term “bully” is often used incorrectly to classify both bullies and those expressing incivility. Understanding the distinction between the two can help to put structure around communication and action in attempts to weed out bad behavior in perioperative nursing care, according to nursing Career Coach Phyllis Quinlan, PhD, RN-BC.
“The 10% of nurses who are true bullies have a personality defect,” Quinlan says. “Knowing the distinction is key to protecting your staff and deciding whether to develop a plan of remediation or to get rid of a toxic staff member.”
Quinlan describes bullying as a threatening behavior based in intimidation that stems from the bully’s issue with personal power. “For a bully, their personal power is far more important than the other person’s needs—if the other person needs to feel supported, a bully says ‘tough.’”
A person who indulges in bullying is very egocentric and has far more limited opportunity for personal growth, introspection and a commitment to change.
In the practice setting, a bully will intimate to someone that “you are on your own, if you don’t do what I want I have the power to isolate you,” Quinlan explains. She says bullying is not distinct to one professional level because this bad behavior knows no direction. It can be top down (leadership to staff), down up (staff to leadership) or lateral (peer to peer).
Although incivility is also bad behavior, it stems more from not being fully respectful of the other person’s perspective. Incivility is commonly seen by Quinlan during patient hand-offs or when a patient is transferred to a different area of care, such as from the OR to PACU. “As the nurse is explaining the patient’s state and previous care, an uncivil reaction by the nurse listening is to act as though they are being inconvenienced or worse to provide negative judgment about the previous care, making the nurse handing off the patient feel as though they must justify themselves and their actions.
With 80% of communication being non-verbal, much uncivil behavior is expressed with a less-than-polite facial expression or a toe-tapping type of stance indicating the nurse talking should speed it up and finish what they are saying.
One common thread between incivility and bullying is denial of wrongdoing. “If you ask an uncivil or bullying nurse to assess their behavior, they will report they were unaware of wrong doing and may say the nurse who reported their behavior was ‘too sensitive’ or ‘took it the wrong way.’”
Yet research indicates that both uncivil and bullying nurses essentially know exactly what they are doing because it fills a neurotic need.
Quinlan recalls the words of Abraham Lincoln, in which he suggested you can see the character of a person when you give them power. “Someone with good character will take a role in power and be collegial, find common ground and be generous enough to give praise for a job well done. On the flip side, someone with problematic character will use a power role to offer criticism and make remarks that are self-serving.”
For new employees, Quinlan recommends a set time frame for a probationary period in which the hire is observed for both clinical and behavioral performance. Quinlan says nurses who are good clinically but lacking in collegial behavior are often kept on staff to work on the behavior piece, what she hears nurses refer to as the “soft stuff.”
“Nonsense, behavior is the tough stuff and should be viewed as equally important to clinical skills,” Quinlan stresses. She advises a strong collaboration between nursing, hospital administration and human resources to establish strict behavioral boundaries that are reviewed wisely through the probationary period to measure knowledge, skills and behavioral benchmarks that are demonstrative of culture.
“Make sure everyone is on same sheet of music with clear descriptives of bullying and incivility weaved into your code of conduct and stand behind a zero-tolerance approach to toxic behavior,” she suggests. “If a true bully is identified, cut your losses quickly, otherwise you will lose good staff members.”
Register now to attend “Bringing Shadow Behavior into the Light of Day: Understanding and Addressing Incivility and Bullying Behavior,” AORN’s Nurse Executive Leadership Seminar with Phyllis Quinlan, and get the skills to build your own zero-tolerance policies and practices against bullying and incivility.