How to Handle Bullying on the Job

Nursing is a noble profession that attracts kind and caring people. Even the experts say so — nursing is number one on Gallup’s poll of Honesty and Ethical Standards in Professions, and has held that top spot for 17 consecutive years. However, as with any profession, there are always a few bad apples in the bushel. As a travel nurse, you may run into a bully or two, who might take advantage of your status as the “new nurse on the block,” through verbal and/or emotional harassment.

This kind of treatment is unacceptable. Even if you think you’re thick-skinned, it’s important to remember that bullying reaches far beyond any single incident, affecting not only you but also the patients you treat and the organizations you work for. To prevent the negative impact of bullying, we’ve put together a list of tips to keep in mind during your travel assignments:

recognize the signs

When you first arrive at your assignment, the others might joke that you’re the “new kid” and treat you differently because you’re still learning the ropes. While it’s human nature for groups to initiate newcomers, no behavior should be anything less than professional. Take note of pranks, teasing, sarcasm, sexual advances (even made in a joking manner) and any other abuse directed at you. Any form of bullying that makes you uncomfortable also affects your job.

react appropriately

Nurses Talking

When you become the target of a bully, keep your cool and resist the impulsive temptation to retaliate with a clever comeback of your own. Don’t sink to that level! Instead, say something neutral that also sends a defensive message. For example, you might say “you appear to be giving me a harder time than the rest of the staff.” Try to distance yourself from the situation by continuing with your job duties. You should also avoid provoking the bully or sharing stories about bullying incidents on your social media.

document the incident(s)

At some point, you may have to provide evidence that you’ve been harassed and bullied. Develop an inconspicuous documentation process to keep tabs on the incidents. Using your phone, a notepad or a computer journal, record the date, time and names of those involved. Summarize the exact behavior (ex: “John snatched a sterile kit from my tray and used it for himself”). If another person is being bullied in a similar or different manner, you should record those incidents as well.

report the problem

One of the toughest challenges about being a bully’s target is that you have to decide when and how to report the problem. Although it’s ideal if you don’t have to make a report, it’s sometimes the only way to properly defend yourself. In most cases, you should tactfully bring up the issue with your supervisor. However, you might have a case where your supervisor is on board with the bullying or is the bully. In that instance, make an appointment with the Human Resources office.

Nurses Walking

find a systemic solution

Bullying and emotional abuse might be common and even embraced in some workplaces as part of the culture of the organization, but it doesn’t have to be that way. As a travel nurse and “outsider,” make a positive impact through the way you behave, speak, dress and interact with others. Your sterling example will be noticed and leave a permanent impression.

When bullies inject negativity into our work, the entire facility is affected and the patients come out on the losing end. As a professional healthcare provider, it’s part of your job to defend yourself from bullies and create a nurturing environment that exemplifies the caring and compassion for which the entire profession is known. For more information on travel nursing and its many joys and challenges, take a look at our Healthcare Travel Guide. And when you’re ready to start work, browse our allied and travel nurse jobs page for your next assignment.