Bullying in the Workplace: Causing Lasting-Damage While Left Unchecked


Published: 28 April 2018

I’ll never forget someone’s first attempt at bullying behaviour towards me, which occurred while I was in my second year as a nursing student.

It was my clinical teacher. I was outraged... and terrified.

Fortunately, clinical placements do come to an end, and I survived.

My next experience was during my final placement as a third-year student. I thought I would crumble when the most-stern of the ANUMs on the ward focussed in on me with ferocity.

Before I could become a quivering mess on the floor, however, the even-sterner NUM put her back in her box:

"How else is she supposed to learn and get her confidence up? Be quiet if you don’t have anything positive to say!"

I don’t actually count that as bullying looking back on it, because I still carry that NUM's support with me today.

A few years later, I was the ‘city nurse’ working in the country who ‘thought she knew everything.’

A few years after that, the nurse practitioner candidate in the emergency department, who 'should not have been ‘given’ that position' as ‘she is a ward nurse.’

Fast forward to today and I am now happily self-employed and far removed from those kinds of politics and drama (although it isn’t without its own challenges).

workplace bullying two people talking behind the back of another person

Workplace Bullying in Healthcare

If you have not been a victim yourself, you would have seen it, heard about it, or - let’s face it - some of us would have contributed to bullying.

Bullying in the workplace affects all of us.

And, while bullying is not exclusive to the healthcare environment and nurses, we're all familiar with the old saying, ‘nurses eat their young’.

Why does that saying exist?

Writing this reflection has me thinking about whether I have ever been the perpetrator, and it’s a very uncomfortable feeling.

Anlthough I can’t think of any specific time that I have behaved in this way, realising that I had treated someone like that would be devastating.

Workplace Bullying is defined as repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety. Examples of bullying include aggressive and intimidating behaviour, belittling or making humiliating comments (Safe Work Australia 2017).

Bullying is a risk to health and safety because it may affect the mental and physical health of workers (Safe Work Australia 2017).

The statistics in healthcare are not promising.

According to the 2021 Psychosocial Health and Safety and Bullying in Australian Workplaces Annual Statement, residential care services, hospitals and other healthcare services are all within the top 10 industries for work-related harassment and/or bullying (Safe Work Australia 2021).

What Can We Do?

The Australian Human Rights Commission (2011) recommends that if you feel safe and confident, you can approach the person who is bullying you and tell them that their behaviour is unwanted and not acceptable.

As reasonable adults and professionals, we should reflect on hearing those words, and think about what behaviours we need to change.

I still get calls from former colleagues who are devastated by the bullying and harassment they are experiencing in their workplaces, to the point where they consider resigning and starting again elsewhere, in the hope it won’t happen again. A few people I know have even left nursing altogether.

It might be the nurse that is super smart, the nurse that has just started in a new speciality and finding their feet, the senior or experienced nurse changing organisations, the nurse with the quirky sense of humour; it could be anything about them that makes them slightly different, or perhaps perceived as a threat.

We need to take the view that in any team, diversity adds depth, value and resilience.

Fingers pointing up with smiley faces drawn on them and speaking bubbles popping out

If another nurse looks to be doing a better job than you, knows more than you or seems more confident than you, how do you feel?

Instead of feeling threatened, focus on their good qualities and ask how you can enhance your own practice.

Perhaps even ask them to mentor you. Mentor each other. Let this be a positive relationship.

Demonstrate leadership to student nurses, junior nurses and experienced nurses who are feeling threatened or undervalued. Offer your support.

We all have a role to play to stop bullying in healthcare. As with bullying in schools, we are causing lasting damage if we do nothing.

Hopefully, I emulate the qualities of the NUM that stood up for me during my third-year placement, (although I am much less stern in my opinion...).



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Leanne Boase View profile
Leanne Boase is a nurse practitioner with a critical care and paediatrics background. She currently practices across three GP clinics in Melbourne. She has also built, owned, and operated her own GP practice and is now a Prime Medical Property Group director, developing and building properties in the health sector. Leanne also does business planning and is the author of 'Medical Business Management', which aims to assist health professionals in starting their own businesses. Leanne is the current CEO and a fellow of the Australian College of Nurse Practitioners. She works as a casual academic. Her qualifications include a Master of Nursing (Nurse Practitioner) and a Master of Health Science (Education).