Just Say No To Bullying: Meet Renee Thompson

How long have you been a nurse and what areas of nursing have you worked in?  I’ve been a nurse for 25 years. Gosh…I’ve done practically everything!! Clinically, I’ve worked cardiac and Neuro step down unit. But I’ve also been a Homecare nurse, worked as the Quality Manager for a managed care company; I’ve been a unit manager, educator, nurse executive and now I own an education company, RTConnections.

You are passionate about educating nurses about bullying. What prompted you to leave the hospital to focus in this particular area?  While I was working as a nurse executive, I was responsible for student nurses, new nurses and professional development for a large health system. I was developing a nurse residency program and conducted many focus groups with students and new nurses. They shared numerous stories with me about how badly they were treated by the other nurses. As I listened to their stories, they reminded me of my own. I decided that it was time to stop accepting nurse bullying as the norm. Because I always wanted to have my own company providing education to other nurses, I decided to focus on bullying.

We’ve all heard the expression that nurses eat their young. What challenges do generational differences among staff have on the work environment; For example, senior nurses working with millennials?  Although new nurses are the most vulnerable, we are seeing a shift in who’s bullying whom. I’m getting more and more experienced/older nurses who reach out to me asking for help to deal with a newer nurse who is bullying the older nurses. The newest generation of nurses tend to have a higher sense of self-esteem and feelings of entitlement. They are often not willing to “pay their dues” and don’t always seek advice from the older nurses. When working with a group of newer nurses (I still work as a bedside nurse), I find myself saying, “They don’t even know what they don’t know.” This can create opportunities for bullying and disrespectful behavior.

Most nurses have good intentions but when they are frustrated at work they vent to others.  When venting turns into gossip, what tips do you have to recognize gossip and disengage from it? When faced with gossip, many nurses stay silent. However, in the case of gossip, silent isn’t golden – it’s an agreement. Nurses should recognize gossip as disrespectful and unprofessional. When exposed to gossip, they should speak up and say, “I’m not comfortable listening to you bad mouth _____ when she isn’t in the room.”

I’ve worked with a lot of supportive nurses in my career. When a nurse is going through a difficulty, coworkers are often supportive. How would you communicate with a nurse who is unable to provide safe care, without the conversation being interpreted as bullying?  Not everything is bullying. Sometimes, it’s just constructive feedback! The definition of bullying is the repeated patterns of destructive behavior with the conscious or unconscious attempt to do harm. There also tends to be a perceived power gradient over the other person. For example, some physicians have a perceived power gradient over nurses; nurses feel the same about nursing assistants. Or, an experienced nurse may feel more powerful than an inexperienced nurse.

 What do you love most about nursing? The opportunity to make a difference in the lives of other people EVERY SINGLE DAY!

Tell me your biggest concerns about nursing.  My biggest concern about nursing is that fact that we accept nurse bullying as the norm. We are losing really great new nurses due to this problem. 60% of all new nurses quit their first job due to the bad behavior of their co-workers. We need leadership and human resources to make a commitment to address behavioral issues even with nurses who are clinically excellent! No tolerance means no tolerance.

What throws you off balance and how do you know you are out of balance? Great question! What throws me off balance is overcommitting. There are so many things I like to do!!! And, I can’t say no to someone who reaches out to me for help. So there are days that I neglect my family and friends because of trying to keep up with work demands. I know I’m out of balance when I feel disconnected from the people I love.

What brings you back into balance?  Hanging out with my friends/family; enjoying a great meal and even greater bottle of wine!

Rene, you have quoted that 60% of all new nurses quit their job within the first year due to workplace behavior issues. What advice would you give to new grads starting out?  Prepare for disrespect (my book and new online bully-proofing workshop teaches these new nurses how to protect themselves) and seek guidance and support from experienced, nurturing nurses! Not all of us eat our young!