Nurses, Do Your Coworkers Have Your Backs?

Do your coworkers have your back or do they talk about you behind your back?

You probably have an answer to that question. Now, lets reverse the quiz.

Do you have your coworkers back or do you talk about them behind their back?

I recently spoke to a colleague about the challenges of working in a toxic Nursing unit. When we started on the unit, we both had experiences of hostility, bullying, cliques and the all too familiar situation of silence when a Nurse walks into the nursing station.

To be completely honest (and I encourage all of you to be as well), I’ve been on both sides of this question. I’ve been the Nurse that stood up for another Nurse when staff was trash talking about her. I’ve also been the Nurse that contributed to unhealthy gossip, perpetuating this insidious endemic in our profession.

It’s remarkable that my colleague and I survived the turmoil. There were a lot of casualties, at least emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically. We’ve taken very active personal steps to create a healthy relationship with the workplace. We both work per-diem, a choice that recently challenged us with uncertainty but ultimately provides tremendous flexibility and freedom.

With our personal lifestyle choices, the exodus of notorious nurse bullies and dramatic staff turnover, nothing stays the same. Change is hard but it can shake us out of autopilot mode. With new staff and new management, we have the opportunity to influence our surroundings. We can choose to be supportive or we can choose to continue the cycle of a toxic workplace.

It’s a choice and when you count the number of hours in your life that you spend at work, you might want to make a choice to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

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!

Nurse develops product to rescue nurse's necks - NURSE BORN

Sarah Mott started her career as a CNA at a Rehab Hospital in 1998, where she trained to do many nursing duties. As a new Nurse in 2001, she worked in a team-nursing model in which the CNAs, LPNs and RNs worked effectively with the multidisciplinary team to care for the physically demanding patients.

SM: I always felt respected as a nurse in my first job because the Nurse Managers and the Director of Nursing advocated for the staff. In 2006, I decided to explore Oncology nursing at another hospital. I became chemo certified and found Oncology nursing very challenging and rewarding. After four years I developed severe neck pain that forced me to leave.

I gave Home Care Nursing a try but I missed the camaraderie of my co-workers and did not enjoy all the driving and the paperwork! My pain symptoms worsened and I was diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis. I had now considered turning my Lotus Stethoscope Holder project from a fun idea into a “real” product.

After awhile, I returned to a part time position at a Rehab facility because I missed nursing so much. Unfortunately, it was a toxic workplace. Management did nothing to advocate for nurses. Staff bullying, gossiping and writing each other up was routine. The lack of support from administration and the negative environment created a situation in which I started to doubt my abilities. I began to feel very negative and depressed.  I resigned this past January, but I still feel the affects of the negative experience.

I now work full-time running Nurse Born Products.

What do you love most about nursing and/or running your business?                                               There is so much that I love about nursing; The busy pace, the burst of adrenaline that goes along with the job, patient teaching and providing caregivers with resources, getting a good seal on a wound vac dressing, holding the hand of patient undergoing a painful or scary procedure, being an advocate, connecting with family and the patient, and comforting a loved one when their family member has passed. 

I love my co-workers and the quirky sense of humor that only nurses can understand!

Now, I love running my own business and creating my own schedule. I feel proud when my customers are satisfied with my product. It is gratifying when a nurse contacts me and tells me that I have inspired her/him.  I love working with the nurses that sell their products through Nurse Born.  I have found that nurse entrepreneurs are extremely supportive of each other.  I really enjoy going to trade shows and other events in which I have the opportunity to meet other nurses. 


What throws you off balance and how do you know you are out of balance?                          

Being around negativity throws me off balance.  I have learned that negativity is infectious and that over time you begin to absorb these feelings. Negativity affects you both physically and emotionally.  

What brings you back into balance?                                                                                            

When I am feeling negative, positive self talk and faith helps bring me back into balance.  Yoga, exercise and eating healthy allows me to feel strong and gives me the energy to bring things back into balance. 

Tell me a bit about what kind of products nurses create.                                                            

There are a lot of nurse authors who write books or create websites in which they blog about nursing issues and some nurses provide coaching services.  

Gripsors are a pair of scissors with added function, they have teeth for gripping things such as tight stop cocks, and a hook for pulling things open or using as an oxygen key.  Sharon Zelinko, RN invented Gripsors at the young age of 79 and she is now 80 something and she continues to travel the country selling her product and when she is not selling she works as a nurse at long-term care facility.

Deborah Tacoma, RN invented the freedom wand a personal hygiene aid.

Joyce Harrell, RN invented a portable tray table that can attach to the bedside, IV poles, wheelchair or walker. Other products include, jewelry, scrub hats, custom badge reels and much more!

What advice would you have for nurses interested in creating a product?                                      

It is a huge commitment that takes a long time before it can become a reality.  You must be completely dedicated and willing to make a lot of sacrifices to see it through.  Most importantly, if you believe in your product don't let naysayers bring you down.  You will have a lot of doors slam in your face before one opens. 

Tell me about your most favorite nursing job and why.                                                                 

The Rehab and Oncology/General Surgery, both had healthy work environments. I loved being part of the team that cared for the entire person. We worked together to bring the patient to their maximum potential and helped improve their quality of life and obtain as much independence possible.  We did not just treat the wound or bleed - we treated the whole person. I also loved the positions because management was closely involved with what was happening with the patients on the floor. I felt appreciated by the management and upper administration, the doctors were pleasant and the staff had each other’s back.  The CEO of the hospital was a nurse and nurses were highly respected. We received plenty of continuing education opportunities and Doctors who were repeatedly disrespectful or rude to nurses were sent to anger management. 

What advice would you give to new grads starting out?      

Start your career in a facility that will provide support and advocate for you.  Know how to maintain boundaries both with the employer and patients. No one knows it all - don't be afraid to ask. One more thing, you are not above toileting or providing personal hygiene to an incontinent patient.