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Study finds high rates of nurse bullying, but managers make a difference

Thursday, 14 December 2017

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An Australia-wide survey of nurses has found workplace incivility and bullying to be a common problem, but less so in hospitals where line managers demonstrate ‘authentic leadership’ behaviours.

Overall, 59 per cent of 230 nurses surveyed recounted witnessing bullying in their workplace, while 48 per cent reported being a target.

Of these, 39 per cent experienced bullying now and then, while 12 per cent went through the ordeal several times a week.

Professor Stephen Teo from Edith Cowan University’s Centre for Work and Organisational Performance said these numbers partly reflect the nature of the sector.

“In healthcare, those in charge usually make promotion choices based on a person’s technical skills – related to treating patients – while soft skills such as managing people and relationships are secondary,” Professor Teo said.

“The pressure of the medical field can expose weaknesses, so a manager may react abruptly and be snappy, and if that isn’t addressed, it can become normal.

“This has a trickle-down effect on how those around them act.”

Professor Teo said the research considered the impact of incivility, which encompasses behaviours more subtle than workplace bullying.

These include rudeness, creating feelings of exclusion, unfair work distribution and negative body language or tone.

Nurses who witnessed or experienced incivility were 52 per cent more likely to report psychological stress, which has been linked to increased health problems, turnover and decreased efficiency.

The manager makes a difference

However, in workplaces where line managers demonstrated authentic leadership, nurses’ perception of incivility was 37.5 per cent lower, which in turn reduced stress.

“Authentic leaders model positive social behaviours while being self-aware and open and honest,” Professor Teo said.

“They embody the organisation’s professed values, even if they aren’t perfect.”

The research also found that nurses who felt they and their organisation had shared values experienced lower levels of workplace incivility and psychological stress.

“Overall, our research suggests healthcare organisations need to put more emphasis on training to provide line managers with skills and tools to navigate the human side of work,” Professor Teo said.

Professor Teo presented his findings at the Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management Conference in December 2017. Related articles have been published in the Journal of Nursing Management and Stress & Health.

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