Horizontal Violence in Nursing


Posted to Nurse Safety, Nursing, Nursing News

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Nurses can expect the occasional outburst from a patient whether verbally or physically, but when violence or bullying comes from their co-workers, nurses may find themselves unsure of how to react. Horizontal violence is when some sort of violence comes from a peer, rather than a consumer or a supervisor. Victims of horizontal violence can experience psychological distress, and their workplaces can suffer decreased morale and a higher turnover rate. But why and how does the violence start? It is a mere dislike for a co-worker or a culturally imbedded phenomenon?

One theory suggests that in order to assimilate into a group, an individual first observes the behavior, attitudes and emotional reactions that the members of the group display, and the individual then mimics that behavior in order to be accepted. This pattern is also known as reciprocal determinism. In theory then, if the group engages in bullying a co-worker, the individual who wants to join the group will engage in the same behavior. It is not surprising then that at a 15-member meeting on nursing retention, all but one member could relate a first-hand experience of workplace bullying.

In a study led by Nancy Walrafen, MS, RN, OCN, respondents scored the top five behaviors considered bullying or workplace violence, and as witnessed as being done to others, as follows:

– Backstabbing – complaining to others about one individual (77.0%)
– Failure to respect the privacy of others – gossip or talking about others without their permission (76.0%)
– Nonverbal negative innuendo – raising eyebrows or face-making (72.2%)
– Bickering among peers (72.1%)
– Covert or overt verbal affront – snide remarks, withholding information, abrupt response (66.7%)

The most egregious behavior, undermining clinical activities (not available to help, turning away when asked for help), was witnessed by 50% of the respondents. If half of all nurses witness this behavior, how is it affecting patient outcomes or satisfaction scores?

One-third of the respondents reported that they had engaged in negative behavior because they had gotten caught up in the moment or the culture surrounding them. Some did not realize that the displayed behavior was considered bullying or workplace violence.

Nurse victims of workplace bullying often do not report the incidents. Reasons for this vary, from a desire to avoid making waves on a team that needs to maintain cohesion, to feeling that one more report won’t make a difference to supervisors or administrators who have been actively ignoring a problem.

In the study, respondents were also asked to contribute positive suggestions on possible methods for dealing with workplace violence and bullying in the nursing profession. Cultural awareness and appreciation for the differences and similarities was viewed as a possible solution, especially if hospital-sponsored continuing education credits on cultural awareness could be given. One respondent suggested practicing the golden rule of “do unto others” as no one wants to be treated negatively. One nurse offered that adequate staffing could reduce much of the stress on co-workers, giving them the opportunity to focus more on their own needs. All of the respondents agreed that all levels of management should work to address and solve the problem of horizontal violence in their workplace.