The hardest thing about returning to work after a vacation is remembering not to show how happy and relaxed you were while your coworkers slogged away at their jobs.
The second hardest thing is maintaining your happy, relaxed mood as you realize how much some nurses complain.
All nurses complain. At its best, this characteristic makes us strong patient advocates and the most trusted profession in America. We keep patients safe by complaining when they are not. At its worst, complaining becomes relational aggression or bullying, and turns susceptible nurses into tools, specifically hammers.
It is paradoxical: An oncology nurse who'd go beyond the call of duty for quality patient care will turn around and pound a fellow nurse into tears.
In her book, When Nurses Hurt Nurses, Cheryl Dellasega, PhD. defines relational aggression (RA) as "...gossip, exclusion, teasing, tormenting, undermining, cyber slamming, and a host of other verbal and social behaviors designed to wound another person."
Dellasega encourages nurses stop RA through identifying their own behaviors that coworkers perceive as aggressive. However, she notes that hardwired aggressors aren't interested in reading a book like When Nurses Hurt Nurses, because their behavior gets them what they want.
She suggests coping with RA by "...learning to communicate effectively, adjusting your attitude, collaborating around a common goal, managing stress, and sometimes just forgiving..."
I thought about this while listening to a nurse "hammer" someone from another department over the phone. Despite both departments complaining and writing each other up, nothing seems improved. I don't think solving problems between departments is a nursing issue, but neither department managers get involved. Why should they, when The Hammer keeps things going?
Have you ever wondered why bully nurses last at their jobs, while bullied nurses leave the unit? Why are bullies not fired for their behavior?
I have a theory. They survive because they serve a purpose. They are hammers. Through intimidation, they keep coworkers, other departments, and occasionally an oncologist, in line. They push the shift forward without bothering the unit manager. When they step over the line, the manager comes in like the good cop. If in the process other nurses in the unit are crushed, well that's simply collateral damage. This is why bullies stay and other nurses leave.
So, if you find yourself in the company of a nurse bully talking harshly, or rolling her eyes at you, consider this: They are just another tool in the shed, the manager's hammer.
Do you work with bullies? What steps, if any, has your unit or hospital taken to solve the problem? What has been your experience?