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About half of hospital-based nurses have faced bullying in the workplace, with some going through the ordeal several times per week, a new Australia-wide study has revealed.


However, the problem was less prevalent in hospitals where managers displayed strong leadership typified by positive social behaviours and open and honest dialogue.

Undertaken by Professor Stephen Teo from Edith Cowan University’s Centre for Work and Organisational Performance, the study found 48% of the 230 nurses surveyed had been a target of bullying in their workplace, while 59% recounted being a witness to bullying.

Of those who reported being victims of bullying, 39% encountered the situation from time to time, while 12% suffered the ordeal several times per week.

Professor Teo suggested the study’s findings partly reflected 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.”

The research examined the impact of incivility, which Professor Teo said encompassed behaviours subtler than workplace bullying such as rudeness, creating feelings of exclusion, unfair work distribution and negative body language.

It found nurses who witnessed or experienced incivility were 52% more likely to suffer psychological stress, which can lead to health problems, turnover and decreased efficiency.

Yet in workplaces where line managers demonstrated authentic leadership, nurses’ perception of incivility was 37.5% lower, helping to reduce 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.

“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.”