Nurses, have you ever felt like a victim at work? Have you ever identified a perpetrator in the workplace? Feeling victimized is no fun, and it can truly decimate your drive to succeed, not to mention your happiness, well-being, and productivity; it can even drive you from the profession entirely. So, what’s this perpetrator-victim thing all about, anyway?
When we hear about victims, our minds might go to the news, which includes victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault, terrorist attacks, gun violence, political unrest, cyber attacks, identity theft, natural disasters or outbreaks of disease. But what if you’re a victim of the system, administration, your workplace culture, or a colleague? What do you do then?
My friend and colleague Renee Thompson is a national expert on bullying among nurses; she travels the country talking to nurses, nurse managers, and healthcare facilities about the eradication of bullying. Bullying in the workplace is an enormous problem, and it costs healthcare facilities countless dollars in attrition, legal fees, onboarding of new employees, etc.
Meanwhile, my friend and colleague Susan Strauss is also an expert in bullying, as well as harassment, discrimination, and other forms of workplace and school-based behaviors that wreak havoc on institutions and people’s lives.
Feeling like a victim at work can be a self-perpetuating cycle, especially if your perpetrator is an “unseen” entity like the system itself, or “the people in suits” who you don’t know personally, but you feel are exerting control over your life. That feeling of victimization can be demoralizing, especially the powerlessness that comes along with it. How do you fight faceless people in suits in some boardroom somewhere? How do you convince them that the decisions they make are actually making your job harder?
Fighting Groupthink and Victimization
When it comes to a sense that you’re the victim of an institution, mindset has a lot to do with it. If you allow yourself to remain in that victim mentality, telling yourself and your colleagues that you’re powerless victims, then that powerlessness will be empowered to grow deeper and take root wherever it can. One way to fight such collective disempowerment is to not collude in complaining over coffee, griping over the administration’s wrong-doings, and not taking action to make things right.
I know that unions often get a bad rap, but collective bargaining and organizing is one avenue for fighting back against unsafe staffing, unfair labor practices, or other grievances. Does your facility have a union? If not, do you need one? Is it worth considering?
Other than unionizing, there are other ways to take action along with your colleagues. If there are problems, do your best to document, substantiate, and quantify them. Documentation and numbers are one way to reach the ears of those in power, especially if you can demonstrate that certain changes may actually improve the financial bottom line, increase morale, decrease attrition, or however else you want to spin it.
When a group of people feel victimized, they can cower in the corner and collude with one another’s misery; however, they can also take action, document what they see and hear, bring that information to the decision-makers, and demand a seat at the table. They say that if you don’t have a seat at the table, you’ll end up on the menu; victims are often on the menu, but they can demand to be seated in a place of power. Which would you prefer?
Renee Thompson and Susan Strauss are the real experts in the field of nurse bullying, and I highly recommend their books, seminars, blogs, workshops, and consulting services. You need to empower yourself so that you are bully-proof and made of the toughest nursing teflon available. Feeling like the victim of another nurse or colleague is a terrible feeling, and if your work life is being impacted by mistreatment by another staff member, then it’s time for action. And if you are witness to bullying and you do nothing to intervene, you are perpetuating the problem through your silence.
Beth Boynton, another nurse colleague and friend, is an expert in teaching assertive communication skills to nurses and healthcare professionals. Beth’s books, articles, workshops, and services are excellent resources.
Bullying by older, more seasoned nurses drives newer nurses from the profession in numbers too large to ignore; there are also reports of newer nurses bullying older nurses into retirement, striving to put the older nurses “out to pasture”. Nurse bullying is cross-generational, as is bullying between physicians and nurses, physicians and their colleagues, as well as other members of the team.
Assertive, Action, and *ss-Kicking
When it comes to not being a victim, remember that colluding over your victimhood with others doesn’t really help, in the end. A little commiseration is fine, but when push comes to shove, collective misery should lead to collective action.
If there’s a nurse bully on your unit, that bully needs to be taken down; she or he thrives on conflict, so unless you have nerves of steel and a very thick coat of emotional armor, don’t try arguing with a sick mind. However, you need to actively defend anyone being victimized by the bully, while also documenting everything you see and hear. If you have to, record conversations surreptitiously on your smart phone (but first check the laws in your state regarding recording conversations without permission of the other party). Failing that, document everything, including time, date, and location, and obtain statements from witnesses. Nursing is all about documentation, so document the heck out of the situation, with as many direct quotes as possible.
Yes, a bully needs his or her butt kicked, but sometimes you need to do it administratively, not directly. Many bullies thrive on direct confrontation, so choose your battles carefully. Bullies can also have sidekicks and spies, so be circumspect in terms of who your chosen allies are.
Victimhood Into Victory
If you’re feeling like a victim to an individual, take action that will turn your victimhood into victory. If you’re feeling like the victim of the system at large, there are other things you need to do, which could include confronting administration with documentation, joining a union, or perhaps quitting your job and finding a more amenable workplace. If your environment is so entrenched and is totally resistant to change, grab a parachute or lifeboat and get out while the going is good. (See episode 44, “Should You Stay Or Should You Go?”
Remember, you can be an unwitting victim of a car accident, a natural disaster, or a terrorist attack (God forbid), and these types of traumatic, pivotal life events necessitate a different kind of psychoemotional approach than being the perceived victim of an institution or an individual.
If your victim mentality is truly getting in the way, counseling or psychotherapy could be very beneficial; if your mental health is suffering, trained professional help is highly recommended. However, if you simply need to counteract what you see through documentation and making a case for change, then go for it, and amass allies who can help you along the way.
You are powerful, nurses. Use your voice, your keen intellect, assertiveness skills, your critical thinking, and your emotional intelligence to counteract perpetrators, whether they’re individuals, facilities, groups, or rules and regulations that hinder your creativity, productivity, and happiness in the workplace.
You are powerful; you have the power to transform victimhood to victory!
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Be well, dig deep, and keep in touch!
Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind NurseKeith.com and the well-known blog, Digital Doorway.
Keith is co-host of RNFMRadio.com, a wildly popular nursing podcast; he also hosts The Nurse Keith Show, his own podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses. Keith is also the resident nursing career expert at Nurse.com.
A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of “Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century.” He has also contributed chapters to a number of books related to the nursing profession, and currently writes for MultiViews New Service, LPNtoBSNOnline.com, StaffGarden, and Working Nurse Magazine.
Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, online nurse personality, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known successful nurse entrepreneur. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his lovely and talented wife, Mary Rives.