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A website for young nurses and the young at heart in Aotearoa



Nurses eat their young. You probably have heard of this statement before. If you haven’t, it simply means bullying new nurses and in a way, subjugating them in the workplace.

The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) defines workplace bullying as a repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It can take one or more of the following forms: verbal abuse; offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating; and work interference - sabotage - which prevents work from getting done.


Dunn (2003) described horizontal violence as sabotage that is directed at co-workers on the same level in an organizational hierarchy.


Why does horizontal violence in nursing exist?


This could be explained by applying the oppression theory. Woelfle & McCaffrey (2007) stated that oppression exists when a powerful and dominant group controls and exploits a less influential group. Medical practitioners are often seen as the dominant culture and nursing characteristics are viewed as being less important. The resulting lack of autonomy, accountability, and control of nurses over their profession can lead to low self-esteem and self-hatred, and eventually self-destructive aggression; hence the infighting and self-criticism within the group.


So what effect does bullying have on our nursing workforce?


A study in 2011 by Vie, Glaso & Einarsen showed that exposure to bullying is related to impaired health among the targets. The outcomes of stressful circumstances are influenced by an individual’s cognitive appraisal or “labeling” of their experience. In this case, some nurses label themselves as victims of bullying. The study further showed that self-labeling influences the targets’ health in low levels of exposure to bullying. On the other hand, intense exposure to bullying is related to considerable negative health outcomes by itself, regardless of the targets trying to appraise their situation. Yaldirim (2009) showed that bullying had a negative effect on nurses’ job performance, motivation, energy level, and commitment to work, and that it may also cause symptoms of depression.

Bullying can bring pressure and intimidation and is a significant occupational stressor. According to Clendon (2011), in 2010, 13.5 percent of nurses aged over 30 years changed their jobs because of bullying and 49.8 percent thought bullying was a problem where they worked. In younger nurses aged below 30 years, 7.2 percent changed their jobs because of bullying and 38 percent thought bullying was a problem where they worked. This shows that bullying may worsen the current nursing shortage and may contribute to difficulty retaining nurses in the profession.


How to deal with bullying


The issue of bullying should be taken seriously in every organisation to ensure a healthy working environment and healthy employees. A shared vision to discourage bullying should be promoted. Easy access to information and resources, support and strong working alliances in the workplace are important to combat bullying. Empowerment is the key.

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation produced a factsheet about how to achieve empowerment in the workplace.


Additional tips on how to deal with bullying:


  1. Talk to people- could be someone you trust, a colleague, friends, or a counsellor in your workplace, or someone who may help you get a good grasp of the situation
  2. Keep a record of bullying incidents- take note of the date, time, and location of the incident; nature of the incident, your feelings and actions you took; and any witnesses. This record may help you assess the situation and may also come in handy when you decide to make a formal complaint.
  3. Approach the bully and talk the problem through with him/her and explain how his/her behaviour affects you.
  4. Alternately, you can ask help from another colleague or from your manager to act as your representative when approaching the bully.
  5. If the bullying persists, you may file a formal complaint.


Search for the policy in your workplace regarding this.


Remember, we all have the right to work and practice our profession without fear, unfair judgment, and discrimination.



Clendon, J. (2011). When is bullying not bullying? Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand, 17(6), 30.

Herbert, D. (2003). Horizontal violence among nurses in the operating room. Association of periOperative Registered Nurses Journal, 78(6), 977-988.

Vie, T., Glaso, L., & Einarsen, S. (2011). Health outcomes and self-labeling as a victim of workplace bullying. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 70, 37-43.

Woelfle, C., & McCaffrey, R. (2007). Nurse on nurse. Nursing Forum, 42(3), 123-131.

Workplace Bullying Institute. (2012). The WBI definition of workplace bullying. Retrieved April 06, 2013, from

Yildirim, D. (2009). Bullying among nurses and its effects. International Nursing Review, 56, 504-511.