Workplace Violence – Peer Bullying

I can clearly remember sitting in one of my LPN nursing lectures.  The instructor said, “Nurses eat their young. It is a sad but true fact.  Most of the nurses that you’ll encounter as students are going to be excited to help you, but there will be a few who will be… less than enthusiastic.  This will apply to your professional life as well.”

The instructor went on to explain this phenomenon.  I think I can speak for our entire class – we were all a bit nervous.  However, when she closed the class, it really made an impact on us.

“Peer-to-peer violence may not end anytime soon, but it is how you react – and how you go on to treat new nurses in your career – that really matters.”

Workplace Bullying – by the Numbers

There have been various studies and surveys conducted on bullying and hazing in the workplace.  The numbers vary, but all conclude that there is an issue on peer bullying and hazing.

A survey performed by the Workplace Bullying Institute found that between 8% and 31% of nurses have been bullied at work.  However, this statistic is not broken down into the type of bullying. According to the American Nurses Association, “…this might include new nurses bullying older nurses, co-workers treating each other with harmful behavior, or older nurses ‘eating their young.’”

However, according to Dr. Renee Thompson of American Sentinel University, these numbers may actually be higher.  She states, “Forty-eight percent of graduating nurses are afraid that they’ll become the target of workplace bullying. More than 60 percent of all new nurses quit their first job due to the bad behavior of their co-workers.”

Bullying versus Hazing

Though they may seem like the same thing, it is important to note the difference between bullying and hazing.  Bullying and hazing both occur frequently in nursing.

Bullying involves exclusion.  It also utilizes repetitive behavior that is destructive, whether the behavior is consciously doing harm.  According to Dr. Renee Thompson, “For a behavior to be labeled as bullying, it must be repeated and must be destructive to the individual. There also tends to be a perceived power gradient involved.”

Hazing involves inclusion.  For example, when a nurse states she is “being tough” on a new nurse in order to improve competency, this is an example of hazing.  Another example of hazing is the old saying, “being thrown to the wolves” that is so prevalent in nursing culture.

Why Does Bullying and Hazing Occur?

There are various reasons why bullying and hazing occur – and none of these reasons are very good!

According to Valerie Palarski, an adjunct nursing faculty member at Rasmussen College, “Nurse bullying is the result of ineffective communication and coping skills in a high stakes environment.”

Just like in our daily lives, when we become too stressed, our emotions can spill over and we can take them out on other people.  Unfortunately, that make take the form of bullying a new coworker.

In other cases, some nurses truly believe that hazing a coworker is making them a stronger nurse.  After all, it is what has “always been done” and it made them a stronger nurse, right? The problem, however, is that hazing typically reduces confidence, and reducing confidence is counterproductive.

Change the Culture

According to American Nurse Today, the first stop to improving workplace conditions is to admit that there is a problem.  Nothing can be fixed if it is assumed that there is no issue to be resolved.

Nurse leaders should also receive education on how to identify and resolve bullying behaviors.  This education can be passed on to staff members. According to American Nurse Today, “Education is crucial; understanding the reasons for bullying and associated behaviors can help nurses realize they’re capable of stopping the oppression.”

On an individual level, the following can make a big impact:

  • Treat new nurses as you would have wanted to be treated when you were a new nurse.
  • Make new nurses feel as if they are part of “the group.”
  • Address bullying behaviors immediately.
  • Use appropriate conflict management strategies when approaching bullying.
  • Identify problems when they occur and discuss at appropriate opportunities, such as department meetings.
  • Model appropriate behavior.

Nurse managers and directors can also be role models by breaking the bullying cycle: “They should encourage staff to report bullying incidents, ensure that those who experience and report abusive incidents will be safe from retribution, and take action to discipline bullies, counsel victims, and implement corrective measures to prevent recurrence.”

The Bottom Line…

Bullying and hazing only ends if we continue to improve our own behaviors as well as our reactions to bullying and hazing.  We must also implement zero-tolerance policies to these behaviors.


Katz, K. (2014, June 24). Bullying in nursing: why nurses ‘eat their young’ and what to do about it. Retrieved from

Townsend, T. (2012, January). Break the bullying cycle. Retrieved from

Thompson, R. (2016, January 22). Nurses Eating Their Young – Bullying or Hazing? Retrieved from

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