A Story of Lateral Violence in the Workplace
By: American Nurses Association
This is a continuing series on workplace violence in the nursing profession. Previous blogs have discussed the scope of the problem, and the various types of violence and what they may look like in the nursing workplace.
So. Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Worker on worker violence.
Throughout the years, nursing has gotten a terrible reputation, often with the phrase of “nurses eat their young ” and lots of lateral violence. In story after story, we hear about how rampant it is, and then on the flipside we hear how “lily-livered” some of these new nurses are, and how they just need to learn to take it and “get tough.”
Why does this happen? Why do so many nurses experience lateral violence in the workplace? And what could possibly make their coworkers think that being really tough on new nurses is a good idea? The reality is that many veteran nurses are distressed and burnt out, which sets the stage for lateral violence and lack of support to their fellow nurses.
The following story from the American Nurses Association highlights some of the devastating effects of lateral violence and lack of support, and what moral distress and burnout can look like.
I was excited when my application was accepted on the step-down unit of a local hospital. On my very first shift, I was extremely disappointed. My nurse-trainer was late, and things kept getting worse as the night continued. My nurse-trainer started out frustrated with me because she wanted to watch ME work. I explained this was my very first hospital job and I needed some orientation. She grudgingly took charge and allowed me to watch her, but offered little explanation or rationales for what she was doing. When I asked questions, she became annoyed. By the second night, she left me to do the work and disappeared from the floor. I had no idea where she was. Sometimes I was able to ask my colleagues questions, but they were often too busy to help me. When I expressed my concerns to supervisors, I was told if I wasn’t learning as much as I wanted it was my fault. I endured that job for a year before applying to a position on another floor of that hospital. On the first shift of my new position, I was given a stack of papers and told—”These are your patients today.” I asked, “What about training?” I was told there were no nurses available to train me—they expected me to just “wing it”. I was shocked and dismayed, but felt powerless to do anything else. Finally, after another 6 months of trying unsuccessfully to learn how to work in that hospital, I left.
The origins of distress and burnout for nurses are many, but awareness and proactivity can help safeguard against their effects. The following blog discusses some coping strategies and provides links to continuing education courses (with contact hours!).
Also check out the American Nurses’ Association violence prevention bundle here. https://www.nursingworld.org/nurses-books/workplace-violence-prevention-bundle/