Toxic behaviour in the ED: why we must look after nurses

Bullying and harassment in the emergency department takes on many forms and can be openly aggressive or veiled, it is vital that emergency nurses seek support

Toxic behaviour in the emergency setting takes on many forms, some are openly aggressive while others are veiled
Picture: iStock

Toxic behaviour in the emergency setting takes on many forms, some are openly aggressive while others are veiled.

I am sure we have all been ‘sent on a guilt trip’ or experienced shaming or belittling in front of team members.

Such behaviour takes on a negative tone, is self-centred and insincere and leads to feelings of inadequacy despite nursing qualifications, clinical competence and experience.

Bullying can create disharmony, mistrust and a lack of team cooperation

The person on the receiving end of this behaviour may not realise they are the subject until it has accumulated to the point where that person feels emotionally drained and cannot face the thought of spending another shift in the presence of a particular colleague.

The destructive dynamics of bullying mean that as an emergency nurse, you are likely to feel undermined and nervous that whatever you do will be criticised. This can create disharmony, mistrust and a lack of cooperation within the team.

It is essential that emergency nurses recognise the negative intent of these toxic messages and know how to seek support early.

We must look after our workforce.

What should nurses do if they are being bullied or witness bullying or harassment?

So, what should an emergency nurse do if they witness bullying or harassment towards a colleague or if they feel it is happening to them? And would we recognise that we may be the instigator of toxic behaviour?

Many people who display bullying traits have significant unresolved psychological trauma due to an inability to process their traumatic experiences.

Acting out is often the way their use of controlling behaviour manifests.

Our news analysis, Breeding ground for bullying? How to stop toxic behaviour in EDs, draws attention to the negative impact of bullying and harassment among nurses in the ED and offers tips on how to tackle it.

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Tricia Scott is an independent nurse consultant and consultant editor of Emergency Nurse