Academic journal article Journal of Healthcare Management

Nurse against Nurse: Horizontal Bullying in the Nursing Profession

Academic journal article Journal of Healthcare Management

Nurse against Nurse: Horizontal Bullying in the Nursing Profession

Article excerpt


The media has placed considerable attention on the prevalence of bullying in the United States, but most of the attention has been directed toward children and the bullying that takes place in schools. Yet bullying does not stop at a certain age; many people are still dealing with it on a daily basis in their places of work. Often, the negative treatment is dispensed by a boss or an individual higher up in the hierarchy system, but there has been an increase in bullying between coworkers (i.e., horizontal bullying) (Johnson & Rea, as cited in Cleary, Hunt, & Horsfall, 2010).

One definition of bullying is "singling out someone to harass and mistreat" (Dessler, 2013). Although the definition can vary, I think most people would agree that bullying consists of an imbalance of power and an intent to cause harm, and that the action is repeated. Individuals who bully others often choose victims who have a hard time defending themselves. To be considered bullying the actions taken against another individual must be done for the purpose of causing harm. Incidents occurring only once usually are not considered bullying, but they still should be dealt with, or the actions may turn into bullying. Individuals may test the waters by using a negative action against another person. If the victim ignores the action it likely will be repeated. We need to understand that bullying is not only physical or verbal; other forms of bullying include social and cyberbullying. Social bullying consists of gossiping, leaving people out, and spreading rumors (Dessler, 2013).

The imbalance of power plays an important role in horizontal bullying. Thobaben (2007, p. 82) defined horizontal bullying as "hostile, aggressive, and harmful behavior by a nurse or group of nurses toward a coworker or group of nurses via attitudes, actions, words and/or behaviors" The bully feels that he or she has more power because of seniority, experience, knowledge, or a variety of other reasons. However, this does not mean that the bully has actually been given more power by management. Because bullied individu- als are less able to protect or defend themselves, the bully feels more powerful.

Horizontal bullying has become an increasing problem in the field of nursing. Several studies have shown that more than 50% of nurses have been involved in this type of behavior (Cleary et al., 2010). Many refer to this growing problem as "nurses eating their young." I discussed horizontal bullying in the nursing profession with several individuals (in-person interview, November 7, 2013) in the Nursing Department at Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM). While causes of bullying vary from case to case, several factors, such as a hierarchical workplace culture, increase the likeliness of bullying taking place. Horizontal bullying, as with all other types of bullying can have a disastrous effect on the victim and the organization. Healthcare organizations must focus on solutions to this increasing problem.


The prevalence of horizontal bullying is hard to measure because of the lack of understanding as to what constitutes bullying, and because victims may wish to keep it secret. Some victims are embarrassed by what is happening, so they choose not to report the incident. Although the prevalence of horizontal bullying is difficult to determine, a 2010 survey of nurses found that between 65% and 80% had witnessed horizontal bullying (Cleary et al., 2010). Walrafen, Brewer, and Mulvenon (2012) found that nurses reported having witnessed horizontal bullying at rates as high as 77%. The same study found that 53.3% of individuals felt that they had experienced bullying behaviors from coworkers. These statistics show that the issue must be addressed.


Any type of harassment that could hinder an individual's ability to satisfy work requirements is considered workplace bullying. Bullying behaviors can be person-to-person, over the telephone, written communication, or even displays of offensive materials such as an inappropriate poster. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.