Website spotlight: Stop tolerating bad managers

Staff Development Weekly: Insight on Evidence-Based Practice in Education, October 21, 2011

"What should we do with a manager who screams at employees in the hallways, gossips, and has poor people skills?"

When asked this question at a recent HCPro event, I wanted to respond, "Fire him or her immediately." In any other industry, the simple answer would be to terminate the manager. Such outrageous behavior is unacceptable from professionals.

In nursing, however, this behavior is too often overlooked when exhibited by managers, when the truth is that bullying and unpleasant behaviors are more common in the manager group than staff nurses. The person who asked the question posed it as a desperate plea for help with a horrible situation. Imagine what the nurses on that unit feel as they go in to work each day, knowing the manager may berate them publically if anything goes wrong.

What is wrong with nursing that we allow this to happen? Similar situations occur every day. Bad managers damage retention, morale, performance, and patient care-so why are there so many of them in nursing and why are they allowed to get away with it?

Ineffective and aggressive managers are tolerated in the culture of healthcare, says nursing communication expert Kathleen Bartholomew, RN, MSN. "It is considered 'normal' in healthcare for people to act out and behave badly every once in a while," she says. Because managers are difficult to hire, a warm body is better than no body. In addition, as long as a manager is within budget, random outbursts are tolerated.

Healthcare organizations historically have made excuses for bad behavior from nursing managers:

  • She has stuff going on at home
  • He worked a double shift last night
  • It was a difficult case
  • That's just the way she is, and has been like that for 20 years

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