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The role leaders play in workplace bullying, incivility

Just under half of nurses have been a target of bullying or rude behaviour in their workplace, but those with managers who demonstrate authentic leadership are less likely to encounter the problem.

Those were some of the key findings of an Australia-wide survey of nurses led by Professor Stephen Teo from Edith Cowan University’s Centre for Work and Organisational Performance. It also found that 59 per cent of the 230 nurses surveyed witnessed bullying in their workplace.

Of those who were a victim of bullying, 39 per cent experienced bullying every now and then, while 12 per cent experienced it several times a week.

Teo said the study’s findings are partly a reflection of the reasons behind promotions.

“In healthcare, those in charge usually make promotion choices based on a person’s technical skills – related to treating patients – while soft skills such as managing people and relationships are secondary,” Teo said.

“The pressure of the medical field can expose weaknesses, so a manager may react abruptly and be snappy, and if that isn’t addressed, it can become normal.

“This has a trickle-down effect on how those around them act.”

Teo said the research also looked at the impact of incivility, which describes behaviours that are more subtle than workplace bullying such as rudeness, creating feelings of exclusion, unfair work distribution and negative body language or tone.

Nurses who witnessed or experienced incivility were 52 per cent more likely to report psychological stress.

However, in workplaces where line managers demonstrated authentic leadership, nurses’ perception of incivility was 37.5 per cent lower.

In an interview with Nursing Review, Teo discussed the impact that authentic leadership can have on workplace behaviour and the traits that define it.

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