1. Johnson, Susan L. MN, RN

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It was with interest that I read the 2 recent articles on workplace bullying, in ANS: "Workplace Bullying Experienced by Massachusetts Registered Nurses and the Relationship to Intention to Leave the Organization" by Simons1 and "A New Model of Bullying in the Nursing Workplace: Organizational Characteristics as Critical Antecedents" by Hutchinson et al.2 Of particular note was the juxtaposition of viewpoints on the cause of workplace bullying presented in the articles. Simons1 mainly focused on the theory that nurses are an oppressed group and are therefore more prone to bully each other, whereas Hutchinson et al2 emphasized that organizational characteristics are the primary antecedents for workplace bullying.


Although both views contain some element of truth, it seems that nurses need to move beyond viewing oppression as the main cause for workplace bullying, because this explanation does not lead to any easy solutions to the problem. As Hutchinson et al2 point out, raising awareness of the problem and creating zero-tolerance policies will not work if there are informal organizational alliances that work to undermine such interventions. Lending credence to the view that organizational factors are key to understanding workplace bullying are the facts that workplace bullying is a phenomenon that occurs in other occupations as well and that bullying behavior also occurs in top-level management positions.3


In order to determine the extent to which oppression contributes to bullying among nurses, it would be useful to compare bullying rates from studies in other occupations with bullying rates among nurses. Such comparisons are difficult given the current state of knowledge, because few studies in the United States have used the same measure of bullying. However, one study that looked at bullying among workers from diverse occupations across the United States, including education, finance, public administration, agriculture, and service, found that 28% of respondents had been bullied at work.4 This study used the same instrument as the Simons study, which reported a similar rate of 31%.1


More research is clearly needed to understand the complex reasons behind workplace bullying. Both of these authors are to be commended for their contributions to this discussion. This is a timely issue for nursing, and the discussion in this area needs to be based on science, not just opinion.


Susan L. Johnson, MN, RN


University of Washington School of Nursing Seattle, Washington




1. Simons S. Workplace bullying experienced by Massachusetts registered nurses and the relationship to intention to leave the organization. Adv Nurs Sci. 2008;31:E48-E59. [Context Link]


2. Hutchinson M, Jackson D, Wilkes L, Vickers MH. A new model of bullying in the nursing workplace: organizational characteristics as critical antecedents. Adv Nurs Sci. 2008;31:E60-E71. [Context Link]


3. Hoel H, Cooper CL, Faragher B. The experience of bullying in Great Britain: the impact of organizational status. Eur J Work Organ Psychol. 2001;10:443-465. [Context Link]


4. Lutgen-Sandivk P, Tracy SJ, Alberts JK. Burned by bullying in the American workplace: prevalence, perception, degree and impact. J Manage Stud. 2007;44:837-862. [Context Link]