A pathway to a healthier you

Workplace bullying: a manager’s experience

You walk a narrow line as a manager, says Nel a registered nurse and manager, for more than 30 years. 

“…you’re the meat in the sandwich. You have to carry out what the executive wants and be responsive to the team that you’re leading.”

Good managers are accountable to the team and families of the people they care for. They also advocate for their team, says Nel.  

“People can only work well if they’re being cared for themselves. It’s really important to take the time to encourage the people you work with. As a manager it’s about recognising those differences in your staff. You come to work every week day so you get to see a fair proportion of your staff during that time.” 

Bullying by management 

Nel has herself experienced workplace bullying as a manager - and suffered moral distress as a result. 

“It was bullying, and it was horrible. It was relentless. I was being told to send staff to other areas to work. I was having to make people who were on regular days’ work night shift. There was lack of autonomy. 

“I was being told that some patients who were not intubated didn’t need 1-1 care, but these people were delirious or hypoxic. Management was making decisions about the work, but they didn’t have the responsibility of having to do Riskman or deal with families.” 

Taking a toll – an unsupportive workplace   

It had become an unsupportive workplace with unsupportive people, recalls Nel. And it that took a toll on her emotional wellbeing. 

“In the morning I realised I was crying in the shower. I’d get to work and was dreading getting called into the DON’s office. I laugh now but at the time I would tremble. In the end I left. I went on sick leave, went to a psychologist and to an industrial lawyer. I had a supportive GP and stayed on sick leave for six months.” 

While management was dismissive, Nel managed to reach an agreement with her employer with professional and legal support. “It was never about the money. It was about making them take notice that they’d behaved badly.” 

Recovery – take your time

Overcoming the adverse impact of bullying and working in a toxic work environment took time, including re-evaluation of her career trajectory. 

“Even after my sick leave I wasn’t capable of working, I thought to myself I’ll just get another job. I thought I’ll do critical care, which was the worse decision I could make;, to go back into that situation – with both the stress of the work and the emotional toll I’d been through.  

I told myself that I was renewed, I can do this. The fact is, I did love it (ICU) and leaned towards it. I’d had 30 years of nursing. But I was in a stressed and traumatised mindset. I wasn’t completely well. It took clinical supervision to understand what had happened to me.  

Ask for support from family and friends

Nel considers herself lucky – she has a supportive network of family and friends she could fall back on and who were kind.

It’s about tapping into that support network and saying: ‘I am not ok.’ Do not swallow it down and keep on going
I think the hardest first step is recognising you need help, that how you’re feeling is not ok. You don’t have to know the cause but if you do need some help, the sooner you do it, the sooner you’ll be on your way to recovery

Use a specialist health service

“If this service [NMHPA] had been available when I was going through what I did, I would definitely have taken the opportunity to use it. Nurses and midwives know that other nurses and midwives are the best support for them. The whole of the nation needs a support service that has been available to nurses and midwives in Victoria for the past 15 years.” 

Seek out a mentor

Nel encourages nurses and midwives at all levels in their career and whatever their workplace setting to seek out mentors who can guide you in whatever it is you need. 

“They will keep you whole. Learn from them. You can make bad toxic workplaces good, or you can also make a good decision to leave somewhere.”