Incivility in Nursing: How Today’s Nurses Can Respond

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Written by Ann Real, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
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Reviewed by Aldo Zilli, Esq. Senior Manager, B2B Content, IntelyCare
A nurse thinks about incivility in nursing.

In the demanding world of healthcare, where compassion and teamwork are vital, it’s disheartening to see instances of incivility rear their ugly heads. But what is incivility in nursing, and how can today’s nurses effectively respond to this unfortunate reality?

In this article, we’ll explore the dynamics of incivility within the nursing profession and share strategies for dealing with these circumstances. As a bonus, we’ll also provide a list of resources to assist you in seeking support and answer your frequently asked questions.

What Is Incivility in Nursing?

Incivility refers to behavior that is impolite, disrespectful, or rude, often demonstrating a lack of consideration toward others. It includes behaviors, words, or actions that breach commonly accepted social norms and the expected standards of courtesy, often resulting in discomfort, conflict, or hurt feelings.

Bullying and incivility are fairly common in healthcare. Studies suggest workplace incivility occurs at rates between 67.5% and 90.4%. It even begins in nursing school, with one study finding 78% of students facing bullying in just six months.

Incivility in nursing examples can vary widely from one healthcare setting to another, reflecting the unique dynamics and challenges of each workplace. Common types of incivility in nursing include:

  • Verbal abuse: Shouting, yelling, or using derogatory language towards colleagues or even patients.
  • Bullying: Spreading rumors, singling out individuals, or making hurtful comments to undermine a colleague’s confidence and self-esteem.
  • Intimidation: Aggressive body language or threatening gestures.
  • Undermining: Sabotaging a colleague’s work or reputation.
  • Dismissive behavior: Ignoring or belittling the opinions, concerns, or input of colleagues.
  • Withholding information: Failing to share important information or updates that affect patient care.
  • Gossip and rumors: Spreading false or harmful information about coworkers.
  • Passive-aggressive actions: Sarcasm, eye-rolling, or making subtle negative comments.
  • Refusing to assist: Not offering help when asked or needed, leading to difficulties in providing patient care.
  • Insubordination: Disobeying or openly defying the authority or requests of supervisors or team leaders.
  • Inequitable workload distribution: Unfairly burdening certain team members with excessive work or responsibilities.

What Causes Incivility in Nursing?

Incivility can arise from a combination of factors. Understanding the causes of incivility can help healthcare organizations and individual nurses implement strategies to prevent and address it, creating a more positive and respectful work environment that ultimately benefits both staff and patients. Some of the common causes of incivility in healthcare include:

  • High-stress environment: The healthcare industry is known for its fast-paced, emotionally charged environment, which can lead to increased tension and frustration, as well as compassion fatigue.
  • Long hours: Healthcare workers work long shifts and irregular hours, leading to physical and emotional exhaustion that can contribute to irritability and reduced tolerance for stress.
  • Workload and staffing issues: Understaffing and heavy workloads can create a sense of being overwhelmed, which can lead to frustration and conflicts among staff.
  • Hierarchical structure: The chain of command in healthcare settings can sometimes foster an environment where more senior staff members exert control or demean junior colleagues (“eating our young” culture).
  • Lack of communication: Poor communication among healthcare team members can result in misunderstandings, lack of support, and ultimately, uncivil behavior.
  • Burnout: Characterized by emotional exhaustion and depersonalization, burnout can make healthcare workers less patient, less empathetic, and more prone to incivility.
  • Organizational culture: An unsupportive or indifferent organizational culture can foster incivility.
  • Lack of training: Some healthcare professionals may not receive adequate training in conflict resolution, teamwork, and communication skills.

What Is the Impact of Incivility in Nursing?

Incivility in healthcare has a widespread impact, touching on both nurses and patient care. It takes a toll on nurse morale, leading to stress, burnout, and dissatisfaction, which can worsen the nursing shortage.

In turn, teamwork and patient care suffer, risking safety and poor health outcomes. Patients may also feel uneasy in a negative environment. Ultimately, incivility affects everyone in healthcare, from nurses’ well-being to patient quality of care, emphasizing the importance of addressing and preventing it.

How to Deal With Incivility in Nursing

If disrespectful behavior has happened to you — you are not alone. Addressing bullying and incivility in nursing requires a concerted effort from nurses individually and healthcare organizations collectively. Here are some strategies you can use to combat these issues:

  1. Voice your boundaries: Start by speaking directly with the offender using assertive communication. Share your concerns openly and request that they put an end to their inappropriate actions. If the person doesn’t stop after this conversation, continue with the next items on the list.
  1. Document incidents: Keep a record of all instances of incivility or bullying at the workplace, including dates, times, locations, individuals involved, and descriptions of the events.
  1. Use workplace policies: Familiarize yourself with your organization’s anti-bullying policies and reporting procedures, and follow these policies to ensure that your concerns are addressed by established guidelines.
  1. Report to supervisors: Notify your immediate supervisor or manager about the incivility incidents and request that the issue be addressed.
  1. Seek support: Reach out to human resources, employee assistance programs, or a designated department within your workplace to report incidents.
  1. Seek legal advice: If the bullying persists and is causing harm, consult with legal counsel or professional associations for guidance on potential legal actions or protective measures that can be taken to ensure your safety and well-being.

Workplace Incivility Resources

Standing up to incivility and bullying is scary, but you don’t have to do it alone. There are organizations and support resources that can help you through stressful situations. Here are some government organizations and resources to explore:

1. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

  • Website:
  • Description: The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against employees based on their protected characteristics, such as race, gender, age, or disability. They provide resources and support for addressing workplace discrimination.

2. Equal Rights Advocates

  • Website:
  • Description: This organization is dedicated to fighting gender discrimination, particularly in the workplace. They offer legal assistance, advocacy, and educational resources to help combat gender-based discrimination.

3. Workplace Bullying Institute

  • Website:
  • Description: The Workplace Bullying Institute focuses on addressing and preventing workplace bullying. They provide information, resources, and support for those dealing with bullying at work.

4. Stop Bullying (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services)

  • Website:
  • Description: Stop Bullying is a federal government initiative dedicated to preventing and addressing bullying among children and youth. They provide information and resources for parents, educators, and individuals dealing with bullying.

5. OSHA Worker Rights and Protections

  • Website:
  • Description: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces workplace safety regulations and provides resources to protect workers’ rights and safety. If bullying has escalated to the point of creating workplace violence and safety issues, OSHA may be able to assist.

6. American Nurses Association – End Nurse Abuse

  • Brochure: ANA End Nurse Abuse Brochure
  • Description: The American Nurses Association has resources specifically addressing nurse abuse in the workplace. Their brochure offers guidance on how to combat abuse and promote a healthier work environment for nurses.

7. American Bar Association – Free Legal Help

Workplace Incivility Support Groups

Finding a safe environment where you can open up and share your stories of incivility in nursing is very important. Therefore, don’t hesitate to seek assistance. You might want to think about joining one of these support groups:

1. Mental Health America Support Groups

  • Website:
  • Description: Mental Health America provides information on finding support groups for various mental health challenges. Support groups can offer a safe space to connect with others who are going through similar experiences.

2. HelpGuide Support Groups

3. Mental Health and Trauma/Abuse Support Groups

  • Website:
  • Description: specializes in offering online support groups for a wide range of mental health challenges, including trauma and abuse. These forums provide a platform for individuals to connect, share experiences, and receive support.

4. In The Rooms Online Recovery Community

  • Website:
  • Description: In The Rooms is an online recovery community that offers support for those dealing with addiction and mental health issues. They provide resources, forums, and virtual meetings to connect with others on a journey toward emotional healing and recovery.

These resources are designed to help you find emotional support during challenging times. Whether you’re dealing with incivility, bullying, or other difficulties, these support groups and communities can be valuable sources of help and understanding.

Frequently Asked Questions About Incivility in Nursing

What should I do if I experience incivility in the workplace?

Start by documenting the incidents and discussing the issue with the involved parties, your immediate supervisor, and/or human resources. Use the organization’s policies to help resolve the situation and promote a more respectful work environment.

Are there policies or guidelines in place to address incivility in nursing?

Yes, many healthcare organizations have policies and guidelines in place to address this issue. These often outline expected behavior, reporting mechanisms, and consequences for uncivil conduct.

What resources are available for nurses dealing with incivility?

You can access national resources like the American Nurses Association and the Workplace Bullying Institute. Within your organization, you can often find counseling services, employee assistance programs, and peer support groups provided.

What are the common forms of incivility in nursing?

Common forms of incivility include verbal abuse, bullying, belittling, gossiping, and undermining behaviors among colleagues or superiors.

When should I consider leaving nursing?

Consider leaving nursing if you consistently experience overwhelming stress, burnout, or health issues, and have exhausted available resources for support and coping. It’s a decision that should be made carefully and with consideration of your well-being.

Ready to Find a New Workplace?

If you’re dealing with incivility in nursing and would like a fresh start, we’ve got your back. We can help you find a job and workplace you’ll truly enjoy. Discover how IntelyCare can pair you with nursing jobs that would be a great fit.