A few years ago, Maria had never even heard the term "workplace bullying." But by the time she shared with EHS Today the path her professional life has taken in recent years, she used words like "traumatized," "powerless,"  "hostility,"  "retaliation,"  "mafia" and "war zone." All this from a self-described happy, optimistic person who loved her job as a nurse and who never expected to become the target of bullying at work. 

"When you love what you do, it doesn't seem like work," says Maria, who has been employed in various nursing roles at the same organization for years. (To protect her privacy, Maria's name and identifying details have been changed.) "I was naïve – I thought everyone in the health care field just cared about people."

See Also: Bullying & Harassment in the Workplace

Maria's problems began when she accepted a management position at another facility within the organization, where she says that as an outsider, she was not well received by the staff. The tension mounted after she reported a staff member for behaving inappropriately with a patient. The worker was fired, which outraged the rest of the employees.

"People just hit the roof," Maria says.  "People think once they're [in this organization], they have a job for life. They thought, ‘Who is this young woman to get this person terminated?'"

Maria eventually transferred to another facility within the same organization, where she hoped to get a fresh start. What she found, however, was a workplace culture rife with fear and intimidation and where employees banded together in cliques, avoided work and ganged up on other workers. Maria encouraged her staff to work together and put patient care first, but they responded by bullying her, ostracizing her and doing their best to get her transferred or fired. 

"Some days I actually feel like I've been in this war zone," says Maria, who has since hired an attorney and filed a whistleblower complaint. "I've worked in this hostile environment, all while trying to advocate for those at the bedside ... There are some amazing nurses who just want to come to work and provide good patient care, but they don't have the support [to protect themselves from bullying] that they need."