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How to Deal with Hostile Nursing Workplace Culture

When the Culture Is Hostile:

How to Deal with Hostile Nursing Workplace Culture

Life is too short to be miserable. 

So what should a nurse do when work is a source of misery? Nursing can be rewarding, but it can also be hard. Healthcare providers face an already-taxing job. So camaraderie in the workplace is essential. 

Work is lonely when teamwork is lacking. But when workplace culture is hostile, a job can be unbearable.

Hostile Nursing Workplace Culture

Experts describe a hostile work environment this way: a workplace in which supervisors or co-workers have created a discriminatory environment that a reasonable person would find so abusive or intimidating that it impacts the ability to work. Does this description sound familiar?

Nurse managers, doctors, or even employees in other units could cause incivility in the workplace. Signs of a toxic work environment include:

  • Rumors and gossip running rampant
  • Staff are bullied on the job
  • Disparate treatment or enforcement of policies
  • Unprofessional or dishonest behavior from supervisors

These indications may be subtle. Or they could be very obvious. Either way, their effects are detrimental to staff and the organization.

Effects of a Hostile Nursing Workplace Culture

Employees experiencing a toxic work environment may have:

  • Poor morale/engagement
  • Decreased productivity
  • More stress and burnout
  • Dissatisfaction with their job

These feelings can bleed over from their profession into their personal lives.

A hostile or negative work environment for nurses has effects on both the individual and the team. Ultimately the patients seeking care from the group are also likely to suffer. 

How to Deal

Nurses finding themselves in a job that could be identified as hostile can take action. They are not powerless. Here are a few ways to deal with a toxic work environment.

Be The Change You Want to See

When encountering a difficult situation, a nurse can try to be the agent of change. Try to foster teamwork. Communication is key. Healthcare providers tend to be compassionate individuals. A little empathy can go just as far with co-workers as it can with patients.

If dealing with a difficult colleague, take the high road. That means maintaining professionalism and not stooping to another’s level. Avoid bashing co-workers to others. Do not bad-mouth other staff, especially on the job.

Healthcare providers must remember their responsibility to the patient. Nurses must never compromise patient care because of tension in the workplace.

Offer Solutions

workplace culture

Ever heard the saying, “complaining about a problem without posing a solution is called whining”? True or not, it brings up an important point. Thinking of answers to fix an issue is more productive than focusing on the problem.

The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) recognizes that a Healthy Work Environment (HWE) empowers nursing professionals to provide the best patient care while experiencing fulfillment with their work. 

The organization developed six standards that led to the HWE. These are:

  • Skilled Communication
  • True Collaboration
  • Effective Decision-Making
  • Appropriate Staffing
  • Meaningful Recognition, and
  • Authentic Leadership

Nurses who want to improve dysfunction in the workplace can find helpful tools on the AACN site. The free unit assessment could be a starting point to share with leaders in the organization. Check out a Continuing Education Article here for “Nurses Reenvisioning Stress to Maintain Healthy Work Environments.” 

Check Out Other Options

It may not be possible to stick around long enough to change a deeply ingrained culture. When work stress is causing significant problems like gastric ulcers, it may be time to hit the eject button.

Start small. One simple option is transferring to another unit.

If the problem is with the organizational culture, check out other nursing positions through online job boards. Ask around to find other places that may be hiring. 

When a bigger change is needed, it could be time to change specialties. Try working remotely or starting a new side business. There are tons of options for healthcare providers to branch out and try something new. 

In Conclusion

Nurses can try to deal with a Hostile Nursing Workplace Culture. They can even try to improve it. But in the end, if the job doesn’t change, the nurse should because life is too short to wait.

Have you ever dealt with a hostile nursing workplace culture? What did you do about it? Let us know.

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Sarah Falcone BSN, RN

Sarah Falcone BSN, RN


Sarah S. Falcone BSN, RN is a dedicated nurse based in Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX. Her first nursing gig, was night-shift floor nurse in women's services (PP, L&D, nursery). Through a series of fortunate events, she found home health and a passion for helping seniors age in place. Connect with her on LinkedIn.



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