New research from Massey University could help combat bullying within the nursing sector.

Researcher Dr Kate Blackwood said it was estimated about 10,000 of New Zealand’s 50,000 nurses had been subjected to workplace bullying in the past six months.

“Nurses have been noted as consistently experiencing higher prevalence rates of bullying in comparison to other healthcare workers.”

She said bullying had major implications, including long-term impairments in physical and mental health outcomes, job satisfaction, burnout, or even staff leaving the workplace or profession all together.

“Considering the prevalence of bullying in the New Zealand nursing profession and internationally, ensuring that managers hold and demonstrate the competencies to foster healthy teams and effectively manage bullying is of prime importance.”

She said the more escalated a case of bullying became, the less likely it was to be resolved.

“Managers have a huge role in identifying and managing cases of bullying early. They are optimally placed to deal with interpersonal conflict.”

However, those same managers could also lack the skills and competencies to do this, she said.

“Managers are often promoted into these roles with little training on management or leadership. Additionally, managers themselves are often a frequent source of bullying.”

She said this could create further challenges, with underreporting of bullying behaviours due to the fear of retaliation or cynicism.

“When workplace bullying goes unchecked, these behaviours can become implicitly endorsed and normalised as part of the workplace culture. Therefore, understanding the competencies required to manage bullying and foster healthy work becomes vital.”

Researchers interviewed 30 nurses in New Zealand for the study, and developed two sets of management competency frameworks – one outlining the competencies required for fostering a healthy work environment.

These competencies included availability, being trustworthy, communication, consistency, confidence and resilience, dealing with work problems, empowering staff, fostering team cohesion, individual consideration, and reflection.

The research also looked at competencies managers needed to manage cases of workplace bullying.

“These competencies are more likely to be effective at the early stages of a bullying episode, when parties are likely to be more open to rational discussion and less harm has been reduced.”

They included confidence, resilience, awareness, coaching and mediation, and consistency.

Blackwood said the two sets of competencies were closely related to each other.

“Both contribute to fostering feelings of support, trust and respect between the manager and their employees, thus setting the foundation for positive interactions if faced with an experience of bullying.”

However, she cautioned those in the sector to rely solely on managers to solve the bullying problem.

“Management competencies should not be the sole focus. They are part of a much bigger puzzle.”

She said bullying and managing bullying cases could have a huge toll on managers.

“The support that they need is huge. It’s so much more than just the managers. It needs to be a multi-level, multi-dimensional effort.”

She said it was “vital” that any interventions targeting line manager competencies were “complemented by initiatives and support” for managers at an organisational level.

Blackwood said she hoped the information gleaned from the study could be used to develop a tool that allowed managers to reflect on their own practice.

“I hope it can be used in nursing generally as well, not just for managers. It could also be used for appraisals and promotions, or for training.”

The competencies identified in the research also linked with the Nursing Code of Conduct.


  1. This article absolutely identifies why bullying is so consistant and continues to be so. Why management are allowed to continually do this is beyond anyones comprehension and makes for very unhappy staff. Quite often management are the very ones doing the bullying – I have seen this time and time again and nurses feel powerless to have any support – even if a nurse goes above the manager.

    My question is when is this behaviour to employees whether a nurse or not going to stop? – can we stop having to read articles which are great but don’t appear to be taken on board where it needs to be?

    Thank you for the article – reconfirms the same ole stance of bullying.


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