Horrible Bosses: How to Deal

April 8th, 2015 by

Frustrated Nurse“Nurses may not be angels, but they are the next best thing!” – Author Unknown

Most of us got into nursing because we wanted a vocation that was meaningful. We like taking care of people, and don’t mind knowing the intimate details of people’s illnesses, problems and lives.

We can keep their information private and provide care without bias or partiality. The quotes you hear about nurses being “angels in scrubs” and “the heart of healthcare” don’t strike a false note when when thinking about nurses as a group.

Unfortunately, there are always outliers. Have you ever had a bad nurse? I’m pretty sure you answered with a resounding “yes!”  Have you ever worked with a nurse who made you think,  “How is this person still licensed?”

Now, what if that person is your boss?

Bad bosses come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the types featured in the recent movie, to mildly irritating, passive aggressive, or uncaring.  Having a supervisor who you do not respect, do not trust, and just plain don’t like can make any job feel like a drudge.

There is a difference between having a boss who annoys you and makes it difficult to do your job and having a boss who puts your license or, even worse, you or your patients’ lives at risk.

He denied threatening me with a gun, and my supervisor insisted that I go back and admit the patient.

My first RN job was as a home health nurse in a major southern city. I was green, idealistic and fantastically unprepared to be out in the field, but moving to a new city after graduation provides few networking opportunities for GN internships.

I took the job and did the best I could. One day, I was knocking on a new patient’s door, when I heard a voice from inside  say “Get away or I’ll shoot!” So, I got away.  I left and went to the next house. I asked if I could use the phone and told my supervisor that I would not be admitting that patient and why. She was upset with me.

She called the patient back, who denied it, and then called me saying, “He said he didn’t say that, so you need to go back and admit that patient.” She was silent after and all I could hear was her unspoken “…or don’t bother coming back to work, you liar.”

I didn’t think I had an option. I went back to the house. (Did I mention green, idealistic and fantastically unprepared?) I was not shot. The patient apologized saying, “I thought you was the landlord!”

Within a month I had found a position in a hospital.

Today, I would immediately recognize that my supervisor was putting me at risk, and that it would be totally within my rights to refuse the assignment. The learning curve is sharp for new nurses who want to do the right thing and continue to earn income.

This case seems very obvious, but what about bosses who overload, ignore or are remiss in teaching or training? We need to recognize and help each other out when there is a supervisor who is less than stellar.

Avoiding gossip, encouraging conversation and trying to understand the viewpoint of your boss will help create a more positive atmosphere at work.

There are many “how tos” and “steps to dealing with difficult bosses.”  I think that instead of a checklist, we should look at some general ideas that are helpful to keep in mind. Your bad boss probably has a boss. Their boss might be even worse than they are, and they are having to pass on changes or policies that didn’t originate with them.  If you can imagine that’s true, it might help you find a little grace for that person.

Try to develop a relationship that invites conversation.

If you “hate” your boss, they can totally tell. They are not going to help you, just as you are unwilling to help them. Agree with whatever you can, in honesty, agree with. Constantly starting controversy only makes you look bad.

Avoiding gossip may be the hardest thing.

Nothing builds camaraderie faster than a common enemy, but if you refuse to engage in the gripe fest- “and I heard that she stays up here until 10 at night because she can’t bear to go home to her drug addict son and her cheating husband!” it might slow the bitterness train.

Be positive and proactive.

When coworkers are complaining, try to steer things in a better direction:  “I can’t believe we are understaffed again! It looks like I have one going to surgery, so as soon as I get him prepped, I can help you with that cath.”

Bad bosses will always be with us.

Sometimes they are so bad that we need to address the issue with our supervisor or file a complaint so that we and others are spared potential injury, but often, finding a new way to interact with and view them helps improve the workplace climate.

“With power comes the abuse of power. And where there are bosses, there are crazy bosses. It’s nothing new.” -Judd Rose










About the Author:

Sarah Heroman

Sarah Heroman is an RN, BSN who has found her niche as a school nurse in Texas. With almost 20 years of experience, Sarah is still passionate about the nursing field and enjoys mentoring and helping nurses continue to find the joy in their careers. She believes that a good nurse is able to combine the science and the art of nursing and find fulfillment in providing the best care for their patients.

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