“Welcome to the real world!”
“A little toughening up will do them good.”
“It’s dues-paying time.”
Perhaps you’ve heard sentiments like these to explain tough treatment toward new nurses. While it may not be ideal, it’s harmless, right?
When Mélanie Lavoie-Tremblay, RN, PhD, entered the nursing profession, the work environment in her healthcare setting — abusive leadership, in particular — concerned her. Later, she went on to study the effects of abusive leadership practices as well as their opposite, transformational leadership practices, on nurses just entering the profession.
Here’s what she found: Abusive leadership by nurse managers isn’t so harmless after all. In fact, abusive leadership toward new nurses hurts more than the novices themselves. It trickles out to harm patients, healthcare practices, and the nursing profession, too.
The study, which appeared in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, investigated the impact of abusive vs. transformational leadership styles on 541 nurses with fewer than 5 years of experience. Nurse participants, whose average age was 26, filled out an anonymous online survey on the impact of such management practices.
According to study results, abusive leadership styles potentially lead to poorer quality care. They also are linked with a strong intention to quit a healthcare facility — and even the nursing profession.
“Our results specifically suggest not only that we promote supportive leadership practices (transformational leadership),” the researchers wrote, “but, most of all, that we spread the word that abusive leadership creates working conditions that could be detrimental to the practice of nursing at career start.”
A management style that encourages employees to work toward a collective goal in a supportive environment, transformational leadership is a popular leadership approach today.
An article in Psychology Today outlined the four components that characterize transformational leadership:
“A common misunderstanding is that transformational leaders are ‘soft,’ but the truth is that they constantly challenge followers to higher levels of performance,” wrote Ronald E. Riggio, PhD.
In other words, transformational leadership is still leadership. But at the same time, it’s the polar opposite of abusive leadership. It builds up instead of tearing down. It leads by inspiration rather than destruction.
And, according to the Journal of Advanced Nursing study, the effect of transformational leaders on new nurses is the opposite that of abusive leaders. Transformation leadership potentially leads to higher quality care, Dr. Lavoie-Tremblay and colleagues found, and a low intention to quit a healthcare facility.
Researchers recommend nursing leaders take a careful look at the management styles used at their facilities.
“Paying close attention to the leadership practices of nurse managers could go a long way in improving patient care and increasing the retention rate among our new nurses,” said Dr. Lavoie-Tremblay, an associate professor at the Ingram School of Nursing, McGill University in Montreal.
They further urge nursing leaders to take steps to implement transformational leadership styles among their nurse managers. Finally, they suggest it’s time to close the book for good on abuse in the name of nursing “leadership” — for the sake of the nurses, their patients, and the health of the profession.
How common is abusive leadership in nursing today? Is transformational leadership gaining ground in your environment?