I work as a RN in the critical care area. Recently someone left a note in my mailbox calling me a bitch.It could be anyone. I felt very intimidated and scared because of the nature of the note. I don’t know who it is; I feel I can’t trust anyone there. I feel someone could do something to one of my patients and I take the fall. The thing that worries me the most is, I have never had any type of altercation verbally or physically with anyone there. I believe someone is trying to intimidate me so that I will leave. I am generally a loner at work. I tend to stick to my patients. My workplace is very gossipy. Other nurses sit around the nursing station and gossip. I chose not to engage in any of these conversations. I called the nursing supervisor and my boss to have a meeting. What can I do? What are my legal rights? What is the hospitals responsibility?
Intimidated, But Willing To Fight
Dear Intimidated, But Willing To Fight:
You’ve done what you can–called your supervisor and boss. Evil too often does not have a logical explanation. In your case, you will have to steel yourself and continue to perform your duties realizing that there is an unknown someone who has expressed hates toward you. You can weather this frightening note. Hopefully there will be nothing to add to this. One anonymous note of hate does not make a pattern, and therefore alerting the hospital to this is the best you can do. I imagine you have searched your mind for anything that could have provoked this or anyone who might have been angered. A bit of introspection is not unhealthy. But it will be unhealthy if you become obsessed with this one act or begin to interpret otherwise normal and/or odd events or words as follow up acts of hate. I know that students have written on bathroom walls and sent notes with such words and worse about a teacher they hate. And after a time this has passed. Hateful words can escalate to physical acts of violence; however, very few do. Be watchful but not obsessed.You say you are a loner who keeps to yourself. Such a note will not cause you to change to become a cheery gregarious soul. Don’t try. Simply be courteous, greet your co-workers and be considerate as much or more to them as you were before. It seems that this might be a time when your boss might emphasize, if she/he has not in the past, ways you and your co-workers might think of ways you each can make each other’s assignments a little easier. Your supervisor and boss will have to decide if this is an act that should become a matter of discussion in a staff meeting.Does this make sense to you? Will you please let us know how you fare after these next couple of weeks?Weathering unpleasant events sometimes is the best we can do. Think peace for those who despitefully have hate in their hearts. Continue to be a caretaker with love. That is the spirit we call WEGO. Occasionally, one of our other Workplace Doctors will add a note too. I’m sharing my response to you with them. The Workplace DoctorsDear Dr. Gorden’s response to your concern is wise–you are doing the best you can do by reporting this matter to your supervisor and others in charge. Let me add a couple of thoughts to that. 1. The nature of the message can be a determiner of the actions you and the hospital need to take. If it was limited to calling you a b***h that is one thing. If there was a threat of some kind, that is another. If a threat was made or implied about the patients you care for that is something else. You mentioned that concern and I wondered if something in the note had implied that. The responsibility of the hospital is to determine if there is anything about the note that requires police investigation–a threat of physical harm or serious implied threat of that nature. After that they must determine if the note contains messages that might indicate the presence of hate or bias under the law–racism, sexism or other hate or bias type of comments. If those things are present, their response involves good management more than a potential liability concern on their part. Such unpleasantness in the workplace–especially in a hospital environment–is not conducive to effectiveness. Pity the patients who are cared for by someone who has such nastiness in her heart–or where such contention is present. 2. Your supervisor likely is aware of attitudes toward you by others–and may have an idea who would feel so negatively they would leave a note. Having an idea and proving it are two different things, so likely the most that could happen would be that the supervisor would make some general statement to all employees about working through conflicts or getting along. Or, it could be that the supervisor will decide the best response is no direct response but rather a wait-and-see approach. That might be a worthwhile response, even though nothing gets done about this specific situation. During your interview ask your supervisor if she is aware of any incidents that would have caused such reactions by another employee. It may be that something occurred that you didn’t place much emphasis on, but that someone else did. You may not have caused the issue or you may have inadvertently done so. That knowledge will allow you to either build some bridges or avoid further conflict situations with someone who apparently doesn’t deal with it in a mature way. This will be a good time to find out if your supervisor thinks there is some negative aspect to your interactions with other employees. Even if there is, the person writing such a note is wrong to do it and should receive a negative sanction of some kind if discovered. But, it would be worthwhile to find out if your supervisor thinks your ‘loner” style has caused work issues that resulted in someone lashing out inappropriately. For example, because you are more withdrawn, has that resulted in you not being available to assist with work when it comes to the attention of the group? Or, do you stay involved with the patients to such an extent that you don’t participate in even friendly work activities? There is a balance between immersion in gossip and complete isolation from the rest of the team. Again, that does not, in any way, justify someone writing a mean-spirited note as they did. I’m simply suggesting that you use this time to get a good reading from your supervisor about concerns she might have had anyway. 3. Those first two points deal with looking further into the origin of the note. Now, let me reinforce what Dr. Gorden said: This will pass. As the recipient of many such notes in my history–due to the era in which I joined my profession–I can say that, unless there is a calculated plot, most notes are the result of a flare-up of anger or frustration or a spur-of-the-moment desire to write what couldn’t be said, rather than a deep-seated hatred. One of the notes I received was really cruel. I was surprised, because like you I had no indication history of obvious contention with anyone. Time passed and occasionally something would happen that would indicate that person still had anger–things moved from my work area and left elsewhere–a face drawn next to my name on a roster board and other things like that. Nothing crude, just immature actions. Eventually the actions stopped. (I had other things after that, in other assignments, but at least THAT specific situation stopped!) Almost thirty years later I found out who it was–and it was someone I generally got along with OK I thought! He often helped me and even had come to my defense on several things over time. For some reason during that work situation he behaved badly and since I haven’t seen him for a couple of decades I won’t worry about it now! I mention that to say that whoever left it may only have been reacting to something at the moment and it will have not lasting significance. There’s a big difference between wanting to get to the emotions of someone you don’t like and doing something criminal to a patient to get that person in trouble. Unless your note was much more severe than you indicated, you likely don’t have a reason to fear that. 4. It may also be that the person won’t get over it and you will have similar situations occur again. I hope that isn’t the case. If this happens again certainly your supervisors and managers should go even further to determine the source of the note. They could ask HR to intervene and talk to every employee–if only to convey the clear message that such actions won’t be tolerated. You can bet that most other employees would find such behavior to be wrong as well–and they could exert some peer pressure if they think they know who did it. By letting your supervisor and manager know that you are concerned, you will also alert them to the potential for blame-placing with you as the subject. That will provide you with additional protection if something occurs for which you are not responsible. I suggest that you put your concerns in writing and ask that they be maintained in supervisory files, so that you know a record will be maintained of this event. They will probably do that anyway, but it never hurts to verify it. 5. That brings us to what to do after this initial response. Dr. Gorden is correct that, while your personality won’t change completely, your best response is to be the kind of person who gains enough goodwill from others that one or two negative people will have not support for their actions. That was my help years ago. In all the “dirty tricks” that happened over the years, there were also many friends who countered the bad things with a lot of friendship and camaraderie. We can’t have too many friends! They are worth developing–even if it means moving away from our own mental and emotional comfort areas. If you received an unpleasant note, maybe others did too! Someone who would do such a hateful thing probably has a lot of people they don’t like! You don’t know about the others who may also be hurting right now and they don’t know about you. But they too may wish they had some friendly support. Link with those who need friends and link those with others. Identify one or two co-workers who are highly skilled and professional with the patients. Those will be allies and friends worth having. Let them know, through your words and actions, that you think well of them. Share your knowledge and skills and learn from theirs. Be part of a team of employees that is focused on work and helping your patients do well. You may never be part of the conversation clusters, but you can say hello and exchange some casual greetings with the group as you pass by while working. You might feel they talk about you when you’re gone–and they might! But, it’s not as easy to talk badly about someone who just smiled and said hello! Through it all, keep your focus on being the best kind of professional possible and know that you are above the kind of pettiness and immaturity that would result in a childish act like note-writing. Gain strength from that and allow yourself to keep moving ahead. Best wishes as you deal with this. I know it’s hurtful and even frightening, but time will help to lessen those feelings. As Dr. Gorden mentioned–if you wish, please let us know how things develop.
Tina Lewis Rowe