The Nature of Horizontal Violence in the Work Environment

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There is a behavioral phenomenon in the workplace common in environments of high stress which has been termed horizontal violence. Essentially, it is the sabotage or harassment among members of what has been called an oppressed group that has its origins from a position of low morale or self-esteem.

Horizontal violence is defined as part of inter-group conflict in which hostility of one person or a group towards another person or group identified as an oppressed group.It is manifested in an environment where a more powerful or dominant group consciously or subconsciously engages in emotionally damaging behavior towards a less influential or weaker group. As a result, members of the oppressed group react by becoming hostile with one another because the oppressed feel the need to lash out and are incapable of dealing with the oppressor directly. (Hastie, 2007) Horizontal violence, also referred to as horizontal hostility has been observed primarily in a predominantly female workforce with male dominant cultures, such s hospitals and education institutions.While horizontal violence can occur in ethnic minorities and other minority groups, this paper will focus on gender-specific situations where horizontal violence occurs. It will investigate the theories explaining the phenomenon and how those in the nursing profession have sought to deal with the behavior.

The Theories behind Horizontal Violence Inequality is a construct of oppression based on the perception of control, of who has it, who wields it so significant effect, and who accepts being subjected to it. It is interactive and those who recognize oppression may or may not choose to accept it.Oppression, inequality and discrimination are based on shared beliefs and the enforcement of concepts that makes these attributes a reality. The constraint of the hierarchy of control exists only in sufferance by those to whom it is applied. The idea of patriarchal dominance has gained social ascendancy because it has been accepted as the norm by both genders.

Feminists seek to shift blame on men who are socially conditioned to be dominant and fail to realize that subscription by the majority of women to gender roles is also largely responsible for feeding this destructive social stereotype.(Hunter) Oppression is maltreatment of a person or group by another person or group based on the target’s membership in a group. Such behavior is considered contrary to human nature and it is thus considered a constraint on interaction which the culture of the society in which it self-perpetuates consents to its presence as part of their reality. There is an interpretation of relationships that is made by an individual or group of individuals which determines how control should be distributed among the social groups.

In most instances, oppression limits the interaction of both the oppressed and oppressor because society dictates certain behavior and attitudes. Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) is defined as the perceived power of one group of people over another group of people based on societal precepts. The groups are classified as “superior” and “inferior,” a widespread phenomenon in hierarchically-structured societies, translating to what is commonly termed as discrimination. There are three types of SDO, based on age, on gender, and “arbitrary set-based.

” In the third category would be discrimination based on race, ethnicity and religion which have no concrete basis in being except for true arbitrariness. (Rosenberg, 2006) Satirical parodies have touched on this type of SDO, one which easily comes to mind is Animal Farm by George Orwell. Interesting enough, this same book provides a clear illustration of the effects of horizontal violence as well. Typically, there is an adverse effect on inferior groups of the resulting oppression, and this is most evident in a closed environment which is based on hierarchies of power, such as the workplace.Horizontal Violence in the Workplace Horizontal violence is one tier of workplace violence, the other being vertical violence. Vertical violence, normally referred to as harassment, occurs from the top of the hierarchy down to the lower ranks or from one group to the other e.

g. racial or ethnic issues. It is more easily recognizable and has been the subject of much debate and legislation. Horizontal violence, on the other hand, is less acknowledged, because it occurs within a group with common characteristics e.

g. nurse against nurse. Often, vertical violence can be the cause off horizontal violence.But they have one thing in common: they are both destructive. (“Workplace violence,” 2003) Successful women often find themselves the target of sabotage by other women who are co-workers.

Horizontal violence, also regarded as psychological displacement, in general results when the members of the oppressed group start identifying with their oppressors as a way of managing their own powerlessness. They thus become “sub-oppressors. ” This was first observed among nurses, who are predominantly female, and also among those in the educational administration.Female supervisors in the educational system, which is dominated by males, have frequently found themselves bereft of professional support and experience antagonistic behavior from other women. Research indicated that many female administrators thus adopt a self-reliant attitude, eschewing any social interaction with women co-workers. This was identified as a “queen bee” syndrome, in which women in power protect their territory, so to speak, much like a queen bee killing off all female bees with queen potential.

The attitude is towards self-preservation because female administrators feel they are hedged about by people who seek to oppress or wrest control from her. This phenomenon is observed more among women than men and may be present in other occupations where women are typically in a position of subordination. (Funk, 2004) This is common in the workplace because the inequality of power in this environment is inevitable. Hierarchy of power exists as a matter of course in the workplace and the dominant group is that of management while the submissive group is that of the rank and file.In most instances it is an unconscious oppression brought about by circumstances; in other situations, such as in hospitals, doctors are made to believe that they are superior to nurses, a stereotype encouraged by Western society. Those members of the oppressed group which are unable to accept the sense of powerlessness yet incapable of resolving it become conflicted and cultivate self-hatred.

This internal conflict of the oppressed group finds it outlet in inappropriate behavior against co-workers in the same level of the hierarchy. In the example given above, it is nurse against nurse.Some examples of horizontal violence may be acts of sabotage and divisiveness through gossip or sarcasm, unkindness through acts designed to discompose a co-worker, verbal abuse, racial slurs, social isolation, fault finding and elitist attitudes. Victims of horizontal violence typically go through three stages of breakdown: reduced self esteem, anxiety and inability to sleep; moodiness, lack of focus and de-motivation; and finally apathy, disconnectedness and depression. In extreme cases, the stress can lead to suicide. (Hastie, 2007) The Nursing ProfessionNurses are by nature of their profession caregivers, and are often relegated to submissive roles.

Many internalize this social stereotype and develop resentment towards their own kind. They fear confrontation from the powerful group, typically doctors, and fear change. Because the stereotype goes unchallenged, a cycle of destructive behavior within the group ensues because there is a reluctance to be identified with the oppressed group and leads to sabotage and divisiveness among the group members. There is a denial in the identity.

However, many choose the path of least resistance and many sink into apathy or depression.Those who refuse to accept the status quo are considered radical or troublemakers. Hence the perception is that “feminists” are trouble and shunned by their fellow women. (Dunn, 2003) Nurses explain that other nurses act in a hostile manner to fellow nurses because the workplace is stressful due to heavy workloads and age.

(Mehallow, 2007) Older nurses tend to oppress the younger ones because they have been around longer and feel the newer nurses have to earn their support. Unfortunately, the effects on new nurses can be devastating, and will in turn, oppress younger nurses when they are in a position of seniority.The heavy workload due to shortages also creates a hostile environment where nurses are short-tempered and impatient with mistakes. The lack of teamwork and cooperation only makes the situation worse and can affect the patients in significant ways. Nurses feel that they are undervalued and low morale of experienced nurses lead to turnovers that translate to higher costs due to orientation for replacement, inexperienced nurses. Strategies for the Prevention of Horizontal Violence Mehallow (2007) identified approaches to reduce or eliminate horizontal violence among nurses.

These include making the presence of hostility known to superiors, managers and co-workers. Management can be a valuable source of support and input in creating a productive and pleasant work environment. An informed administration can most effectively implement standards of conduct such as the ones embodied in the various professional associations for nurses. The chief source of the oppression must be identified and then ways to confront the author of the hostile behavior in a constructive manner should be researched.

Oppressors sometimes are not aware that they are causing harm.Passive resistance will only foster the hostility even more. This must be done calmly and in private with the aim of resolving the conflict rather than having a shouting match and looking for someone to blame. Nurses in the same unit should consciously create a checklist of appropriate and inappropriate behavior in a consultative, rather than instructive, manner to encourage collaboration among the unit members.

This will also increase accountability for whatever agreement that may be reached. Hastie (2007) describes some practical steps to follow for avoiding the incidence of horizontal violence.1. The problem must be named. The term “horizontal violence” should be used to concretize the situation whenever it occurs.

2. Break the silence and bring up the issue during meetings. Solicit suggestions for dealing with the specific issue in the workplace. 3. Raise awareness of the mechanics of horizontal violence and identify instances when it has occurred, either by others or the self. Self-reflect to determine internal sources of the problem 4.

Encourage counseling, peer support, maintenance of good health and adequate rest to boost morale and self-esteem. ConclusionHorizontal violence is endemic in many workplaces but it is not easily identified. Petty behavior such as gossiping, backstabbing and scapegoating are all destructive behavior that encourages the perpetuation of oppression and divisiveness within the ranks. The results of such behavior can be quite serious, as in the case of the nurse who, because of depression, low morale and inadequate sleep, gave the wrong medicine to a patient that nearly caused his death. While horizontal violence occurs in other environments, the hospital environment is often highly stressful and is the ideal breeding ground for tension and bad tempers.Nurses, in particular, are vulnerable to horizontal violence because all the leading causes are present: a gender-based bias where they are considered inferior to the medical staff; high stress because of shortages and undervaluation in terms of financial as well as emotional support; age-related pseudo-superiority where older nurses tend to take out their anger and frustration on younger nurses; and the ascension of younger nurses to replace the older, burnt-out one who have been conditioned to perpetuate the destructive behavior on new nurses.

This behavior becomes understandable but not acceptable in any workplace. The cycle has to be broken in order to cultivate a productive and healthy environment for work. Some strategies and self-help techniques help them cope with the stress by requiring them to turn to each other rather than against each other. Support groups and counseling help boost morale and self-esteem and eradicate self-hatred. Change can be accomplished but it must be realized that the process can be quite slow because the behavior is a symptom of socials inequalities that encourage oppression and vertical violence.

Even with legislation, this has not been eliminated. However, horizontal violence occurs closer to home and it has been often said that change must come from within. Perhaps the best place to start the change is with the self, as many nurses have come to believe. In the educational environment, the “Queen bee” syndrome is pervasive among female administrators but it is an illustration of the desire to identify with a superior group (in this case, male administrators) rather than a desire to discomfit members of the general educational staff.For these situations, other strategies should be considered.ReferencesAnger in health care settings.

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advancingwomen. com/awl/winter2004/Funk. html Hastie, C. (2007, May 21). Horizontal violence in the workplace.

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(2006) Why, when we are deemed to be carers, are we so mean to our colleagues? Canadian Operating Room Nursing Journal. Retrieved June 5, 2007 from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa4130/is_200612/ai_n17194968 Mehallow, C. (2007) How nurses can help end horizontal hostility.

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