Workplace aggression, including bullying in nursing and midwifery: a descriptive survey (the SWAB study)

Int J Nurs Stud. 2012 Nov;49(11):1423-31. doi: 10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2012.06.007. Epub 2012 Jul 6.


Background: Workplace aggression remains an important source of distress among nurses and midwives and has negative effects on staff health, patient care and organisations' reputation and fiscal health.

Objectives: To report on the nature and extent of workplace aggression, including bullying experienced by nurses and midwives in Victoria, Australia.

Design: A descriptive study design was chosen.

Settings and methods: The Nurses Board of Victoria posted 5000 surveys to the randomly selected registered nurses and midwives in Victoria, Australia, in 2010. The participants were asked about their experiences of violence (from clients) and bullying (from colleagues) within their most recent four working weeks. In addition, the study investigated staff actions following incidents, staff training and safety at work, and what staff believe contribute to incidents. Data analysis involved descriptive statistics, including frequencies and percentages. Chi square tests and P value were used to assess differences in categorical data.

Findings: 1495 returned questionnaires were included in the study (30% response rate). Over half of the participants (52%) experienced some form of workplace aggression. Thirty-six percent experienced violence mostly from patients or their visitors/relatives and 32% experienced bullying mostly from colleagues or from their managers/supervisors. Significant differences were found between those who experienced aggression from patients and those who were bullied in respect to handling of incidents; factors thought to contribute to incidents; and organisations' handling of incidents.

Conclusion: The study suggests that staff are less worried by patient initiated aggression compared to bullying from colleagues. For all types of aggression, respondents clearly wanted better/more realistic training, as well as enforcement of policies and support when incidents arise.

MeSH terms

  • Bullying*
  • Humans
  • Midwifery*
  • Nursing*
  • Victoria