Nov 09, 2022

Workplace bullying an unfortunate common occurrence in aged care

Jennifer* loved being an Assistant In Nursing (AIN) at her local aged care facility, but red flags arose for her from the beginning of her employment and eventually lead to her resigning with significant psychological distress as a result of workplace bullying. 

Like many aged care workers, Jennifer experienced bullying from senior nursing staff and was ignored by management when she reported instances of discrimination, negligence and malpractice.

SafeWork Australia defines bullying as repeated and unreasonable behaviour by a single person or a group, directed towards a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to their health or safety.

It can be direct or indirect, physical or psychological, and isn’t always intentional, but can cause physical and psychological harm to others. 

For Jennifer, she was left with psychological scars, a difficult Workcover claim and now a disdain for the aged care sector.

When dreams become nightmares 

Having migrated to the Sunshine Coast in 2019 from Kenya, Jennifer was ecstatic to secure a job in the kitchen of a local aged care facility, which was her stepping stone to progressing her career in the care sector. 

But her optimism was quashed quickly, as she experienced racism and degradation from the beginning of her employment.

When attempting to clarify unclear elements of her employment contract, Jennifer said upper management was condescending and rude to her in the process, causing her to reconsider taking the job in the first place. 

This type of behaviour was exhibited by fellow employees as well, particularly by senior Registered Nurses (RNs) when she became an AIN.

Jennifer believed these nurses felt new AINs and carers were a threat to their job, so they refused to teach them and dismissed them when they raised concerns about protocol not being followed.

“The environment was really toxic. I don’t know if it happens to other ethnicities, but as a black person, you’re seen as stupid and that you don’t know anything,” she explained.

“I didn’t have a great knowledge of what bullying was and before you realise what is being done to you, you have been drained of your self-confidence and self-esteem, and it starts to affect your personal life.

COVID-19 added new pressures

Jennifer said residents were put in danger at the facility she worked at, particularly during COVID-19, as Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) became harder to obtain and providers were not being diligent enough with testing visitors entering these facilities. 

Having caught COVID from within the facility, she began hearing sneers and snide comments from other staff accusing her of bringing the virus into the facility.

When returning to work after isolating, Jennifer produced an unclear RAT that had a faint second line visible on the test, but was told by one of the nurses she could start her shift. When upper management found out about this, she was escorted off of the property.

“That is when I realised I needed to become part of a union,” she said. 

“[The facility] has a saying: ‘when you see something, say something’, but we all know it’s swept under the rug and once you talk about it, you become the target.”

The final straw for Jennifer was when her employer didn’t make her aware that she was feeding a resident who had an infectious disease, and undertook this task without the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE).

Having been held up at the entrance trying to obtain a RAT to start her shift, Jennifer missed the shift handover where care staff were informed that this particular resident had scabies.

By the time Jennifer made it to the ward, no one caught her up on what she had missed, which saw her enter this resident’s room without proper PPE.

“After this incident, I could hear senior nurses talking about it and decided to confront them. 

“When I approached them, they stopped speaking about it and began telling me I should have attended the handover and that I shouldn’t rely on other people. I told her I had never missed the handover and it was because there were no RATs available.

“I had to walk away because I was upset, I was shaking and didn’t want it to turn into something else and I knew I couldn’t continue working there, no matter how much I loved the job and the residents.”

When she attempted to walk away from that conversation, one of the nurses yelled at Jennifer from up the hallway, which was the moment she decided to resign.

The ongoing effects of bullying

The effects of bullying can present in a myriad of ways, which often include feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety and depression, deterioration of relationships at work, and taking increased personal leave.

The Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation outlines that direct forms of bullying can include:

  • Abusive, insulting comments or offensive language
  • Humiliating or putting someone down in front of others
  • Spreading malicious rumours or misinformation about someone

More indirect way of bullying includes:

  • Excessive scrutiny at work, unjustified criticism or complaints
  • Setting unreasonable timelines or constantly changing deadlines
  • Withholding information that is vital for effective work performance

Jennifer experienced all of these elements of bullying at her workplace and is now suffering psychological repercussions because of it.

Despite reporting these events to management and explaining the reasons she was resigning, no repercussions have yet to come for the bullies and the provider continued to work against Jennifer after her departure. 

After resigning in July, Jennifer took her bully case to Workcover, mainly to receive some psychological help.

She said despite her claim officer admitting she had experienced bullying over time, last month they refused it and said she needed more solid evidence. 

With the only available evidence being CCTV footage from her former employer, Jennifer is doubtful they will produce this evidence and is now having to take her claim to the Workcover regulator with a union-appointed lawyer for them to reconsider.

“I feel like giving up and that no one is listening,” she explained. 

“Workcover is meant to help you get back to work, but now I worry about putting my previous employer on my CV because I don’t know what they will say to any future employers ringing for a reference.” 

Looking to the future

Jennifer is currently not working due to psychological stress but has aspirations to carry on caring for people as a Registered Nurse.

She has considered being a nurse in community care settings but has doubts around whether she will ever return to aged care. 

“My experience has ruined that for me, and so many people feel the same,” Jennifer said. 

“So many people have left from [that facility], there was such a high staff turnover.

“I have even told my ageing mother that she will not be going into an aged care facility and that she will receive care at home because there is no care going on in those places.”

While the sector rejoiced at the Federal Government’s interim decision to boost direct aged care workers’ wages by 15%, Jennifer believes that will not be enough to improve the sector and, in turn, reduce bullying in aged care. 

“People seem to be focused on the pay rise for aged care workers and that it is going to fix the sector, but there’s much more that needs to be done,” she said.

“Migrants come here and don’t know their rights and are exploited – they’re told to work more hours than is allowed but what are they paid with? Pizzas or gift cards. 

“Spending money on those things should be used to employ more staff to fix the shortages and bullying needs to be spoken about and put forward because it’s happening a lot in the care industry.” 

*Jennifer wished to remain anonymous to provide her story on workplace bullying.

Have you experienced workplace bullying at an aged care facility? What did your employer do about it? Let us know in the comments below. 

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  1. I have been working in
    aged care for 16 years and unfortunately `Jennifer’s` story is not uncommon. I don’t understand how some nurses can be so mean and rude! How can it be that they are charged with caring for our most vulnerable people, yet can be so mean and cold to each other and new staff ? I feel for `Jennifer` and wish her the best of luck with her nursing career, she will make a better nurse than her bullies.

  2. I received workplace bulling after going back on back to work restrictions due to getting injured at work be a resident, which I was receiving help with my mental health after the resident breaking my neck. I was very jumpy and nerves after the attack. The DON would look for me in the hallways asking others where I was, then she would walk into the residents room no knocking and the only way I knew someone was there is when the resident who was receiving cares looked towards the door. She would stare at me with crossed arms, and the residents started warning me that she was out for me cause she was asking them about my work and if I was doing it correctlyThis effected me to the extent of ending up on stress leave and on sucide watch for 2 weeks, when the incident report was place with all the details, management never took any action and she is still working there, and my incident of bulling started in 2018. Many staff have left because of her bullying without taking in further due to the fear it could effect their next job.

  3. I am glad an aged care worker has the Internal strength to open up to her being bullied in the workplace. Whist working in an aged care facilely I witnessed this bulling occurring not only towards staff but to residents in the care facility. Having come from another health background I could see the emotional harm being caused to these groups of people. The history of bullying came from the co-operate level down, as they did nothing to stop this practice. Being new and not thinking about reporting this outside of the company, I wrote to the company’s CEO. This was a waste of time and after being spoken to by a senior manager I became a target of harassment and intimidation. I stayed on for some long time to protect and/or support the abused staff and residents the best I could. It did get better for a while when the facility had a “cleanout” of staff; Senior managers and nursing staff. I still became a know whistle-blower until the pressure from above continued and got to much.

  4. I stopped working in aged care facilities when I moved from one to another & another. bullying in each. I thought they would be different, but they are all the same. I believe I had ptsd – I was a mess, an absolute mess. I have to work, must work. It was hard to believe in myself after all the harassment.
    And I’m a highly educated, good looking white female.
    Migrants with little English will be massacred in age care facilities.
    It is the money /pay but it is also the old school mentality – this is how we do it. They feel new people are a threat rather than the cavalry, here to help.
    It is also that the new staff don’t get enough TRAINIING or support. 6 weeks is not enough when dealing with Dementia. And High care residents ie palliative, co-morbidities, cognition issues, it is very confronting.
    It not all beer & skittles. It’s really gross sometimes. And the work is soooo hard.
    Any way I work in community care now where it’s the same illnesses but I work ALONE!!
    And if anyone tries it on with me now… Well I don’t let them.!

    1. I have left Aged Care Nursing due to bullying. I now do the cleaning in Aged Care but have no better treatment. I will go back into Community Care. I am easy going & caring but the politics and nastiness that some staff in aged care have dished out. I have had it, so many care roles with so little care for co workers and the way they are treated.

  5. The bullying was relentless. The Click who was managed by the Manager at the retirement home I was for 6+ years. I reported someone for hitting a resident, not providing care whilst on night duty. Big mistake she was a previous employee, now back as a casual. I complained and it bit me. The leader of the Click told her it was me then the click found out and it was on. Impossible to stop bullying particularly when the manager is the leader. Sandgate NSW

  6. Absolutely Nothing , I was reporting elderly abuse , Even got a lawyer , went through the appropriate channels . However there is a clause in the workcover claim , its a loop hole . I felt soo degraded , lost the case . Soo obviously elder abuse x 5 is acceptable ……

  7. Oh wow!!! You know, the African nurses are the most professional people I have ever worked with. Most leave when they experience racism in the most subtle of ways as women are so good at this type of bullying. Like a pack of Hyenas!! When I first started work on nights I was one of only 2 Australians and the bullying was relentless. The Indian RN would find the smallest things to pick on. Nobody told me what I should do or even taught me how to use the computer. Australian Agency Nurses taught me!! I am tough though and stuck it out! The trouble with most aged care facilities is that at my place most are Nepalese and most are lovely but they seem to be the laziest staff we have. There is a bias due too the fact most RNs, staff everywhere, and the CMs are mostly Nepalese and alot of real issues go unfixed. The cleaners the kitchen staff the laundry are all foureign bar 2 Aussies. Husbands and wives and friends and inlaws and sons and daughters all work here. Most Australian RNs leave within 18months due to the ridiculous workloads and now management want to cut their hours down. Unbelievable!!!!! Yep it is getting worse. The RNs don’t supervise the staff or the new staff so bad habits are taught to new staff. I have seen Aussie AINs bully a Papua New Guinea woman out of the place. She cried to me and said it was the first time she had ever worked. I told her to complain to her union. Poor lady never came back. No good leadership and too many shortcuts and too many of the same visa holders in the industry that big business love as so many are on contracts from 1 to 3 years hence they don’t join unions making us all suffer the consequences of bad care and often don’t perform to the highest ability for the elderly as they protect each other. A wage rise won’t fix the whole system.

  8. Since moving into the aged care sector 7 years ago in a management role – I have been appalled at the lack of professional respect displayed to colleagues and workers in this industry. I’ve heard more than once ‘Nurse eat their young’. Its unfortuante that yet again a negative spotlight has been shone on aged care in isolation instead of on the health care sector. The Health sector in general has a terrible workplace culture – doctors bullying nurses and other workers, nurses bullying nurses, AIN’s bullying each other. It’s disappointing when this type of behaviour must be identified as prevalent in any sector which is female oriented. The child care sector also struggles with this scourge. As women we are taught by a male dominated society to distrust and compete against our sisters – this tranfers into high school clicks and then into the workplace, I’ve seen it time and time again in every workplace and industry I have worked in – we should not be surprised. Female to female culture needs a revamp.

  9. My employer said it was ‘my fault’ that I was being bullied when I raised an issue I was having with them. What hope do we have – its OK to say on paper that bullying will not be tolerated in this workplace but let’s ‘walk the walk’ not ‘talk the talk’

  10. Yes I was bullying by management and it has ruined me. My anxiety in the work place is quite bad now. It is devastating and I lack confidence and self stem now. It isn’t much better even when the Union does get involved. It was suppose help my work place colleagues, but I hear that management still treats people the same. I was told that when if this happen again and because it was management and you don’t have any where else to go.They were to bring a independent person in to sort the problem out, as it is also run by a board and the board didn’t want to know about it.”They didn’t want to get involved.” What makes it worse that there was a lawyer on the board who was the Chair of the board and they knew right from wrong. UNBELIEVABLE!!!!!!!The Main culprit has left. So have I as I couldn’t cope with all the stress and illness I had been put through, because of this work place.The time I had to take off was copious amounts.
    There is another person in charge and they do exactly what the old boss did. Discussed!!!! The management think they can get away with treating people like this. It happens way too much. I have not only loss my passion that I loved to care for people in the end of their life, but find it hard to trust management now.I find this the hardest as I loved my job and had empathy and compassion for it. I had to leave something that I loved and find a new job and haven’t been the same since.As I’m in my early 50’s find it harder to learn new things. When you have been treated like this it is very traumatic.I hope one day this will be fixed. No money in the world fixes these things.Only people can be made accountable and there needs to be repercussions to them.Put them in my “our” shoes and see how they feel been treated like this. From someone who will NEVER recover.VERY SAD. 🙁

  11. I’ve seen and witnessed psychological bullying and intimidation in aged care, where sometimes, the perpetrator/s may have not have been aware of their behaviour, perhaps partly because they don’t understand what ‘bullying is’ or because it is ingrained in the organisation with no or limited accountability. Policies and procedures are important but induction and refresher training is essential for all staff.

  12. Yeah worked in age care for 5 years and left because of constant bullying and harrasment by staff and management. Worked my arse off during covid with limited staff but never any thanks for a great job under the circumstances they would never take accountability for anything. Then the staff that would try and help us out would get bullied and dobbed on for the tiniest mistake, not life threatening. Omg the care staff or the staff thats just done a double shift to help you have left a pad in the bin. We are all going to die. But management liked these people because they were the one that would dob on everyone and keep tabs also using security cameras to watch our every move. Couldn’t even pick my nose at the computer screen. I ended up telling the staff they need to shut the f up because we aren’t in highschool anymore and that’s why we can’t get staff or staff leave. Also got written up by Don because I asked her how we were to get 60 residents to bed with myself another Ain and a student whom weren’t allowed to leave unattended. Also doing buzzers, toileting, doing tea trolley, filling pad bags, doing dining room, plus another dining room for people that needed assistance and also helping in rooms for residents in bed. Then after all that get them to bed and some shower. So I get called in the next day and the boss is we need a chat. She said I was passive aggressive in my approach the night before because I asked how we could manage. I’m what wait, instead of calling me in for this b shit you should be saying what an amazing job we did under the circumstances. I’ll give you passive aggressive I’m we never get thanked bad enough we are wearing full ppe in the middle of summer. And she’s you know what it’s like in managerial positions and I’m yes and there’s a thing called positive reinforcement you should try it some time. How do you want my resignation. I have a wonderful job now and I’ve only been there two weeks and I’ve already received accolades and a coffee voucher not that I need validation. But it’s all about money and I found that out also with my mums facility she is at. Thanks for listening guys x

    1. Mel
      There are great nurses however nursing homes with them are few, the other nurses homes lose them because they are not supported either . I suggest that you approach the so called PEAk bodies , they are funded by providers , however they should be able to lobby for those nurses and staff who are suitable for looking and assisting aged care recipients ,including those who have disabilities and co morbidities. They are many managers and ceo and nurses who are just NOt suitable to be working in aged care. The mean ones are generally not experienced or knowledgeable and they should not be in aged care. good luck. Carers who care are the ones who seem to do all the work when unsuitable RN and En , nurses are in charge. Good luck. You could also make complaint to nurses registration body. Hellocare should be able to provide list of peak bodies and also information re role of registered body to deal with unsuitable acceptable conduct of those who are registered.

  13. I’ve experienced bullying at aged care and unfortunately the residents are also bullied.

    If families really knew what went on they would never consider a so called home for their loved one.

    Over medicating residents; residents look like something out of The walking dead!

    The model for Aged care resembles something out of One flew out of the cuckoes nest. A mad house…

    Residents are pumped full of anti psychotic medication. Carers cajole and Bully residents..

    If you do care. If you actually do your job properly, you are viewed as a threat.

    Aged care workers that bully; take multiple shifts, and then sleep in staff rooms and or avoid work and instead leave the shift up to maybe one or two workers. Workers are run off their feet and yes, you guessed it, more bullying.

    Next time you visit one of your loved ones in a home, think about the staff that really care and also think about the staff that look as though they really don’t want to be there. Yes; that’s right they don’t. Then think about how your loved one is actually vulnerable in the hands of both carers.

    The whole industry needs to be cleaned up.

    Managers need to watch carers work. That means Managers need to observe. Spot checking. That takes time doesn’t it?
    We are all going to get old. Every young person that works in aged care will be frail one day. What you do now as a young person; the way you think, behave and conduct yourself will show up when you become old.

    If you see bad behaviour, please speak up. I have. Don’t sit back and watch; ignore or partake.

    You do not need to bully a resident into anything. If you are being bullied, take a break and be kind to yourself. We are there to help people. That is what has been lost.

  14. I recently got fired, even though I did everything they wanted me to do. The issue is the staff especially the older staff been there a long time which management listen to go by other workers opinions not even asking what is he doing wrong. From work placement I was a target. Got comments like your a white guy you should work in construction why here. Or set up for disaster so they get you into trouble. I felt who is next try to get me into trouble. Always had the feeling of eyes watching me. It was me and then it was like if your of Asian or indian your right if not and apart of their group your stuffed. I really wanted to help the elderly but I would try community care but never a facility ever.

  15. It’s not just top down bullying. I’ve been working in aged care for 13 years and have seen care workers bully each other more than I’ve seen it from the top. Sad to say it’s mostly women in my experience.

  16. The way staff treat each other in aged care is an absolute disgrace. Bullying is considered normal and management support it by taking no action when complaints are made. If people outside the facilities saw the impact of the way staff are treated on their loved ones (reduced care and who cares cause I’m completely demoralised), they would kick up an absolute stink. They can give aged care workers all the 15% pay rises they like, but it’s not going to fix the problem. And I am sorry to say that immigrants working in aged care are equally as bad as their Australian colleagues. This is not a race issue, it’s a ‘dog eat dog’ issue and over what? What exactly are all these workers acting like complete morons over? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. It’s a perfect example that with a lack of a big stick to curb people’s behaviour, they will act the worst way possible and it’s exactly why countries have a legal system in place. Not aged care however. It’s a lawless free-for-all frontier that truly needs a sheriff. Oh and in case people are interested, all the ‘laws’ the govt put into place for care such as no double padding, no showering over toilets etc. It all still goes on and the culture of silence and shoot the whistleblower still exists. See you all at the next useless Royal Commission.

  17. Omgosh I feel so bad for Jennifer. I to work in age care but in South Australia and can sympathise with her on many levels. Much the same has happened to me. I have been bullied by my supervisor and her husband. She was cook he was assistant. He was no good at the job and she covered for him. Both are ethnics and constantly speak in their own language. I to have been rejected by RTW and therefore am percueing legal avenues. RTW always reject claims on original basis so it is essential to follow the correct avenues. Even if you don’t get a satisfactory outcome the need to stop the bullying urges you to. No way do I want a young comer into the field to be treated the same so more than anything I need to ensure her and her husband don’t do it to anyone else. They have been the reason all staff employed there in the kitchen have left in the past 10 years. I need to make a change for the new ones. Going to management was no help all. In fact it backfired


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