• discipline;
  • Foucault;
  • power;
  • workplace violence

Aims  This paper describes discipline as a specific technique of power which constitutes, in our view, a form of institutional violence.

Background  The need to create and maintain safe and healthy work environments for healthcare professionals is well documented.

Evaluation  Foucault’s concept of disciplinary power was used to explore institutional violence from a critical perspective.

Key issue  Violence is identified as an important factor in the recruitment and retention of healthcare professionals. Given the shortage of such professionals, there is an urgent need to take a fresh look at their working environments and working conditions.

Conclusion  Power, surveillance and disciplinary techniques are used at all levels of hospital management to control and contain both human resources and costs.

Implications for nursing management  By associating common workplace practices with institutional violence, employers who have a policy of zero tolerance toward workplace violence will need to re-examine their current ways of operating.