5.28.10 Issue #429 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Belle DuCharme CDPMA
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Workplace Violence and Bullying in the Dental Practice

Workplace violence has been in the headlines a lot lately, but it has always been part of the fabric of private business. It has been estimated that 90% of fatal work injuries occur within private businesses, and dental offices are not exempt from this violence.

I have witnessed various forms of workplace violence in dental practices. Some have come from patients, but most come from conflicts within the staff. Most of the situations could have been managed to a positive outcome if the skills to identify and then diffuse the situation were put into place. Most of this violent behavior is in the form of verbal abuse, direct or implied threats, frequent conflicts that upset office morale, inability to handle criticism causing outbursts, or chronic complaining about another co-worker to the point of creating a hostile working environment.

Much of this behavior may be termed as “bullying.” There is nothing about bullying that should be dismissed as benign, because according to recent headlines across the nation, bullying can lead to physical violence such as assault, suicide or forcing a good employee to terminate because of fear of reprisal. Bullying behavior or any other form of violence should never be tolerated in a dental practice. The person who is causing the problem often takes the position of being a victim to confuse the issue. The key is to not get sidestepped by this drama but keep focused on the responsibility of the dentist to protect those that work in the practice from anyone who would seek to harm.

Often the focus of developing business systems sidesteps this sensitive but potentially volatile issue of workplace violence because it is not the “business as usual” subject that is pleasant to discuss and it is rare to see a practice that has a formal written policy addressing this subject.  Many practices have a policy against both physical and sexual harassment that is included in the Employee Policy Manual. This policy addresses what will happen to the person who has committed the offense, whether it is a warning or an immediate termination. The policy should also address the actions that will be taken to protect the people that work in the practice from the actions of the perpetrator. 

In one practice the dentist, upon witnessing an escalating conflict between two employees, told them that they needed to solve the problem between themselves as adults. The bully was unrelenting, making it her mission to turn the team against her co-worker, thus creating a fearful environment and forcing the victimized employee to quit.  Afterward, a new employee was hired and trained. The dentist thought all was well until the bully began to cause conflict with the new person. After losing three excellent employees in the wake of this person, he finally terminated the bully. He admitted that he too had been intimidated by her and felt powerless to change the situation until he got help and advice from professionals.

Learn to recognize the signs of workplace violence in the early stages before it can escalate into violence or losing good staff members. Don’t empower the bully by looking the other way - have zero tolerance for this behavior. Most importantly, offer and require training for staff to:

  • Recognize when you are being threatened verbally or physically. For instance, if a person slams down an item near you or slams a door after speaking to you.
  • Recognize what verbal and nonverbal reactions may indicate anger or hostility.  Sometimes people make remarks in jest such as “I am going to kill him if he does that again.”  
  • Learn how to listen to employees who have angry or hostile reactions by paying attention to words, actions and body language. Have a policy of “safe” ground for employees to talk to you or to someone with experience in these matters.
  • Ask open ended questions that allow a person to vent and diffuse the situation.
  • Stay calm and non-threatening.  Staying neutral even though you have an opinion to the contrary is critical to controlling the situation.
  • Know how to correctly terminate an employee who has shown violent tendencies.  Depending on the severity of the situation you may not want this person terminated in the office but in a neutral location. 
  • Know how to hire correctly to help eliminate people with violent tendencies from working in your practice.

Want to know more, call us today at 877-777-6151, email training@mckenziemgmt.com or click HERE to find our more information on McKenzie Management’s Training Programs.

To learn more about developing or updating your employee policies click here: Employee Policy Manual, written by Mike Moore, Esq.

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