8 steps to bark back at bullies before they bite your team


A bully on your veterinary team may start with a little growling and nipping, but you need to bark back before they ravage your teams culture and ruin more than just the workday.

So when a team member uses the “B” word-bully-how's a manager supposed to respond? When I started working at my practice, Miller Clark Animal Hospital in Mamaroneck, New York, we were facing some serious staffing issues. But I was a new team member, so I hadn't witnessed any of these issues firsthand. I didn't want to make decisions based on secondhand information-especially regarding staffing­-so I launched an investigation:

1. Interview each team member. I spoke with each team member individually. I was careful to avoid repeating anything others told me.

2. Ask open-ended questions. This gave team members a chance to tell me their opinion of the office climate and of other team members.

3. Watch how your team works together. I spent some time observing staff interactions and showed up unannounced on different days and times (our practice is open seven days a week).

4. Review your existing policies and procedures with your team.

5. Meet with your suspected culprits. Once I'd gathered the information, I went back to the team members I suspected were causing many of the issues. I used this time to gauge whether the issues were fixable, weighing what was best for the team as a whole.

6. Fire your bullies. I fired two team members and issued a verbal warning to a third.

7. Update your practice policies. I implemented new policies that supported a more positive practice culture. 

8. Meet with your team to announce the change. I planned a mandatory staff meeting to explain our practice's new policy and how we'd move forward. We explained the new zero tolerance policy about bullying and contributing to a negative workplace environment. The staff meeting served as a verbal warning. If a staff member engaged in a behavior considered to be bullying or contributing to a negative work environment after the warning, they could be sent home without pay, placed on a corrective action plan or fired without further notice.

The team supported my decisions, and I know I made the right ones for our team. Just remember, changing the practice culture is a very demanding and time-consuming task-especially when the bullies have been in charge for a long time. It's still a work in progress for us, and it requires constant attention.

Cheryl Sanchez, MBA, is the practice manager at Miller Clark Animal Hospital in Mamaroneck, New York, and one of the 10 finalists for the Veterinary Economics Practice Manager of the Year award, sponsored by Nationwide. Read more about past Practice Manager of the Year nominees and winners as well as new nominees in the next few months at dvm360.com/PMOY.


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