Fetch dvm360 conference follow-up: Tamping out toxic teams

October 18, 2017
Oriana D. Scislowicz, LVT, PHR
Oriana D. Scislowicz, LVT, PHR

Oriana Scislowicz, LVT, PHR, was a veterinary practice manager for many years before becoming senior HR specialist at Pharmaceutical Product Development.

Dont let workplace negativity get you down. Use these tips to fight back and turn your team around.


Toxic teams drag down productivity and can make team members feel downright unhappy at their work. And it's not just team members. These issues can thread their slimy fingers of doubt and disharmony all the way up to the practice owner as well. At the Fetch dvm360 conference in Kansas City, Oriana Scislowicz, BS, LVT, practice manager at CVCA Cardiac Care for Pets in Richmond, Virginia, asked attendees to share the team issues keeping them awake at night. Here are a few of her answers. Let's dive in.

I'm a male veterinary assistant and I'm treated as an outcast because I won't join the all-female clique. What should I do?

It certainly isn't necessary to join a clique in the workplace, and it often can backfire when leadership associates your identity with that of the group. Try to be friendly and engage in small talk. Ask about your coworkers' hobbies and interests-this is a healthy habit we should all try to do more of to build morale.

Suggest incorporating more team-building activities into your team meetings. Not only is this good for the overall work environment, but it tends to break up cliques over time. Small gestures on your part-bringing in doughnuts for the group, commending individuals on a job well done or organizing a potluck-could go a long way in building a positive relationship with your coworkers, and it will still keep you away from being deeply tied to a clique.


I'm an associate veterinarian one year out of school, and the practice owner has asked me to take on some management duties because the office manager refuses to handle the responsibility. The other associates at my practice have all tried the management role and then backed out because the owner doesn't support them when they make management calls. But the owner's telling me I'm not producing enough yet and he's pushing me into this role. What should I do?

It's worthwhile to give the management tasks a try to help build up your value in the owner's eyes. When making a management decision, I'd first present it to the owner. Explain your idea in a way that demonstrates how the change or decision will benefit the owner and the practice.

The first time you make a decision and he doesn't back you up, ask him if he can set time aside to discuss your new management duties. Approach the subject by explaining that you want to be sure you are taking on appropriate tasks and ask if he would he rather limit your scope of management to a specific area.

When you delve further into the conversation, explain that when you make a call and don't have his support, you feel like you're overstepping your authority. Communicate that you want to take on these additional tasks, but it can be discouraging if you feel his support is lacking. Together, the two of you can come up with a system to allow you some autonomy and still give him a voice in the matter.


I teach at a veterinary technology institute and I'm looking for advice and tools to give my veterinary technician students to help save them from the backstabbing, gossip and toxicity I see happen so often in practice. What do you suggest?

Encourage your students to tackle face-to-face communication on a regular basis with their coworkers, even if the subject matter is difficult. Employees often find that these conversations are not as frightening once they dive in and gain practice over time.

Also, once they've established that they don't shy away from these conversations, it's less likely that gossipers and backstabbers will target them. These types of people dread direct confrontation-hence the sneakiness of their actions.

Help your students understand the early personal signs of toxicity in the workplace-dreading coming to work, becoming complacent, disconnecting from the things they care about and feeling anxious or depressed. Encourage building positive morale among their coworkers by finding ways to connect with them on a personal level, and try to facilitate team-building exercises. This can be as simple as grabbing lunch together every so often.

Oriana Scislowicz, BS, LVT, is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member, a Fetch dvm360 conference speaker and practice manager in Richmond, Virginia.