WVC 2017: Recognizing and Addressing Workplace Bullying

March 11, 2017
JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM

Dr. Pendergrass received her DVM degree from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. Following veterinary school, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Emory Universitys Yerkes National Primate Research Center. Dr. Pendergrass is the founder and owner ofJPen Communications, a medical communications company.

At WVC 2017, Dr. Charlotte Lacroix provided detailed insight on workplace bullying.

At the 2017 Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, Charlotte Lacroix, DVM, JD, discussed workplace bullying, with a focus on defining it, discussing its legal framework, and implementing strategies for defending against it in veterinary practices.

To read Part 1 of this article, click here.

Defining Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying, as defined by the Workplace Bullying Institute, is the “repeated mistreatment of one or more employees with the intent of humiliation, intimidation, and sabotage of performance.” It is a productivity killer, costing an estimated $200 billion dollars per year in decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and high turnover, according to recent research.

Workplace bullying is often deliberate and hurtful with the intent to control others. Managers and supervisors are often the perpetrators of workplace bullying, but this behavior can be found at any organizational level. Examples of workplace bullying include:

  • Isolating employees from opportunities, information, and social interaction
  • Frequently reminding employees of their mistakes
  • Not giving employees credit for their work
  • Insulting and gossiping about employees
  • Setting up employees to fail (eg, impossible deadlines)

Recognizing Workplace Bullies

Simply calling an employee a bully is not enough to address the problem; describing the bullying behavior is necessary. Dr. Lacroix mentioned several types of workplace bullies:

  • Screamy meanies: As the most recognizable workplace bullies, they are loud, obnoxious, and thrive on knowing that others fear them.
  • Sociopaths: Sociopaths are the most disruptive type of workplace bully. They have no empathy, use their charm to manipulate others into getting what they want, and get others to do their dirty work.
  • Two-headed snakes: They appear friendly to an employee’s face, but damage that employee’s reputation when given the chance.
  • Gatekeepers: Gatekeepers hold on tightly to power (real or perceived) and withhold tools (eg, resources, information) essential to an employee’s job function.
  • Attention seekers: They want to be the center of attention and will bully people if they don’t get their desired attention.
  • Wannabees: Wannabees want recognition for everything and want to feel indispensable. They are usually poor performers; to compensate, they will frequently watch more skilled workers and try to find their flaws.
  • Gurus: Gurus are great at their jobs, but feel superior to others. They think they are ‘above the law’ and are resistant to admitting wrongdoing.

Legal Impact of Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullies are a potential legal threat to employers. Currently, though, no laws exist to protect against workplace bullying. However, if the bullying is motivated by discriminatory bias against a protected class of people (eg, women, African-Americans), then bullying becomes harassment and thus punishable by law. Dr. Lacroix advised veterinary practice owners to familiarize themselves with federal and state protective classes.

Dr. Lacroix mentioned the Healthy Workforce Bill, which would make workplace bullying legally actionable without the protected class requirement. Interestingly, she noted that most veterinary practice owners would not want workplace bullying to be actionable, for fear of frequent lawsuits by employees.

Creating An Anti-Bullying Policy

According to Dr. Lacroix, the best defense against workplace bullying is a clearly-worded anti-bullying policy that is part of the employee manual. A good anti-bullying policy should include:

  • A clear definition of workplace bullying
  • An outline of how to report bullying, particularly when the bully is the manager
  • A detailed description of the investigation process
  • A list of consequences for not following the policy
  • A no-retaliation clause

Discussing bullying behavior

If an employee is accused of workplace bullying, the veterinary practice owner or manager should speak with that employee. Dr. Lacroix emphasized that “every sit-down conversation must be documented in your employee file on that employee.” This document should follow a template:

  • Date and time span of conversation
  • Full names and titles of meeting attendees
  • Reason for meeting (eg, discussion of how employee’s behavior was materially detrimental to practice operations)
  • Memo section in ‘SOAP’ format about the bullying behavior

In addition to having individual meetings, Dr. Lacroix suggested having workplace discussions about bullying with the entire staff. These discussions, which should also be documented, would help get all employees on the same page about bullying and sensitize them to that behavior.

Dr. JoAnna Pendergrass received her doctorate in veterinary medicine from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. Following veterinary school, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Emory University’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center. Dr. Pendergrass is the founder and owner of JPen Communications, LLC, a medical communications company.