Bullying in dentistry: Is it getting worse? What can you do?

Bullying in the workplace can include verbal, nonverbal, psychological, or even physical abuse. To what extent is this happening in dental offices, and is your staff guilty?

Apr 19th, 2018
Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2018 04 Bullying 1

This article originally appeared in Dental Assisting Digest e-newsletter. Subscribe to this informative monthly ENL designed specifically for the dental assistant here.

The last couple of months, we tackled how dental assistants can earn respect in the dental practice. In this article, we’ll discuss a topic that seems to be a growing concern in some parts of the country—bullying. If a dental assistant is being bullied in the practice, how can he or she put a stop to it?
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As a dental assistant, I’ll look at the inside view. As a consultant and advocate for assistants Kevin Henry, of IgniteDA and editorial director for Dental Assisting Digest, will look at the outside view.

Bullying from the inside looking out (Natalie’s view)

Anytime I hear about a cyber bullying case or a colleague’s child being bullied at school, my heart goes out to the victims. It wasn’t until I was doing some research for this article that I realized to what extent bullying exists in dentistry, and that I myself have been a victim of bullying to a certain degree at various points in my career without even realizing it. Bullying in the workplace can include verbal, nonverbal, psychological, or even physical abuse.

Bullying has a direct impact on the workplace culture, the patients or student body, and the individuals being victimized. The financial impact can result in lost productivity, employee disengagement, sick leave, health issues, and costs associated with training new staff. Most dental workplaces are aware it exists, but they’re often unprepared when it happens.

So why are workplaces not prepared? There are several reasons. Workplaces are often profit-driven. They tolerate bullying as a leadership style for someone who is difficult to work with. There is a lack of effective policies and protocols in place. The individuals in the workplace hierarchy are either unable to identify or do not have the authority to do something about the situation.

Examples of workplace bullying include (but are not limited to), withholding work-related information, setting up individuals to purposely fail, persistent criticism, exclusion or isolation of an individual, passive aggressiveness, micromanagement, and jealousy.

If you suspect that you’re a victim of bullying, you should do the following:

Document, document, document. Who, what, why, where, and when? The frequency and pattern of incidents that you document will be strong evidence of the bullying and will make it difficult for the bullies to deny when they’re confronted.
Read up on the subject and know that you’re not alone. Knowledge is power to help you deal with a situation.
Talk to someone and do not bottle up your emotions. Talk with colleagues to see if they witnessed any of the incidents that you experienced.

Know your limitations and assets in your workplace. Not everyone is astute enough to know how their actions or behaviors can impact another person, while others may be fully aware of what they’re saying or doing. In two of the instances in my 25-year career, it took me leaving the workplace to stop the harassment in one, and in the other, the bully left the workplace and the entire environment changed positively.

At this point in my career, I’ve developed enough skills to cope with any bullying directed at me, but I look out for subordinates and help them learn this life skill. Remember that you’re a valuable asset to our profession!

Bullying from the outside looking in (Kevin’s view)

There’s no question that it’s easier now than ever to bully someone. Take a look at social media and you’ll see examples every day. People can often hide behind a fake name and photo and call someone every name under the sun while rarely facing any repercussions for their actions.

Of course, there’s also a different kind of bullying that dental assistants around the country have told me about. It happens in the dental practice every day and these hard-working assistants don’t know how to stop it. Eventually, it turns into a living nightmare for them and drives them out of the workplace and perhaps out of the profession.

I’ve heard the horror stories. Assistants called “spider monkeys” and “a dime a dozen.” One assistant told me she was called “dog meat” in front of a patient. Many have told me about instruments being flung at them when they made a mistake.

Life is too short to live in fear and frustration when you have to work with a bully every day. There are two steps that you need to take if this is happening to you.

First, put your shoulders back and confront the bully. Tell him or her that you’re both adults and his or her actions have no place in a successful business. As Natalie said, document when this bullying occurs and use this during your discussion. Be strong and don’t be emotional. Pretend you’re a lawyer laying out the facts for a jury. Don’t be surprised if the bully tries to turn it into an emotional discussion. Rise above that and be professional and businesslike while presenting your case.

Second, watch to see if things change. If they do, great. If they don’t, life is too short to be miserable in your job. Find somewhere with a safe working environment and a place where you will be respected for your work ethic and what you bring to the business.

I’ve encountered my fair share of bullies in my life. They all have one thing in common—they’re bullying someone because it’s how they feel better about themselves. Bullies are usually very unhappy people trying to fill a void in their lives. Don’t help them by letting them beat you down.

Put your shoulders back. Stand up to them. Rise above them. Be better than them. Today is a perfect day to put an end to the nightmare if you’re being bullied in your practice.

Natalie Kaweckyj, LDARF, CDA, is president of the American Dental Assistants Association, and Kevin Henry is the head of IgniteDA.

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