“Workplace bullying is likely the “single most preventable and needless expense on a company’s register.”
– P. Barnes

By Paul Pelletier

Bullying can be as harmful in dental workplaces as it is in schools, causing many challenges for administrators, staff, patients and dentists. The harm bullies cause has direct impacts on your dental practice, your people, and workplace culture. The financial impact is enormous: disengagement; lost of productivity; and sick leave and staff turnover costs.

Bullying is particularly problematic for dental office administrators. Bullies can be suppliers, staff, patients and dentists – each requires special strategies in order to effectively address the problem. If administrators take action early on, much larger financial, legal, and productivity problems can be avoided. More importantly, your dental office will be a place where everyone enjoys working!

Why Are Dental Offices Ineffective at Managing Bullying?

quote02Bullying is sufficiently understood and prevalent that most dental practices should be prepared to effectively handle it. However, despite good intentions and business reasons to do so, most are generally very unprepared.

According to a 2013 US executive survey by Zogby Analytics, 68% believe that workplace bullying is a serious problem. If so many business leaders believe this, why are most organizations terrible at managing it? There are many contributors to fully answer this question. They include the following:

A Focus on Results
In our profit-driven world there are intense and ever-present demands for results. Dental offices become so focused on short-term results and profits that they ignore how they are achieved. If there is one commonality amongst bullies, it’s a gift for whipping up results (and those used to get them).

Misinterpretation of a “Motivating Workplace”
Many offices confuse motivation with a “survival of the fittest” model for workplace behavior. They also tolerate bullying as a leadership style or “someone with a difficult personality.” Bullying is the opposite of leadership. Staff don’t need to be abused to perform to their fullest.

Offices Are Afraid to Confront Bullies
While most practice owners and office managers are aware of bullying, they are often afraid to confront the bully. Fear of conflict is a serious problem. Bullying is a sensitive topic because it requires confrontation, conflict, and courage as much as it requires tools.

quote01Lack of Effective Policies and Processes
Many dental practices don’t have a workplace respect or harassment policy that outlines what is unacceptable workplace behavior. Without defining how you expect staff, clients, and patients to behave, how do you expect to manage unacceptable workplace behavior like bullying?

Lack of Trained Office Administration Personnel
Despite their best intentions, many administrators are unprepared to address bullies. Often, they don’t have the training or authority to take action. Regardless of their desire to help, they commonly contribute to the problem.

An Anti-Bullying Action Plan for Dental Office Administrators

As your organization’s chief “people persons,” you have the potential for significant influence. You know what’s going on throughout the office – a complete picture of the workplace culture. As a result, you are a critical pivot point for change and wield persuasive power to help eliminate bullying.

There are tools and information available to you that could help you to make an impact. I recommend an anti-bullying action plan that focuses on ensuring the people in the practice are paramount. Specifically, your action plan focuses on the following:

Get informed and training
In order to appear credible, it’s important to have the knowledge and capacity to speak with authority. There is information and training about bullying and experts to help.

Get a plan
As with all complex projects, you need a well laid-out strategy. Be courageous and expect resistance. You are doing your job to create the best workplace environment and support everyone in your organization.

Focus on costs and impacts
You have information that no one else does – what the bully is costing (sick leave, stress leave, loss of talented staff, conflicts, team de-motivation, reputation loss). This is your most important tool for gaining the attention of the practice owners. Prove that the bully is costing money and show how.

If you don’t have all the costs, then focus on the impacts. Focus the conversation on how the bully’s behavior is hurting the workplace. Talk about how it’s affecting morale and performance. Speak the language that owners relate to – motivate them by putting yourself in their shoes and finding an undeniable “what’s in it for me” proposition.

Work on establishing effective anti-bullying policies, procedures, and best practices

In the background, there are a host of proactive and preventative measures administrators can take (or at least influence and support). These include the following:

  • Establish or revise Respectful Workplace Policies to specifically include bullying.
  • Improve performance management – include behavioral components to enhance workplace culture.
  • Address all bad behavior immediately and set a strong leadership example.
  • Seek the advice of experts – treat bullying like any other complex problem that requires specialized professionals to advise and assist.


There are many things dental office administrators can do to confront bullying, motivate change, and help implement an anti-bullying strategy. As trusted advisors to the practice owners, you are a critical pivot point for change. You wield persuasive power to help eliminate bullying. Use it. Make it your mission to make people the most important resource in your practice.

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Paul Pelletier is a corporate lawyer, author, international public speaker, and business consultant. An expert in workplace bullying, respect, diversity, and leadership, Paul helps organizations develop strategies to prevent, manage, and eliminate bullying and disrespect. He also offers public speaking and workshops. His new book, Workplace Bullying – It’s Just Bad for Business, is available on Amazon.com. For more information, see www.paulpelletierconsulting.com.


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