The Articulate Dentist - A Blog by the Metro Denver Dental Society

For Less Decay, Try Something Sweeter

Practice Management

By: David Bashford, Esq.

A few things that we know.

We spend every bit as much awake time with co-workers as we do with family. No surprise, then, that the key factors contributing to job satisfaction are (1) engagement, (2) respect, praise and appreciation, (3) having friends at work, and (4) having a good relationship with the boss. By the way, fair compensation counts but rarely tops the list.

We also know that current and former employees are less likely to hire a lawyer and assert a claim if they feel like they have been treated fairly and respectfully and if they feel like they have been told the truth.

Work is personal. And how we personally feel about work manifests itself in how we do
our job, and, significantly, how we treat the patient (customer or client).

And yet, over and over, we see employment related claims brought against businesses that
cannot seem to get out of their own way. Sure, there is the stuff in headlines like sexual
harassment, which is simply too prevalent and, thankfully, front and center at last.

Behind the headlines is an insidious problem that finds its way into most businesses at some point, and when left unattended, wrecks the culture. 


Shouting, using profanity, throwing objects, sending threatening communications or using threatening body language or gestures (such as standing close to someone or shaking a finger at them). Making demeaning remarks. The silent treatment. Passive aggressive behavior like keeping someone out of the loop, forgetting to invite, trying to get someone fired or making them quit.

Most healthcare businesses have policies against sexual harassment and discrimination, working while impaired, protecting confidential information, and complying with HIPAA. How about adding a workplace civility policy?

A workplace civility policy should touch on three things:

1. Standards of conduct, behavior expectations, defining what is acceptable and what is not okay. For example:

The following is an illustrative and non-exhaustive list of conduct that violates this policy:

  • Making threatening remarks (written or verbal).
  • Aggressive or hostile acts such as shouting, using profanity, throwing objects at another person, fighting or intentionally damaging another person’s property.
  • Bullying, intimidating or harassing another person (for example, sending threatening communication or using threatening body language or gestures, such as standing close to someone or shaking your fist at them).
  • Behavior that causes another person emotional distress.
  • Assault.
  • No form of workplace incivility will be tolerated.

2. A complaint procedure. For example:
If you witness or are subjected to any conduct that you believe violates this policy, you must speak to, write to, or otherwise contact the practice manager or a member of the leadership team as soon as possible. 

Your communication should be as detailed as possible, including the names of all individuals involved and any witnesses.

We will directly and thoroughly investigate all complaints of workplace incivility and will take prompt corrective action, including discipline, if appropriate. 

3. A promise not to engage in retaliation against someone that complains. For example:
We prohibit any form of discipline, reprisal, intimidation or retaliation for reporting incidents of workplace incivility of any kind, pursuing a complaint or cooperating in related investigations.

We are committed to enforcing this policy against all forms of workplace incivility. However, the effectiveness of these efforts depends largely on reporting. If employees feel that they or someone else may have been subjected to conduct that violates this policy, they should report it immediately. If employees do not report, then we may not become aware of a possible violation of this policy and may not be able to take appropriate corrective action.

Every employee should individually acknowledge receipt, review and understanding of the policy, with a distinct signature and date. The policy is a term and condition of employment.

At this point, you are probably thinking one of two things:
1. Oh my gosh, we are a small practice, this is not a problem and a policy seems like lawyer overkill.

Fair enough. Hopefully, you are correct. Don’t, however, be like the guy that only flosses his front teeth and thinks the pretty façade somehow means there is no decay further back. Small does not equal no problem. Instead, small often means no place to go so things fester until everyone wonders why great people quit or how they ended up in a lawsuit. Draft a policy that doesn’t feel like lawyer overkill. The advantage of having a policy is that it gives employees explicit permission to call out a problem and the practice explicit permission
to address it.

2. Are you kidding me, the bully is one of the dentists and they own the practice. If someone complains nothing will happen – at least nothing good.

When an owner is a bully, it is tough to address. Consider raising the issue as a group. Solidarity can be powerful. Things are pretty much guaranteed not to improve if no one says anything. 

An aside. If you are the bully, well, seriously? Why? Insecurity or a power trip? Get over it. Honestly, what would your mother say? Mine would say, “I did not raise you in a barn” and “If you cannot say something nice, then do not say anything at all.” Do yourself and everyone you work with a favor, try not being a bully and see what happens.

The idea of workplace civility extends beyond our co-workers to guests that join us at work. Patients, the product and pharma reps, the person that keeps the aquarium in good shape, should all be on good behavior and reminded when they forget.

Let’s take stock.

We know that workplace civility contributes to job satisfaction which, in turn, contributes to jobs done well. We know that when people feel like they have been treated fairly and respectfully, they are less likely to lawyer up. All to the good.

It follows that a workplace that tolerates incivility, whatever the form, only leads to bad stuff, like a crummy culture, turnover, poor performance and lawsuits.

You and your co-workers share a common fate – lots of time together day after day. Watch out for each other. Preventing decay is easier, so I have been told every six months for most of my life, than the alternative. 

David Bashford, Esq. is an attorney with the law firm Range, a business law, strategy, communications and policy firm headquartered in Denver. David’s practice focuses on business matters, training and the management side of employment law.


The Articulate Dentist is a blog by the Metro Denver Dental Society, providing members with insight into the dental industry, practice management tips, tech trends and best practices as well as Society news and updates.


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