Harassment and Bullying

By: Rebecca Murray, CVT, MA, LCPC

Have you ever been a new tech at a clinic and felt like some of the staff were picking on you? Have you ever worked with someone who gave you “attitude” all the time, no matter what you did? How about someone who became angry or abusive when tired or under pressure? Most of you will answer “yes” to one or all of these questions. And, let’s face it, many of us can admit that we have done some of these at some time in our careers.

Incivility, harassment and bullying are far too common in medicine, both human and veterinary. But what is the difference between these terms? They all involve poor treatment of a coworker. This includes rude tone and verbiage, yelling, screaming, and eye rolling. Other examples are gossip, bossiness, and cliquish behavior.

Incivility can range from thoughtlessness and sarcasm to rudeness and aggression. Sometimes a person is just having a bad day. If they are not normally rude or irritable, it’s unlikely to be a problem. This can be a normal stress response. A coworker who shows this behavior daily probably has difficulty controlling impulses, has poor coping skills, or is generally overwhelmed to the point of not caring. This repeated poor treatment of coworkers is a problem because it brings morale down and creates a toxic work environment.

When incivility involves an imbalance of power, and is targeted at a specific person, it becomes bullying or harassment. It is much easier to behave badly toward someone who is lower on the ladder of authority, who is unsure of themselves or new, or who is extremely passive. Bullying and harassment are targeted, and the victim has no power to make the behavior stop. What separates harassment from bullying is that in a case of harassment, the victim is being targeted because of race, gender, age, ability, or religion.

This behavior can originate with an individual or with a group. An established technician might begin to ridicule or gossip about a newer tech, or a whole department might “talk trash” about another, making interactions between the two departments unbearable. Bullies can target someone because of a personal dislike. They might also feel that bullying is a rite of passage (I went through this, now it’s your turn!)

How or why incivility, bullying, or harassment happens, it can be stopped. Stay tuned for lots of information about how bullying affects our work production, preventing bullying, educating others, protecting yourself, and also some coping skills for those who find that they are sometimes the bully. Together we can make our environments friendlier and more supportive places to work!