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Workplace Bullies: They cost you your business

Tips to improve your life and business


Employee turnover is the single most expensive cost for small to medium-sized businesses - at least it is in our business (and from the informal research I've conducted with other CEOs).

A Gallup poll agrees with our findings. The study of more than 7,000 working American adults found that 50 percent of employees left their job "to get away from their manager to improve their overall life..." It had nothing to do with money, free soda in the break room or better benefits. Most departures are because of people.

I know, first-hand, how this happens.

Twenty years ago, I was a video and content producer for a major medical center. I loved my work. However, I tolerated behavior and treatment from supervisors and coworkers that I would never allow today. I lived with I workplace bullying and emotional abuse daily. I was young, so my thoughts jumped to:

Was it because I was female?

Because I was new?

The easy answer is to say it’s because I was a young woman, but my gut says it’s because I didn’t know to stand up for myself.  

That one bully in the office made me his target, even though he was a subordinate. I dreaded every day and wanted to quit, but ultimately decided I wouldn’t let him force me out. I was in my position first, and I created his role and hired him. I submitted a formal complaint but was told, "Let it go.” When he finally quit, another coworker told me he said that I “strong-armed him out of his job.” That’s the first and last time I allowed myself to be treated so poorly.

Or so I thought.

Then my kids joined competitive sports.

Fast-forward to 2017 and a coach that spoke over me and pushed my kids. I stayed for a minute thinking the children might flourish with some “tough love” coaching. Then I exited and so did my kids.

The bully from my early career was on my team, but his toxic behavior made me hate my job, the culture and our purpose. Two decades later, we're more aware and know that no one should put up with bad behavior, not just because it is wrong but because we, as business owners, suffer economically when this behavior causes good talent to leave.

We have often proclaimed, “Culture trumps strategy,” meaning no matter the business plans or goals, without the people behind the mission, it will never have liftoff. Unfortunately, creating culture to support strategy calls for tough and sometimes emotionally charged decisions in favor of the business: cleaning house of poor managers or bad employees is the start; demonstrating radical honesty to the “good employees” so they understand and empathize with the company in good times and bad; defining what is “good management” and allowing employees to spell out what is “bad management” so they have a voice in who stays and who might go.  

In these situations, there are two options: Do nothing; or, do something. Often, the “do something” option is tough because it entails change or terminating staff – sometimes long-serving staff who are not able to weather change or the new company needs. This is when the business owner or leader must recognize that development is a strategy of patience. And patience is a strategy.

In our growing, bursting, changing, challenging and dynamic company we believe failing to plan is planning to fail. And patience is strategy. We can outlast the rest by doing what is right, hiring the best people and being nimble with an ever changing and dynamic marketplace of healthcare.

So much of our strategy falls back to my experience with that coach. In ending that relationship, we learned about the rewards of making the right decision and taking the high road:

  • Learn from everyone you work with. Everyone has a lesson to share.
  • Treat everyone with respect – even if they are the competitor. They might eventually join your team.
  • Always applaud success – especially if it’s someone else’s. You can learn from them.
  • Accept failure. Be accountable for it and fix it. You’ll do better next time.  
  • Always have a goal to reach – and to beat. Reach it and then set a new goal.
  • Be respectful to all people in voice and action. What comes around, goes around.  
  • Know when to part ways – and do it. Rest assured, it’s for the best. 
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Erin Gibbs
Erin Reilly Gibbs is CEO, founder and owner of American Vein & Vascular Institute Practice Management . The company oversees American Vein & Vascular Institute — a network of vein and vascular clinics owned and founded by her husband, Dr. Gordon Gibbs.  The companies have more than 50 employees, operating in Pueblo, Parker, Canon City, Vail Valley, Littleton and Colorado Springs in Colorado and in Arlington, Texas. The management headquarters are located in the heart of downtown Colorado Springs. Recently, Erin’s team was selected for ColoradoBiz Magazine’s Top 100 Women-Owned Companies and the entire organization was a 2014 winner for Colorado Companies to Watch. She can be reached at eringibbs@americanvein.com or 719.242.8650.

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