Ashley Fuegel - Staff Issues: Addressing At one time or another, every office goes through a patch of staff-related “drama.”

Once discovered, it’s what you do about it that more of less determines a) whether it continues and b) occurs again.  And with the impact office “drama” can have on morale, productivity and staff turnover – it’s worth having a look at the subject, along with effective remedies.

And Just What do I Mean by…“Drama”?

To start, serious issues such as OSHA violations, sexual harassment, discrimination, and other similar type situations are not office “drama.” These are significant legal issues! If you run into these, in whatever capacity, amongst your staff, take immediate action by consulting the appropriate legal professional (e.g. your employment attorney) as soon as possible!

By office “drama” I’m referring to conflicts between employees, disagreements (work-related or otherwise) that get brought up in the office, complaints, rumors, inappropriate actions on the job, and other unpleasant emotional outbursts, etc. The end result: one or more parties are upset and/or distracted from their job – and possibly (even worse) demonstrating this upset in front of patients (customers). Without policy or procedure in place to deal with, it can create very real, very serious problems in your office. Before you know it, there are unhappy employees, “cliques” of certain employees who only interact with each other and ignore others, or arguments that disrupt production.

Our D/COO, Sabri Blumberg wrote an excellent article about how to address conflicts between staff, which you can read here, and it provides an excellent outline of how to address the conflict itself. With this mind, I wanted to add to the subject with a few simple procedural ideas that might help prevent future issues, along with preventing “drama” from spreading all over the office.

Provide Employees with a Proper Outlet

Staff Issues: Addressing Ideally, you should have someone designated that employees can address & share any complaints or issues with. This might be the Office Manager or you as the owner. Once this is sorted out, it should be enforced that issues and complaints ONLY go to that person – versus just talking to the team member who happens to be nearest to you at the time. They shouldn’t discuss it with other staff.

Why?

Well, for starters, the OM or doctor is in a position of authority to do something effective about the problem.  Second, it prevents the office from being glutted with bad news, rumors and disagreements. Think about it, if your assistant complains to the receptionist about the misconduct of the hygienist – what is your receptionist supposed to do about this? They can’t discipline the hygienist and all it does is leave them with a problem they cannot solve. And your receptionist may have not had a problem with the hygienist prior to this – but now they do.

Without procedure in place to address problems like this you also open the door to an even bigger potential issue: problem employees can “poison the well” of staff morale by bad-mouthing other productive employees to anyone they like, couldn’t they?  If everyone knows the procedure, this issue stops dead in its tracks.  The “problem” employee starts bad-mouthing the assistant to the Treatment Coordinator and the Treatment Coordinator refers them to the OM or doctor (the proper person).

This is one of those things that are vital to keeping your office drama-free. If the employees know:

  1. Who to go to and
  2. That taking the issue up otherwise is a violation of company policy (and therefore has ramifications to doing so),

You set the appropriate, professional attitude for your office, and keep the drama from blasting all over the place.

Make It Safe for Employees to Communicate About These Issues

You must create an office environment safe for your employees to communicate and also safe for your employees to defend themselves. If one employee is complaining about another, pull both employees in and have the complaint address directly to the other employee giving them the opportunity to explain or handle the issue.

Not only will this handle issue more rapidly, it will also create a safe environment for your staff and defer petty issues from being brought to your attention. After all, you don’t want petty, unnecessary issues constantly being dumped on your plate, so if the staff know that office policy dictates they are only to bring the issue to the proper persons and they know that they’ll have to confront the issue with the other person, this discourages petty “he-said, she-said” and encourages staff to just do their jobs and not get into silly unneeded drama. It also encourages staff to communicate amongst themselves (which is good) to solve problems and issues between not only each other – but in the office in general.

Handle the issues Quickly

This isn’t something where you can just “let it blow over” or figure it will “sort itself out eventually.” You need to address it fast and head-on, so it doesn’t fester or lead to more conflicts. If you don’t, then sooner or later it will make the office an unpleasant place to work and throw a wrench into production. The quicker you address and smooth it over, the better. Think of it like a dental problem – they don’t get better by doing nothing about them – they get worse.

Consider the Nature of the Issue & the Productivity of the Employee

When an employee has brought an issue to your attention; you need to handle it quickly and professionally. At the same time you need to consider the nature of the issue.

Serious issues with legal ramifications as mentioned earlier, i.e. discrimination, harassment, etc, would of course be handled in coordination with your attorney. And as an aside, I would recommend having an employment attorney to consult with whenever needed – not just for times when things get serious as above. Being in compliance with employment law is a lot easier than you might think and can save you untold amounts of trouble and money in the long run; and it’s usually not too expensive.  They can help with any number of things like proper, legally compliant employee manuals and other policy that you should have in place to stay compliant.  They’re also good to consult with when you have legal-type questions about hiring and firing.

For less serious issues or complaints: i.e. A frequently late employee, an employee that is not doing their job, someone that is talking about another negatively to other staff or someone being rude to patients, etc., I would address these head-on; while at the same time also taking into account the productivity and job performance of the person who raised the issue.

Staff Issues: Addressing Are they a productive, highly performing employee? Or is their performance subpar? If it is the latter you may deal with the issue differently than if the complaint came from a productive employee.  This is the other side of the issue I raised earlier – specifically, a “problem,” (non-performing) employee could make trouble for a productive employee by complaining about them.

Let’s say you have a receptionist who is performing poorly.  They work next to the Financial Secretary at the front, who is a star performer. The Financial Secretary finds themselves doing pieces of the Receptionist’s job (in addition to his or her own) due to the receptionist’s poor performance. They also have to clean up the receptionist’s mistakes.  They are frustrated. When the receptionist asks them the same question that they’ve answered for the 20th time, the Financial Secretary (who is extremely overworked) answers it – brusquely. The receptionist decides that the Financial Secretary is “mean” and complains.

If we approached this whole scene at face value without considering the productivity and contribution office of both parties, we’d “correct” the Financial Secretary” for their “meanness.”  But, that doesn’t really solve anything. For starters, why are we inflicting this receptionist on our productive Financial Person? They (the receptionist) should have probably have been replaced some time ago.

You could also paint far worse scenarios than above. Maybe our receptionist is not just a poor performer – but malicious as well. Maybe he or she “complains” about things that the Financial Secretary is doing that are not actually happening!  And worse, we then discipline the Financial Secretary on the basis of these false reports and they – now unhappy with their work environment – quit. What we are we left with?  An unproductive receptionist…and terrible collections.

These are just examples; and of course just because someone is productive that does not mean we don’t appropriately address issues as they come up.  I just wanted to point out that someone’s worth and contribution to the team should be factored in when addressing simple issues between your staff.

I hope these tips help! As I’ve mentioned before, what I am saying here should not be taken as legal advice I highly suggest every business with employees has an employment attorney and when in doubt always call them first. You are better safe than sorry.

Ashley Fuegel provides this general dental practice management advice to furnish you with suggestions of actions that have been shown to have potential to help you improve your practice. Neither MGE nor Ms. Fuegel may be held liable for adverse actions resulting from your implementation of these suggestions, which are provided only as examples of topics covered by the MGE program.

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