Article Date: 1/1/2012

How to Handle the Problem Employee
staffing solutions

How to Handle the Problem Employee

Understand that nothing will be accomplished until you take action.

By Bob Levoy, O.D

Problem employees wear many faces: the harried staff member who flouts office policy, arrives late and takes long lunch breaks; the bored 20-something receptionist who texts and surfs the Web; the biller who gossips with co-workers, slowing them down and neglecting her own work.

Problem employees can compromise teamwork, productivity, profitability and the reputation of the practice. Unfortunately, many optometrists severely underestimate the effects of problem employees and fail to confront them.

Other optometrists are aware they should do something, but have inertia about confronting the person. Others rationalize that the work is getting done, albeit not as efficiently as they might like. This head-in-the-sand response only makes things worse. Problem behavior that's tolerated is condoned. And nothing will be accomplished until the doctor or office manager takes corrective action.

Take action

Action steps: Start by having a private conversation with the problem employee. Give the person the benefit of the doubt by saying, “I don't know if you're aware of … ” Then talk about the specific behaviors you've seen or were told about that concern you. Explain why you're concerned (e.g. the impact on productivity, patient satisfaction, etc.). Then say, “I need your help.” This reduces defensiveness.

Note: Avoid describing “attitude” because it presumes you can read minds. Your assessment may or may not be correct and in any case, is disputable. Instead, describe behavior, which is observable, measurable, specific and indisputable.

The person may say that he or she was truly unaware of the problem. (Problem solved.) Prevent future occurrences with clearly delineated policies regarding office hours, breaks, cell phone and Internet use, dress code and related matters. Have such policies printed and signed by each staff member to provide documentation, should termination ultimately be necessary.

If the person denies the accusation, wrap up the discussion by saying, “That's great Linda. I'm glad you feel there's nothing to it. Let's get back together in a week to touch base.”

It often happens that simply finding out that others are aware of one's bad behavior is enough to get the person to change. But if a turnaround hasn't occurred in a week, talk again, describe the behaviors that continue to concern you, and ask the person how he or she will resolve this problem. No matter how long it takes, wait for the employee to answer.

The value of listening

In these conversations, your job is to listen as much as it is to talk. Let the employee take the initiative in setting guidelines to solve the problem. It may be that the inappropriate behavior (e.g. lateness, absenteeism, personal phone calls) is a result of a work/life conflict (e.g. childcare or eldercare responsibilities). Your understanding and, if possible, flexibility in such situations will be greatly appreciated by the employee, which will pay off in your practice.

Tested tip: Do not attempt these discussions if you are angry. It will be self-defeating.
Reality check: In dealing with problem employees, there are no guarantees. All of your informal efforts may fail, and you'll have no choice but to move on to formal disciplinary action. If that too fails, it's time to let the person go. OM


Optometric Management, Volume: 47 , Issue: January 2012, page(s): 56