07/20/2016

How to handle staff drama


Drama in the workplace creates an energy-draining work environment that no one enjoys. In the dental office, gossip can run at high levels if the owner dentist has not set standards and policies that prohibit this type of behavior, and if staff is focused on personal issues instead of the patients, serious problems can occur.

Patients can feel it when there is drama between employees. This has a negative effect on the overall customer service experience. In a worst-case scenario, this will drive patients out of the practice even if they like the dentist. As the leader of the practice, the dentist must replace the negative energy with positive and good energy, according to CDA Practice Advisor Shaun Pryor.

“The phrase ‘follow the leader’ applies in most cases of excessive dental office drama. If the dentist is showing signs of anxiety over a situation, the staff will usually follow, taking cues from the dentist,” Pryor said. “Most dramatic flare-ups between co-workers involve harsh language and are highly emotional. A reasonable culture of problem-solving needs to be established and implemented by the owner-dentist.”

Pryor recommends that dentists do not display any frustration or aggravation because as the leader, it is their job to handle these situations in a calm, professional manner.

“Don’t take things to an extreme, and watch your body language,” Pryor said. “You have the power to control your own emotions.”

It is important and recommended that dentists have an established office policy manual (view the CDA Practice Support Sample Employee Manual at cda.org/practicesupport). Staying consistent with all employees in establishing clear, reasonable policies makes the difference between a smooth-running practice and one that’s plagued with employee-related angst.

If it gets to a really bad point, employee discipline may be necessary. Employee discipline is one of the hardest, but necessary, components of practice ownership and employing staff. It is human nature to avoid confrontation. As a leader, it is important to set the ground rules from the first day of employment by including this in the employee manual. Creating an atmosphere of collaboration, mutual respect and trust early on can reap long-term rewards for the employee, the dentist and, ultimately, the practice. Employees who have a sense of ownership and investment will often perform in a manner that enables the practice to flourish and grow.

Dentists should also conduct performance evaluations regularly.

“Schedule the meeting well in advance, either annually or semiannually. You can choose to conduct the evaluation on your employee’s anniversary or you can set a month each year for all employee evaluations,” Pryor said.

Some offices prefer to separate their performance evaluation from their salary review. For example, January is the formal performance review for all staff and July is the review of salary with any possible increases. Topics such as office drama can be brought up during these performance evaluations. Dentists should stay factual and fair during these discussions, by only commenting on information that they observed, not what they have heard.

“Focus on performance, not personality. For instance, if the employee is confrontational, discuss how the employee’s behavior affects his/her performance and be sure to have specific examples,” Pryor said. “This is the time you would want to use any notes from the employee’s personnel file regarding documented incidents. Never compare one employee’s performance to that of another employee during the evaluation.”

For more information, view the Employee Discipline resource and the Performance Evaluations - A Necessary Component for Employee Management (zip file) resources on cda.org/practicesupport.



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