Dental News

  • September 14, 2016

What can be done with the unhappy employee?


Deciding what to do with a problem employee is never easy. Confronting the employee is sometimes difficult, the draining distraction takes a toll on morale and productivity and damage to your leadership position is likely.

What can be done with the unhappy employee?

For someone who just never seems happy, who repeatedly asks for new or different assignments, the best reaction should be firm, tough-love conversation, said Hugh Doherty, DDS, CFP, a practice management consultant. According to Dr. Doherty, the employee should be asked:

  • Why do you think your discontent persists, even after reassignment?
  • If your unhappiness continues, it may be time to “look in the mirror” with a trusted friend, counselor or coach. What do you think?
  • To succeed in this office, you need to demonstrate a willingness to help and be a team player. Are you willing to do that?

More problematic employees need a more sophisticated strategy. Because this employee can be more expensive, in terms of time and money, it is useful to know ahead of time what to do – and not do. 

In an article for The Harvard Business Review, author and Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter gave some tips for that more uncommon employee who is not just cranky but also out to “do damage” to the team, through legal action or worse.

On Ms. Kanter’s “ Don’t” list:

  • Don’t give the employee “power” by letting them monopolize management time and attention. Assign one person to manage the employee so the rest of the office can work.
  • Don’t adopt an angry tone, but remain calm and professional.
  • Don’t sound defensive or rehash the complaint for the staff. 
  • Don’t assume that being right “is enough.” While the law may be on your side, employees may rally to the disgruntled’s side if they perceive unfairness or capriciousness. Remain principled and let your actions speak louder than words.

To counterbalance the situation, Ms. Kanter advised:

  • Do keep the positive story of the office, its mission, accomplishments and goals at the forefront.
  • Do make “a small gesture,” a concession, that will seem generous and gracious. The disgruntled employee can claim a small victory, which, Ms. Kanter said, “makes it easier to get him or her to go away.”
  • Do step in immediately to quell rumors. Misinformation needs to be corrected, and facts should rule. 
  • Do keep “moving ahead.” Focus or re-focus on goals and future plans to keep the staff looking forward. 

While dealing with the unhappy or volatile employee is difficult, letting a bad situation fester is a recipe for disaster for the office. Take action, move forward and fortify your leadership role in the eyes of your staff. 

The views expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily the opinions of the Chicago Dental Society. CDS presents Front Desk, a column addressing problems dentists and staff members experience in the office. Front Desk is prepared by Stephanie Sisk, a freelance journalist. Suggestions? Email suggestions for topics to be covered to the Chicago Dental Society.
© 2015, Chicago Dental Society

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