Busy people working together in tight quarters will, inevitably, get into the occasional tiff or argument. Power struggles, turf battles, generational differences, assigning blame, and personality clashes are not uncommon in medical offices. Left unchecked, however, these problems result in negative consequences such as low morale, high turnover, increased levels of stress and absenteeism, and decreased patient satisfaction (yes, patients notice when there is tension in the air). Here are a few ideas to promote a positive work environment.
Expect harmony. Make it known early and often that the expectation is that staff will get along and work well together. Don’t imply that everyone has to become best friends, but do stress that being polite, respectful, and reasonable is a requirement of the job. When interviewing a potential new employee, make it clear that you strive to run a positive, pleasant workplace. When checking references ask specifically about an individual’s demeanor and personality (you may not get a great answer due to privacy issues, but it can’t hurt to ask). Appraise attitude and the ability to get along with others as part of the annual performance review process.
Encourage a “light” atmosphere. Everyone has their bad days, sometimes for very good reasons, but just one person showing up for work cranky can set an unhappy tone throughout an office. Obviously, if a staff member is distraught over something serious like a family illness or a failing marriage, you wouldn’t make light of the situation. But for the generic “I got up on the wrong side of the bed” attitude, empathy coupled with a little bit of humor can go a long way toward turning the mood around (and keeping it from spreading through the office). Cultivate an environment where “This, too, shall pass” and “We shall not make mountains out of molehills” are everyday mantras.
Nip it in the bud. When staff members do become engaged in a battle of wills, the office manager or lead physician should step in quickly. Review the policy that harmony is expected and give the individuals an opportunity to work things out among themselves. If that doesn’t solve the problem, you may need to take further action. Counseling or coaching employees on workplace behavior may be an option. If the situation is particularly difficult and keeping staff on board is a high priority, consider hiring a professional mediator. For a systemic problem (i.e., negativity permeates pretty much the entire office and/or squabbles are a frequent occurrence) schedule an off-site strategic team-building session with a professional facilitator. Reprimanding employees or even letting someone go may be necessary in intractable situations.
Workplace disharmony and dysfunction are costly. Don’t let conflict get in the way of managing your practice in a way that keeps staff, providers, and patients satisfied.