Difficult Employees: Addressing Problem Behavior

At some point in your tenure as a practitioner or leader you will inevitably experience a situation in which one of your staff members demonstrates some form of unacceptable behavior.  This may include things like:

  • Tardiness/absenteeism
  • Poor attitude, complaining or negativity
  • Spending too much time socializing, gossiping or joking around

Often times these behaviors may not directly, or immediately, impact the individual’s or team’s performance. However, if left unaddressed for too long you may start to see a drop in productivity or impact to the patient experience. So, what do you do?

1) Identify the behavior

First, recognize the behavior and that it is unacceptable. Then confront the staff member about the issue, let them know you’ve observed their behavior and communicate why it’s a problem.

2) Understand

Once the staff member is aware that you’ve noticed this problem exists, it’s your responsibility to collect as much information as you can about the situation. Know that you may not always have the “full story” behind what’s triggering the behavior (personal or other reasons) and until you do you may not be able to provide an effective solution. Simply ask the person to share with you what’s going on and that you’re there to help.

3) Set Expectations

After you’ve uncovered all angles of the problem explain what your expectations are regarding ending the unacceptable behavior, clarify what the preferred behavior is and reiterate why the behavior needs to change (what’s the impact to the business/team.)

4) Take Action

Allow the staff member to take part in the solution by asking them what action steps he or she can take to improve. Incorporating those appropriate ideas will increase the likelihood of compliance. Create and document a list of the actions to be taken, a timeline to comply, and a clearly stated consequence of not meeting those expectations.

5) Commitment

Finalize the discussion by re-affirming your commitment to supporting their success and elicit an agreement from the staff member to comply. Be sure to let them know that you will check-in and offer assistance if necessary.

Follow the steps above and hold the person accountable to expectations that are set. Continually encourage and provide feedback as you see improvement, and if you don’t, repeat 1-5. The biggest mistake you can make is avoiding the problem – or hoping it will go away on its own . . . by then you may have a bigger problem!