The Waiting Game

Opt out of passive management and take control of your staffing issues.

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Are you playing the waiting game? Waiting for one of your employees to quit so you won’t have to fire him or her? Grab some snacks and make yourself comfortable; you could be in for a very long wait.

Before we begin, let’s start with a few assumptions:

You have taken steps to help your problem employee understand specifically what your expectations are, that those expectations have not been met, and that these interactions are documented.

You have coached this team member regarding how to do a better job.

Despite your efforts, no immediate and sustained change in behavior has occurred.

No matter how hard you try to hire the perfect person for your open position, every so often someone comes on board who isn’t a good fit. You may have hired the best person from a field of lackluster candidates. Perhaps expectations on both sides weren’t realistic.

Somehow the perfect job conditions you described in the interview and the eager “I’ll do-whatever-it-takes” initiative of the candidate lost their luster in the harsh light of day.

You may have done everything right but the person just doesn’t fit in with your style or your practice. For example, if your practice is a study in barely controlled chaos but your employee needs an orderly or quiet work environment, chances are this isn’t a long-term fit.

Confront Confrontation

So why is this person still in your practice? Is it because you dislike confrontation?

Confrontation is difficult, especially when a person’s job is at stake. But the longer you put off dealing with a problem, the more energy you spend on it. You owe it to yourself and your practice to admit your mistakes and move on. Just rip off the bandage and get it over with!

All the people in your practice need to pull their weight, no matter how nice they are or how much you like them. She’s pleasant and cooperative, but her attempts to “help” just create more work for everyone else involved. Sure, we all have a bad day (or month) when we aren’t able to give 100%, but those days should be overshadowed by the times we go the extra mile to make things right. Particularly in a small practice, when someone isn’t performing up to par, everyone knows it. Tolerating poor performance or behavior sends the wrong message to those employees who are working very hard for you. If you have coached her in the past and her behavior hasn’t changed, don’t prolong the inevitable — show her the door.

It’s All About Attitude

Another difficult situation is one where your employee outperforms everyone else on staff but is miserable to work with. When she’s on top of the world, her enthusiasm is contagious. But when she’s unhappy, which is her usual frame of mind, everyone suffers. She sulks, pouts and slams doors. She’s abrupt with clients, snippy to doctors and downright disagreeable with staff. It’s easy to justify keeping her when you consider how much work she gets done quickly. But this kind of behavior doesn’t disappear without direct intervention.

Consider this person’s effect on the rest of your practice. You wouldn’t hesitate to fire someone who was abusive to a patient. Why, then, do you allow someone to wreak havoc on your doctors and staff? This person can create real damage in the practice–damage to staff morale and damage to your reputation as a place to work. Don’t fail your good employees by tolerating a bad one. They see that bad behavior is rewarded while their hard work is simply expected or unnoticed. Terminate this person with no regrets.

Be Firm and Confident

Now that you’ve made the decision to terminate, be gentle and calm. The way you fire an employee sends a powerful message to your staff–either positive or negative. Always take the high road when you decide to let someone go. When things aren’t working out, be honest with yourself and your employee. Don’t try to force an employee to quit by cutting hours, scheduling the worst shifts or otherwise treating her like a second-class citizen. Let poor performers leave with their dignity intact. It’s a good way to turn an otherwise difficult and unproductive situation into an encounter with a positive ending.

The key concept: Stop waiting for your problem employee to quit. Odds are high that before she quits you will lose better employees who move on to a healthier work environment while your problem employee stays. Even if she’s unhappy, the longer she stays the less likely it is that she’ll ever develop the momentum to find another job she likes.

Do yourself, your practice, your clients and your good employees a favor. Allow this person to find a more suitable opportunity. If you won’t take my word for it, here is what one of my favorite veterinarians had to say after dismissing two long-time problem employees. “I finally got up the gumption to get rid of a source of many years of frustration. It is embarrassing how long I put up with these folks.” Now it’s your turn–work up the guts to make some changes to your team and stop playing “the waiting game.”


A Cautionary Note

This article does not provide legal advice regarding employment law or employer/employee relations. Before you dismiss an employee, contact your local employers’ council or consult with your attorney regarding the potential liability to your practice.

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