How to Handle Staff Wars at Your Practice

August 4, 2016
Linda Girgis, MD

Are two of your staffers in a heated fight? Here's how you can resolve the issue and improve office morale.

Like in every other profession, people working in healthcare possess unique personalities and there are times when staffers at your practice will just clash. Despite our best efforts to remain impartial and on the sidelines, continual tension between staff members starts to gnaw away at office morale. While this may be entertaining if we are watching the Kardashians, it can begin to affect patient care if we allow it to snowball out of control.

The most important item to realize as a doctor and/or owner in a practice is that you are the last to know the war that has been simmering below the surface for some time. The staff all want to make a good impression on you and tend to keep the drama to themselves. If they come to you to complain about another employee, chances are this battle has been brewing for some time and you are only hearing an over-dramatized rendition of events.

As the leader of the healthcare team, how can staff wars be handled?

- First, try to take a hands-off approach. These are adults and not children and as professionals, they should be able to make their own peace and compromise. I rarely step into these wars unless it is starting to affect how the practice is functioning. When staff members come to me and ask for my help, I try to make the involved parties sit down together for a discussion, between them only. The more thorough direction I give them in directly solving the tension, the longer lasting it will be I have found. If you jump in right away and make new initiatives to help people get along, they will start seeking your help for every dispute that arises. Do you really want to play kindergarten cop?

- It is imperative to listen to both sides of the story. Even if your "best" employee is giving you the details, you still need to listen to the other person. I have been surprised, even shocked, by acts that were done by those I considered outstanding workers. Remember you are dealing with humans and no one is perfect. Don't automatically discount an unbelievable tidbit someone tells you just because of the person involved.

- Investigate the allegations. Often, truth is very easy to discern by looking at all available facts and speaking to all involved parties.

- Be prepared to take action. If you must, issue warnings and make new office guidelines. You are the leader and the staff will be attuned to your authority. If they feel you will not take any action, they will not change. In my practice, depending on what kind of behavior is being covered, we often cut hours. If two staff members refuse to compromise and poison the atmosphere in the workplace, you cannot just sit back idly. The rest of the staff will become poisoned. Previously, I have had employees who made me hate going to work, at my own practice where I pay them their salary. Why make anyone's life so miserable?

- Don't give in to unreasonable demands just to make peace. Once, an employee insisted I change another employee's work schedule because she refused to work with her.  It got to the point that she said she would refuse to work any hours when the other staff member was there. I ended up firing her because the employees cannot dictate how you run your practice. She was a very good employee but the workplace was much happier after she left and the others started working harder. Besides, who wants to be a baby-sitter for a diva employee?

- Have regular social functions for your staff. This allows them to get to know each other on a more personal level. This may be just lunch once a month in the office. Every summer, we take our staff plus one guest to Six Flags. We give them tickets and then we all meet up for lunch. They always come back best of friends for weeks following this event.

Whatever you decide to do, the least involvement you offer the better. But, when it lands at your feet and you are forced to take action, be fair to all parties and be firm. Don't we already face enough toxicity in the healthcare environment every day?