Help! My Employees are Keeping Me Awake at Night!

By August 3, 2017 June 11th, 2019 ASC Management, Leadership
Managing difficult employee behavior

Lately, when faced with a work situation that taxes my emotional reserve and keeps me awake at night, I turn it on its head. I view the issue from a different perspective; change the tape that’s repeatedly playing in my brain by altering the order of the words.

For example, when I hear, “I’ve got a difficult employee and I don’t have a clue what to do,” I reframe the problem and respond with, “Let’s talk about the difficult behavior this person is exhibiting that is creating frustration for you in the workplace.” Shifting our dialogue to focus on the behavior rather than the person, creates a much-needed level of objectivity that allows for more effective problem solving.

Let’s face it, as leaders, we are bound to encounter employees who exhibit behaviors that are difficult to manage. An employee who simply fails to show up to work on time can create havoc in a facility. Being met with resistance when asked to perform a task in a specific way can derail a surgery center team’s attempts to ensure patient safety.

If you’re like most people, you don’t enjoy confrontation. So, you chalk the behavior up to “a bad day” or, when the behavior rears its ugly head consistently, excuse it with, “That’s just how Marianne operates. She’s not interested in hearing feedback.” But, it’s your job to deal with these behaviors effectively to minimize the ripple effects. The harsh reality is, if you don’t deal with difficult behaviors, the problems will only get worse. And, if you don’t document your actions, it is as if you never responded.

When you find yourself wondering why an employee is being so difficult, avoid succumbing to “stinkin’ thinkin’.” In other words, avoid personalizing the behavior.

Here’s an example. Tom, your receptionist/registrar, reports to the surgery center 10 to 15 minutes late every morning. He is responsible for checking patients in promptly. If he’s not there, patients either end up waiting for him to arrive or his co-workers must stop what they’re doing to perform his job. This is annoying enough on its own. But he has the nerve to saunter in with a Starbucks coffee in hand, jovially greeting everyone on the way to his workstation. The patients love him. They have no idea he’s the one who created the tension they sensed upon their arrival. As he settles into work, capably completing the tasks his co-workers have started for him, you overhear a steady stream of employees filing past your office muttering, “Really? He does this every day. Why does he insist on making everyone miserable? I’m tired of doing his job. Doesn’t he recognize we’ve got our own tasks to perform to ensure surgeries start on time?”

Tom, contrary to what is now popular belief, likely does not wake up every morning planning to upset everyone. He’s laid back – a strong suit when it comes to interacting with patients nervously anticipating their planned procedure – and approaches everything in stride, including sleeping through his alarm, a long line at Starbucks, and having to circle the parking lot three times to find an empty spot.

To deal effectively with Tom’s tardiness, it’s important to accurately identify the problem behavior. On the surface, it might appear the problem is slacking – showing up late because Tom wants others to perform his job. After all, that’s what his co-workers have surmised. However, after talking with Tom, you realize he is on a completely different wavelength. He truly is unaware his behavior negatively impacts the start of everyone else’s day.

Now that you’ve identified the true difficulty, you can effectively manage Tom’s future behavior by having a conversation with him. People who are on a different wavelength, need clearly defined communication that outlines expected results.

Your conversation may proceed along these lines. “Tom, I need you to be at your workstation ready to check in our first patient on time each morning. I expect you to clock in at 5:45, then immediately report to your desk to ensure you are prepared for 6:00 a.m. arrivals. Adhering to this regimen will serve our patients well. The value you bring to our organization will be enhanced when your co-workers realize they can rely on you to greet patients and get them checked in promptly. Our physicians will recognize a change in how quickly they are able to get started each morning. I’m going to document our conversation today as a coaching session. Now that you recognize how important it is for you to be on time to perform an essential requirement of your job, I’m confident you will figure out how to report to work promptly every day.”

I recognize this is only one example of dealing with a difficult behavior. And, more importantly, I’ve assumed the conversation went well. You talked to Tom, he saw the light, he altered his behavior, and being late to work is not something that occurs anymore. I’m aware, however, that’s not always the case.

My point is this: when you separate the person from the behavior, accurately identify the problem, and promptly address with the employee how their behavior impacts the organization, you have a much greater chance of achieving a successful outcome. Those successful outcomes will not only lead to a happier, more united facility, they will allow you to sleep much better at night!


Kim Woodruff, VP of Corporate Finance & Compliance

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