5 Tips for Dealing with Difficult Employees in a Group Practice

If dealing with difficult employees stresses you out, these five strategies will ease your struggles.

Ah! The joys of managing other adults in a professional atmosphere. If you’re the group manager of a private practice, your responsibilities include mediating interpersonal issues between clinicians and facing other professional concerns as they arise. (In addition to everything else you juggle!) Dealing with difficult employees is just that…difficult.

You’re not an owner. You’re not the human resources department, yet, the counselors come to you for help with conflict resolution. So, how do you problem solve? With different personalities all having a common stake and a similar goal, it can be difficult to know how to address the issue.

The way you approach dealing with difficult employees is going to depend on your practice culture. Do you have something in writing which indicates the standards to which clinicians in the group need to adhere? If not, it’s time to create a practice handbook. In it, list all practice policies —such as confidentiality and social media policies —alongside any other pertinent information, including behavior expectations—which is often the culprit for staff problems.

Five tips for dealing with difficult employees

01-5-tips-for-dealing-with-difficult-employees-in-a-group-practice1. Remain calm, listen carefully

Sometimes personalities just don’t mesh well. If two therapists seem to have trouble getting along, they may need a neutral third party, like you, to help mediate their concerns. Remain calm, show no emotion that suggests you side with one party, and hear each therapist out. Often, being an active listener is all that is needed to resolve a problem. Remind them that while they spend time together in the office, they don’t need to develop a personal affinity toward each other, but for the good of the organization, they need to show each other respect.

2. Be proactive rather than reactive

The best way to handle any situation, whether it be as small a practitioner who forgets to turn off the lights in their office or as large as one who makes offending jokes in the break room, is to make a plan versus only reacting when the issue occurs.

If you notice a higher than average electric bill, send an email to the entire office reminding everyone to be respectful of their usage or a surcharge will be added to future invoices. Schedule sensitivity and diversity trainings that are clear on your harassment and discrimination policies.

If the issues continue, ask the counselor to meet with you when neither of you feels rushed, and calmly explain your concerns. If you rush a response when you open the electric bill, or you wait for the next unkind joke, you won’t be calm, and you’ll come across as the aggressive employee. Be proactive and controlled to make your interests heard.

02-5-tips-for-dealing-with-difficult-employees-in-a-group-practice3. Address concerns immediately

Waiting for a problem to fizzle out usually doesn’t work. Instead, the issue festers. Let’s say there is a clinician who badmouths his clients to other practitioners. That’s bound to bother other counselors. Be direct and let the “offender” understand what about his behavior is concerning, and that it will not be tolerated in the practice.

The therapist may only feel that he is blowing off steam. He may not realize how toxic his comments are to the other counselors. Pointing out the behavior is the first step. If you’re waiting for someone to change without guidance, you’ll be waiting a long time.

4. Focus on the problem and not the person

If one practitioner is the “problem child” of the practice, it can be easy to get frustrated with them for just about anything: The coffee pot didn’t get refilled—it must be his fault. He’s too quiet in a meeting—he must think he’s better than everyone else. He’s too loud in a meeting—he must think he knows it all. When many clinicians practice in a group setting, personality issues may arise. Ensure you’re governing issues, and not character.

03-5-tips-for-dealing-with-difficult-employees-in-a-group-practice5. Set consequences and follow through

Employees who don’t feel as if there are repercussions will continue acting in a manner that they see fit. If you do find yourself in the situation where you’re responsible for talking with a difficult practitioner, make setting consequences a priority. Reiterate your practice expectations, and clearly state the repercussions of failing to meet those expectations.

If you’ve set clear boundaries and consequences, the most important thing you can do as a group manager is follow through. Whether it be advising your staff to end conversations with the difficult employee if the conversation goes downhill or more drastically, informing the practitioner that the practice would like to conclude the association, be true to your word.

Dealing with difficult employees takes time away from your most important tasks, like schedule management, electronic claim filing, and sending past-due bills. While you’re busy managing conflict resolution, SimplePractice keeps the practice running smoothly. We’ll even send out appointment reminders for you. Try us free for 30-days today.

Dealing with difficult employees may be the most challenging part of running a private practice. Have you had difficult employees? How did you resolve the issues associated with them? Share your experience in the comments.

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