Handling Conflict Between Staff
In any work environment, including a dental practice, conflict between staff is inevitable. Conflict between co-workers can affect the practice as a whole. Conflict with an employee at the office can negatively impact the morale of other staff members and can cause decline in productivity. Even your patients will take notice. When a group of people work closely together for an extended period of time, differences will come up. It is important for the owner/dentist to anticipate these conflicts and be prepared to handle them in a professional manner.
As a dental practice owner you want a work setting that is enjoyable and have co-workers that work harmoniously together. It should be your desire to work with staff that you look forward to going to work with each day. A dental practice that has staff members that know how to resolve conflict quickly and work toward common goals is an office that will draw in patients and encourage patients to return.
As a first line of defense against conflict, the employee handbook for the dental practice should address conduct that is acceptable and what is unacceptable. The handbook should also include the office philosophy. All potential employees should be provided a copy of the employee handbook and given time to review it prior to hire. If a potential employee is not on board with the office philosophy or vision, then they should not be hired. Staff members should conduct themselves appropriately even when they are out of the office setting. Even though they are not present at the dental practice office, they still represent the practice.
In order to help stop conflict before it starts, the office should implement morning meetings to discuss the day’s schedule and what areas need improvement as a group. At the meetings, encourage each member in the staff to participate. If there is tension between individuals or groups, you can usually identify and address it early before the situation escalates. Always stick to facts when discussing conflicts between employees. The last thing the owner dentist or office manager wants to do is to take sides.
If in your practice you become aware of an employee’s conduct that is unacceptable according to the employee handbook, then a formal write-up/discipline should be conducted in a timely manner. Such as coming in late to work, or failing to complete duties under their job role (pushing them off onto other staff.) When something that comes up that is inappropriate, action should be taken immediately and documented.
When delaying the time between the incident and a formal write-up, you are taking a risk that the conflict will cause more issues either with other employees or it may have a negative effect on your dental patients. Your “good” employees may even leave the practice.
Termination of an employee is a last resort, but if the dental practice is affected or patients can feel the tension, then it must be done or the business will suffer. Make sure to document reasons for termination; reference to employee handbook is a good start. Documentation is of key importance. Without it, employees can file for wrongful termination and file for unemployment.