Don’t Let One Bad Apple Spoil the Lot

Virtually every dentist has encountered or will encounter the challenge of managing an employee who seems to drag down the morale and the productivity of those around them. It often happens subtly—snide comments, negativity, and a lack of personal motivation. You know what I’m talking about… these are the employees who, after receiving an assignment or instructions, quietly turn to a co-worker and say “that will never happen,” or “Don’t worry, he’ll forget about it in a week.”

How do you handle such an employee?

It’s important to establish a policy right from the start—you cannot and should not allow any one employee to adversely impact the rest of your team. It is simply unacceptable, no matter how long they have worked for you, no matter how much you like them, and no matter how popular they are with the rest of your team.

On the other hand, dealing with this situation isn’t as simple as telling the offending employee to gather up their things and leave—remember that you have invested time and resources into training them, and that hiring and training a replacement is expensive. So what do you do?

1) Address the problem with the offending employee. Sit down with your employee and start by simply asking them what the problem is. You may discover that personal problems are behind the change in attitude—in which case you should offer to support the employee however you can, but also make it clear that their behavior is completely unacceptable. You may find that their poor attitude is a result of unhappiness with some aspect in their work environment. If this is the case, you can once again seek to improve the situation—but also explain in no uncertain terms that the behavior cannot continue.

2) If the behavior continues, give the employee one final warning. Hopefully, step one of this process is enough to eradicate the problem. But if it’s not, inform the employee that their job is on the line, and that if the problem continues, they will be terminated. Make sure that you document each of these conversations with the employee for future reference.

3) Finally, terminate the employee if necessary. Hopefully firing the employee isn’t necessary, but it is important that you are willing to do so if steps one and two can’t solve the problem. Letting a bad apple hang around will be toxic for the morale and the productivity of the rest of your team. If they see that you are willing to tolerate bad behavior, many of them are going to follow suit. Firing the offending employee sends a clear message that you simply won’t tolerate anything other than professionalism and efficiency.   Of course, I always encourage anyone faced with this last option to speak with their attorney about employment laws in their state.

Firing an employee is never a good thing—and it’s not cheap, either. However, letting an employee with a poor work ethic or a bad attitude drag down the rest of your team will lead to disaster. Don’t let the problem spread—address it as soon as it appears, and take the appropriate steps to either reform the employee or part ways.

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