Managing difficult employees in healthcare

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There are difficult employees in every profession. However, a problem employee in healthcare can actually affect the patient care in an organization. As other staff members attempt to deal with an employee who is either difficult to work with or who has traits that other employees are unable to deal with, it is up to the manager to handle the situation. These tips can help healthcare managers deal with employees whose attitude, personality or work ethic is becoming a distraction in the workplace.

Everyone Can Be Difficult

The first thing to remember is that everyone can be difficult to work with at one point or another. An argument with a teenager or spouse just before they arrived at work can lead someone to be difficult during the work day. Stress at home or a heavy workload can make even the most easy going staff member snap at another sometimes. These are not the situations to be discussed, however. Problem employees are those who are chronically difficult to deal with. They argue their opinion over and over again or make decisions based on what benefits them rather than the team or the patient. Some may talk instead of listen while others may be disrespectful. In some cases, the behavior is a habit while others have developed the traits over time as a coping mechanism.

Four Types of Difficult Personalities

According to experts, there are four types of difficult personalities. The first is abrupt, domineering and arrogant. They use extreme aggression to get what they want and are not afraid to make a scene in public. The second is passive-aggressive. They often make negative remarks that they pass off as teasing. They often attempt to sabotage leaders and coworkers. The third is a constant complainer who whines and finds fault in everything. They feel it is their responsibility to complain in order to make things right, but they rarely offer solutions. The fourth is unresponsive and disengaged. They often shut down during conversations and avoid answering questions directly.

Managing Aggressive and Domineering Employees

The first step in managing an aggressive and domineering employee is to maintain composure. Aggressive people attempt to deliberately upset others so that they can take advantage by exploiting weaknesses. Although it may be difficult, the first step is to offer as little reaction as possible. Take a deep breath and count to ten before responding. If you reach ten and are still upset, take a time out by walking away in order to calm down. Tell the person that you will get back to them or to let you think about the discussion. Pick your battles as there are times dealing with an aggressive person is not worth your well-being or happiness. However, as a manager, allowing an aggressive person to continually show aggression in the workplace can undermine your authority. When you have to address their actions, approach them on their level and keep the conversation brief but targeted. Be sure to meet with them in private and not in front of other staff or patients. Clearly outline the impact of their behavior using specific examples. Be sure to treat them with respect and remain calm.

Benefits of Aggressive and Domineering Employees

Although aggressive and domineering employees can be difficult to work with, there are advantages to this type of personality type in the workplace. Domineering employees make excellent leaders, especially during a crisis. Their energy can help other employees stay focused and they may be more willing than others to take on new challenges. When discussing the actions of an aggressive person, be sure to point out their strengths. This could help them focus their energies on positive actions rather than negative ones.

Dealing with Passive-Aggressive Employees

A passive-aggressive employee has behaviors that appear to be passive but are actually directed and purposeful. The actions are intended to control others or assign a negative third-party perception so that they can avoid responsibility. It is sometimes difficult to recognize a passive-aggressive employee which makes them harder to control. Once you have identified that an employee is passive-aggressive, you must address their behavior directly. Be sure to focus on your own feelings and not the behavior. Never attack the character of a passive-aggressive employee and make sure you address the situation in private. Confront them about one behavior at a time rather than all at once. If they feel the need to retreat during the conversation, allow them to do so in a dignified manner. Set a time limit to meet with them as passive-aggressive employees have a tendency to let disagreements drag on. Be sure that the person understands that you care about them.

Passive-Aggressive Behavior in the Workplace

Unfortunately, there are no benefits to allowing a passive-aggressive person continue their behaviors in the workplace. In many cases, the passive-aggressive person has developed the behaviors because they have no insight into themselves. When confronted, they feel they are treated unfairly as they may not even realize they are angry and resentful. They tend to procrastinate and are very resistant to change. They have fragile egos and do not handle any form of criticism well. They withhold information about how they feel. When an employee demonstrates passive-aggressive behavior, it must be addressed quickly and efficiently in order to prevent significant damage to morale.

Dealing with a Constantly Complaining Employee

The constant complainer is a fountain of complaints in the workplace. In most cases, complainers can be ignored. Eventually, constant complaints will lead to a confrontation with either management or another employee. The first step to address constant complainers is to schedule a meeting in a private location. Set a time limit of no more than 15 minutes. From the beginning, express empathy. Often, constant complainers simply want to know they are heard. Show appreciation for them bringing the issue to your attention, but make no judgment on whether the complaints are valid. Do not try to convince them that the problems they see are not really an issue as you will not change their mind. Ask them to provide you with some solutions to the problem. If they are complaining about a co-worker, require them to deal directly with the other person. If they cannot without intervention, offer to mediate a meeting between the two of them. Ask if the complainer wants your opinion. In most cases, they will not. They simply want to be heard.

Benefits of Chronic Complainers

Although there are those who simply complain to be heard, chronic complainers can also draw attention to issues within an organization that management may be missing. Pay attention when people complain, even those who seem to complain about everything, as there may be some underlying truth to their complaints. By asking them to provide solutions, you will also learn whether their complaint has merit. If there is no valid solution, the complaint may not be valid.

Dealing with Unresponsive Employees

Disengaged and unresponsive employees have a lack of enthusiasm or commitment to the workplace. They basically “put in time” during each shift with no excitement or passion for their job. Disengagement is a growing problem in the workplace, especially among healthcare workers who are being pulled in many different directions. If you suspect an employee is disengaged, schedule a private meeting and specifically ask if there is a problem. Skip the small talk and get to the point immediately. Explain that they appear to be disinterested in patient care or another aspect of their job and ask if there is a problem. Listen and then confirm what they say to you. Repeat what they say in order to clarify that you heard them. Don’t pressure them to talk. One of the best questions to ask is “If this problem were solved today, how would your work performance change?” If the employee answers with confidence, they are willing to repair the situation. If they do not, they may be in the wrong position. End the meeting with a commitment to action and follow-up with written documentation of what that action will be.

Engagement and Happiness

It is important to understand that engagement and happiness are two different things. An employee who is engaged is invested in the organization. By determining what it is that is making the employee disengaged, you may be able to identify larger problems in the organization that need addressing as well.

Every manager will have to deal with a difficult employee at some point. Understanding the different types of difficult employees can help you learn the best way to manage them effectively, creating a better working environment for management and staff alike.

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