Help, I Hired a Zombie Employee!

Sure, it may seem like having a zombie staggering around on your staff is “equal opportunity” – after all, you wouldn’t discriminate based on a silly thing like a pulse! But whether it’s your type-A typical zombie, a vampire who insists on wearing midnight black scrubs, or a run-of-the-mill werewolf, they all share one thing in common. One bite, and the entire team can be transformed into stiff-legged, growling, life-sucking beings. What would YOU do if your latest hire turned Halloweenish?

There are all kinds of ways you can improve your hiring process so this happens less frequently, but it still takes special tactics to deal with that new employee who turns out to be a bit of a fright. For surefire strategy and some seasonal fun, check out the following article, originally written for the American Association of Dental Office Managers’ (AADOM) newsletter*** and reposted, with some extra modifications just for fun, below.

And for those of you who work in non-dental medical offices: if your new hire is showing fangs, fur, or requesting braaaiiinnnzzzzz for lunch, all tips below still apply. (And by the way: if you actually provide brains for lunch, and then discuss the practice during that lunch, the employee must be on the clock! But that’s another article.)

Here’s what to do when your team goes ghoulish.

When HR Gets Spooky

It’s nearly Halloween – all the kids are planning this year’s costume, and whenever you turn around, you trip over a pumpkin. But life at your practice is galloping along as smoothly as ever…right?

Or maybe not. Maybe you’re dealing with your own ZOMBIFIED haunted-house atmosphere in your office!

When does HR get spooky? As a doctor or office manager, this happens any time you feel out of control or when you can’t quite bring the team into focus, so your vibe is less “happy practice” and more “horror house.” But never fear, there’s hope…even before the end of the Halloween season.

Let’s peek behind the Halloween mask of some of the spookiest HR problems, and see what we’re really dealing with:

Fright #1: Zombies in the Office

Things are OK in your practice, but your employees are a bit…off. Your team is just going through the motions. They’re bored, they’re listless, and productivity is suffering. Everything seems like it takes such an effort from you. And the next thing you know, you look around, and OH NO! You’ve got ZOMBIES!

We’ve written recently about boosting employee engagement and morale, and these tips work great for fighting zombie incursions year-round. For a quick-and-dirty approach, analyze your own mood first (check for zombie bites!) and figure out how you can put a smile back on your own face.

Then, see if you can arrange a mini-incentive or two for your team. Let them know you’re trying to make things more fun, take suggestions, and let them help. Along the way, give out extra praise and thank-yous for all work done well. The important thing is to not ignore the zombies and hope they will get better on their own. They won’t.

For those stubborn, stone-cold zombies who don’t seem to want to revive, sit down with them informally, and discuss your observations and concerns about their lack of motivation. Just bring it up. Trust us, they know they’ve been walking around stiff-legged, vacant-eyed, moaning and groaning. They need rescuing! Ask them what they believe is causing their work fatigue, and what might be done or changed to solve the problem. (Not all solutions should involve money!)

Be sure to document this conversation afterwards, along with what solutions the employee came up with. Then, follow up in a few days (no longer than a week) to see how they are doing. For your worst-case zombie(s), you may have to work your way up the Progressive Corrective Coaching ladder until the employee improves, or open the front door and turn them loose on another office. However, for the majority, working in fun incentives and problem-solving will reanimate your team and help them leave their zombie ways behind.

Fright #2: Vampires Wearing Scrubs

Office zombies aren’t the only problem team members you need to worry about during the Halloween season. What if you need to fight an infestation of VAMPIRES? Here’s how you’ll know, and what to do.

These vampires might not have showy fangs or shy away from the garlic bread at the Olive Garden…instead, they suck away your time, your energy, and your patience. You’ll recognize the phenomenon in that employee who complains about every policy, the Negative Neil or Nancy who has to describe each problem, inconvenience, or injustice in excruciating detail and then point the finger at anything but a solution. But you’ve only got so much blood and attention to give. How can you stop them?

Your primary tactic is to only listen up to a point. When negative, time-sucking, energy-draining employees constantly bring only problems to you – and especially when they bring the same problems to you, over and over again – do show compassion, and your support. After that, though, we have a little trick-or-treat of our own for you to try.

Here’s your vampire-vanquishing secret: Whenever your team brings up concerns, let them know they must also provide solutions. Again, at least one suggestion should not cost money.

Every problem is the front end to a solution. In fact, solutions would not exist without problems. So what we like to do, in certain instances, is to enlist the employee into solving their own problem. Say the problem is, “We never have enough (insert anything here).” Your response: “That’s the second time I’ve heard this issue, so here’s what we are going to do. I’m going to make it your job to check in with ______ on the 25th every month and make sure that we order enough.”

Just remember, putting the complainer in the position to have to solve the problem or deal with it themselves often sends them HOOOWLLLING (it might even turn them into a werewolf – see below!). But at that point, you can follow your standard coaching process. And if you find that long-term issues are sapping morale, take steps to handle them; don’t let them fester or continue to drain your and your team’s energy.

Fright #3: You Hired a Werewolf

You just hired a new hygienist, and boy is she great. She gave all the right answers during your interview, she’s super friendly, and she has all the experience you could have wished for. The first month is smooth sailing, and you’re patting yourself on the back for your best hire yet.

Then, one day, she turns…she’s a WEREWOLF! OK, not literally, but the change is almost as dramatic.

If there was a warning sign, you didn’t see it. Suddenly your amiable new employee is making trouble. An associate doctor comes screaming out of the operatory, “She bit me!” Well, maybe not, but the problem is just as severe. Your great new employee has developed some sort of feud with your schedule coordinator and she’s bypassing protocol and bringing those problems straight to the doctor. You’ve had two weeks of misery now and things are getting worse – she’s dragging in the whole team! What went wrong? Was this a bad hire? What can you do about it?

While there are many ways to improve your hiring odds, occasionally you may realize after the fact that a new hire is simply not likely to work out. Some people can mask who they are during interviews or may not even realize what they are doing…and the result is that your new employee who put her best side on display during the hiring process is finally showing her fangs. This is when you thank your lucky stars that your employee handbook includes a Getting Acquainted Period, and also includes that during this period, the employee is still “at-will” (Your handbook states this, right? Leaving that part out can cost you unemployment benefits, too).

This 60 or 90 day Getting Acquainted Period allows you to easily let go of a new employee if things aren’t working out. If you’ve discussed the issue with her and given her a chance to improve, but things just aren’t getting better, cut your ties sooner rather than later. Again, set your werewolf employee loose so she can work at some other practice.

Happy Halloween from CEDR! All seasonal comments in this article are purely for fun, with no offense intended. While zombies are OBVIOUSLY real, vampires and werewolves are imaginary and are not likely to walk into your practice. But call us if they do!


*** By the way, if you’re a dental office manager and you aren’t a member yet, check AADOM out — they’re a great group of people committed to providing education and professional development for dental management professionals. Dentists, you may want to recommend this group to your managers.

(And yes, CEDR is an official AADOM HR partner, because AADOM rocks!)

Oct 30, 2014

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance based on applicable local, state and/or federal U.S. employment law that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.

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