October 29, 2014

Stop the Madness! Putting an End to Workplace Drama in Your Practice

workplace drama between two employees
Constant blowups. Schedule turmoil. Whining about everything, from the patients to the equipment to each other. Resistance to change. Ever dread going into the office because you know you’ll have to deal with all of these each and every day? Feel like your work energy is being sucked down an endless vortex? And does it seem like the same few people are behind it all, draining away your enthusiasm, your optimism, and your vitality with endless complaints, negative comments, and trouble-stirring gossip?

This article is for you.

Many of us feel like workplace drama is just a fact of office life. But is that really the truth… or is that exactly what the Drama Kings and Queens on our teams want us to believe? Believe it or not, it is possible to cancel the soap opera and regain control in your practice. Here’s how to understand what the whiners, prima donnas, and other drama majors in your office are after, so you can steal their spotlights and get what you need.

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

We already know part of what makes a Drama King or Queen tick… these employees obviously thrive on gossip, attention, and the big pots of trouble that they’re constantly brewing. But what are they really after?

The exact goal can vary, but here are some common ones:

  • Preventing change. Problem employees often create drama or obstacles to generate fear or doubt and block change.
  • Undermining praise or advancement that would otherwise be given to someone else.
  • Destabilizing office relationships, so that you and other team members don’t form alliances that will threaten them.
  • Grasping at power or control, and claiming or protecting one’s work “territory.”
  • Clamoring for appreciation and attention from you and the team.

Various personality characteristics play into these goals, including insecurity, control issues, and outright malice. Not all of your drama-prone employees are consciously undermining the practice or your authority – some may be good workers when managed effectively. But others are truly toxic, so be careful!

Comparing Bad Apples to Melodramatic Oranges

So how do you pitch a more effective battle against your practice’s troublemakers? First, step back and look at the bigger picture. Just as these employees have a variety of different goals, there are several different types of Drama Kings and Queens. Why does this matter? To get the upper hand, you need to understand which type of person you’re dealing with, and choose your strategy wisely.

Here are some of the most common drama-generators in the average practice, and which management methods are likely to work with each type:

Prima Donnas love the limelight and are great at relationships. Don’t get caught up in their drama, and do get the doctor/owner on your side before they do! You’ll want to avoid putting them on the spot (they will use it!). Likewise, asking them to ‘tone it down’ does not work. The best path forward is to acknowledge their behavior and publicize their new goals – they won’t want to lose face.

Whiners need to vent and whine about everything. To deal with them, do listen and empathize to an extent, but then ask them for solutions. What won’t work: solving the problem for them or telling them to grow up.

Complicators place obstacles in every path. Try to get them to slowly upgrade rather than change. Enlist their help and acknowledge their efforts. Don’t try to change their mind or asking them to be a positive team player.

Controllers and bullies are vying for power. Stand your ground and be assertive, deliver on your promises, and give them narrow options. Don’t get defensive, antagonize them, or participate in finger-pointing (they have more experience than you).

Toxics are manipulative and don’t necessarily care whether their behavior is right or wrong, so don’t try to appeal to their ethics or show them the impact of their actions (they may enjoy seeing it). Instead, take all precautions and get help from the doctor and an HR expert. Document EVERYTHING, and use stealth or micromanagement as needed, so you can get them out when needed and minimize their harm.

Whatever type you’re dealing with, it can be all too easy to put off an unpleasant confrontation, even once you have a plan. But unchecked workplace drama will have nearly unending repercussions on your practice! Aside from creating a toxic team environment, where complaining and excuses become contagious and good employees quit or lose hope, the business will eventually also suffer from lost productivity, increased legal dangers, loss of reputation, and lost sanity (yours and the doctor’s – RIP!).

Sanity aside, chronic stress is detrimental to your own health and that of your entire team, and it destroys the work environment. For that reason alone, you need to put a damper on the drama.

Ready, Set, Calm Down!

Once you’ve adjusted your perspective and taken into account your past interactions with that individual, it’s much easier to plan your next conversation and the specific, measurable goals you will set together. If those goals aren’t met, document the results, so you can take steps towards letting them go. If they are met, then move on toward repairing and rebuilding your team.

All along the way, be sure to get support if and when you need it. (Have a question? Call CEDR at 866-414-6056, or email info@cedrsolutions.com. Our HR advisors are here to help!) Dealing with workplace drama is never fun, but you can learn techniques to handle it better and pull your practice back on track toward management’s goals.

(Thanks to Linda Swindling’s book, Stop Complainers and Energy Drainers, for these “complainer” categories.)

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 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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Please note: CEDR Solutions specializes in providing expert HR support to owners and operators of independently owned medical and dental practices.