All-Too-Human Resources: When Employee Problems Become Yours
“Leave it at the door” is a phrase doctors and managers love to use when it comes to employees’ personal problems–and in an ideal world, it’s exactly the right idea. After all, your employees are paid to not just be physically present, but mentally focused and on task while at work.
But we don’t live in an ideal world, and as an experienced employer, you know employees sometimes arrive distracted or upset, or become so during the course of the day. You’ve surely even had days like that yourself. And with patient care on the line, distracted employees are both costly and dangerous.
Dealing with the various and complicated “human” factors involved in HR can all too easily overwhelm your limited resources, affecting your ability to concentrate on your own tasks, and upsetting the productive office atmosphere you work so hard to maintain. So what should you do when employees bring personal problems to work?
Keeping the following tips in mind from the hiring point onwards will help you manage compassionately and effectively, supporting both the employee and the practice as you deal with personal or work-related employee problems.
Near the beginning of employment:
- DO take time to build a relationship with your employees before any major problems emerge. This makes any management issues that arise later easier to handle. Learn what’s important to them, and make sure they feel comfortable and appreciated. This will help you create and maintain a positive work environment!
- DON’T let them get into a habit of telling you about their every personal problem on a daily basis. This is a level of involvement that puts a burden on the employer-employee relationship and will be hard to back out of once it becomes a pattern. Instead, gently but firmly redirect their attention to the fact that you both have work to get done, and this is not the time to discuss these issues.
When the employee comes in upset or a personal problem emerges:
- DO show compassion, listen, and demonstrate your concern and support. Show confidence in their ability to resolve or get past the problem. If the problem stems from something at the practice, assure the employee that you will address the issue and come up with a reasonable solution or alternative if possible.
- DON’T specifically tell the employee what to do about a personal matter (you don’t want to be blamed later for a personal life decision) or promise a work solution that will put an unreasonable burden on you or the practice.
If an attendance, performance, or productivity issue arises:
- DO set clear expectations for the employee. Let them know that you understand, but that you and the doctor also need to see specific behaviors from them.
- DON’T skip your documentation of any problems because you know the employee was upset at the time. If you have the right employee handbook and management policies in place, you should have any flexibility you need to address the situation fairly, while still creating a record of your interactions and decisions to protect you later if you need it.
Human resources management is a delicate balance in any practice, and it takes care and attention at the right moments to prevent the scale from tipping. For an employee who has otherwise been a productive and strong team player, your words and actions now may help ensure that a snowball-sized problem today doesn’t build into an emotional avalanche (at least not at work!) on a later date.