Fire problem employees before they damage your practice

By Sally McKenzie, CEO Printer Friendly Version

The thought of firing a team member makes most dentists uneasy—which is why problem employees tend to stay on practice payrolls much longer than they should. Rather than address the situation, dentists convince themselves it will get better, and that the employee will eventually start living up to expectations. Unfortunately, that usually doesn’t happen.

While dealing with problem employees is never easy, it’s a necessary part of your role as the practice leader. Their lackluster performance or poor attitude will only serve to damage the practice, hurting team morale, practice production numbers and ultimately your bottom line.

Most of your team members want to do their part to move the practice forward, but from time to time you’ll find yourself with employees who do nothing but hold the practice back. These are the employees who come to work late every day, or who have clearly demonstrated they don’t have the skills necessary to perform their job. Disciplining employees who can’t show up on time and offering additional training to team members who aren’t meeting expectations might help, but, unfortunately, there are times when the best thing you can do is part ways.

Yes, firing an employee can be difficult, but once it’s over, you’ll be glad you did. Team conflict will subside while your office becomes more productive. The work environment will be much less stressful, and you’ll be able to hire someone who is right for the role.

But how do you truly know when it’s time to fire an employee? Here are a few common issues that may lead to a dismissal:

- The employee refuses to follow established office policies
- The employee is dishonest, argumentative, or difficult to get along with
- The employee fails to carry out responsibilities and seems to have no idea what it means to be part of a team
- The employee spreads gossip
- The employee has a negative attitude toward just about everything
- The employee does a lot of eye rolling and is always quick with a sarcastic remark or a snide comment
- The employee rarely shows up to work on time and her/his lunch hour is more like a lunch hour and a half
- The employee hardly ever follows directions
- The employee shares confidential information
- The employee is secretive about her/his duties in an effort to seem irreplaceable

This list is by no means all-inclusive, but you get the idea. Employees who exhibit these behaviors are hurting your practice, and that’s something you simply can’t ignore.

Put a system in place
Once you’re ready to address issues with an underperforming employee, I suggest you use a clearly established discipline system to do so. With such a system, the penalties become stronger if the misconduct or poor performance continues. You might start with a verbal reprimand and then proceed to a written reprimand and then suspension. If the issues are never resolved, the process ends with termination.

The process should take 60 to 90 days (unless the employee’s behavior is so damaging it requires immediate action) and everything that happens should be clearly documented. This timeframe gives employees the opportunity to make the necessary changes to avoid being let go.

To start the discipline process, talk with the team member about what the problem is and what changes need to be made. Make the requested changes both verbally and in writing. Work with the employee to develop an agreement that clearly spells out those changes, and then make sure both of you sign it before you file it away.

If the employee makes the necessary changes, great. There’s no need to terminate employment and you now have a more productive team member who’s ready to shine.

Be prepared
Once you decide to fire an employee, it’s important to make sure it doesn’t look like you came to this conclusion on a whim. That’s why I suggest you monitor the employee’s progress during the disciplinary period, provide regular feedback and document every conversation you have. This shows you gave the employee the opportunity to improve, but that the problems identified were never corrected. Terminating employment was simply the next step in the progressive discipline plan.

You’re only as strong as your team
You can’t build a successful practice on your own. You really need a strong team to support you, and that means hiring talented individuals who strive to excel and do their part to move the practice forward. Just one problem employee can cause a lot of damage, bringing the rest of the team down, potentially costing you patients and keeping you from meeting your goals. Now I know firing an employee can be difficult, but you don’t have to do it on your own. If you need more guidance, feel free to reach out. I’ll help get you through this process. And once it’s done, we can put a hiring plan in place that will help ensure you bring on the right people from the beginning, so you can avoid this situation in the future.

Next Thursday: This is how to handle firing an employee Share this Newsletter

Interested in speaking to Sally about your practice concerns? Email sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com
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