SLAM! There goes the back door of the office. Well, “you-know-who” has arrived. As usual, there's no doubt in anyone's mind what mood Sour Suzy's walking in with today. Clear the way, if she has to look at you you're likely to turn to stone. Forget the fact that she's trotted in 15 minutes late … again.
Just pretend nothing is wrong even though that jolt registered a 7.3 on the Richter Scale, and patients in the waiting room were startled out of their seats. Look the other way so you don't notice the tension that has just rolled through the practice like a thick fog that won't lift until closing time.
Disgruntled whispers, disgusted sighs, rolling eyes, and piercing stares punctuate staff “communication” for the rest of the day. Everyone is walking on egg shells. Morale is sinking. And what does doctor have to say about it? “Oh, that's just Suzy. You know how she gets sometimes. Just let it blow over”.
HELLOOO doctor, you are the leader of your team, the captain of your ship. Don't just stand there! Do something. As much as you may dislike and try to avoid dealing with conflict, it is ripping through your practice with as much destruction as a five alarm fire. But you keep ignoring the sirens because you are terrified you will get burned, all the while practice productivity is going up in smoke. It's time to take a close look at those smoldering embers you've been long ignoring.
In the dental practice, conflict typically presents in the day-to-day routine – namely the systems. For example, the business employee constantly claims that she/he doesn't have time to complete important responsibilities such as confirming appointments or running key status reports. The doctor, busy with patients, doesn't question it because he/she can't assess whether the busyness claim is reality or a convenient excuse.
The scheduling coordinator continually blocks the day incorrectly. The doctor thinks he/she has repeatedly emphasized the importance of scheduling correctly, but the pattern of wrong appointments on the wrong days prevails. The hygienist is habitually late and generally unpleasant. These common sources of conflict are allowed to fester because they are not dealt with directly and employees are not held accountable. Consequently, hostility often becomes palpable.
The rest of the team is left to stoke the flames of discontent, pick up the slack, vent their frustrations, and pay far more attention to this week's internal crisis than to improving anything related to the patient or the practice.
Not only does conflict dramatically interfere in your ability to better your practice and your team, it is expensive. Conflict costs individual businesses hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars per year. It erodes team members' commitment to the practice and chips away at individual success and professional pride. Studies have shown that up to 30% of a typical manager's time is spent handling conflict. Multiply that by the number of employees in the practice and you start to see the financial toll conflict takes on a dental office. But that doesn't begin to account for the cost to doctor and team in terms of day-to-day stress.
A report in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine noted that healthcare expenditures are nearly 50% greater for workers who report high levels of stress, and numerous studies find that stress is commonly a result of conflict in the workplace. In addition, turnover is significantly higher in workplaces with ongoing or unresolved conflict. Some estimates indicate that it costs up to 150% of the employee's salary to recruit, hire, and train a replacement.
Next week, grab the fire hose, doctor; it's time to douse the flames of conflict once and for all.
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