Addressing management issues

Aug. 1, 2010

Cranky employee creates chaos

Q A phlebotomist whose job is to roam from one client office to another is under my supervision. She is having problems at home, so she often comes to work in a bad mood. She complains about every little thing that happens in the clients’ offices; she tries to make it seem as if the client office is very busy.

She has been forgetting things, getting messages and instructions wrong, and acting as if she is unable to learn anything new. When I say anything to her, she replies in a hostile tone. Other employees are uncomfortable when she is in the office and are much more at ease when she is not around. She has a position of some authority, and she complains of the other person who also has some authority.

Because she is acting defensive and unwilling to listen, I do not want to give her quarterly evaluation without someone else present. I believe she will misconstrue what I say. How do I best deal with this case?

A While quarterly evaluations for ongoing feedback for your phlebotomy team are great, you should address the inappropriate behavior of this phlebotomist immediately. What is causing this employee’s negative attitude does not really matter, because her behavior on the job is unacceptable.

Note what your other employees have reported about their experiences with this phlebotomist that have made them uncomfortable, so that you can use these examples (without naming anyone) to base your assessment of the phlebotomist. Work directly with your human resources (HR) staff to determine the best approach to handle counseling this employee. You could always begin the session with this phlebotomist with a peer or HR representative on standby to facilitate if the initial conversation between you and the employee does not stay on task. You cannot permit this hostile work environment to continue; your other employees will appreciate the results of your addressing this issue immediately.
You cannot permit this hostile
work environment to continue …

Since this phlebotomist roams to multiple client offices and has a position of authority, then the job description must cover the expectations of customer service, whether internal or external. Relate these negative behaviors directly to the job criteria to demonstrate to the phlebotomist that she is not performing her job up to standards. Focus on her behaviors and not the “he said-she said” conversations.

You could offer her resources such as an employee assistance program (EAP) to help her deal with her problems. Ultimately, this employee must understand that this ongoing negativity must cease, or she will be faced with corrective actions up to and including termination.

—Paul Labbe
VP Operations
CompuNet Clinical Laboratories
Dayton, OH

A Is this new behavior, or are her problems at home a justification for a continuing pattern of disrupting the work environment? Many employees have issues they are coping with at home but most strive to be positive, productive members of a team. It is unfair to allow one person to control the situation so that her emotional stress becomes a burden to others. By seeking a solution to the problem, everyone will benefit. You have to get the ball rolling immediately.

I am not a licensed mental-health professional, however, her behavior may be a symptom of an underlying issue such as depression. Many concerns you mentioned parallel symptoms of depression. According to these include feelings of sadness, irritability, frustration (even over small matters), slowed thinking, and difficulty with concentrating and remembering. This, of course, does not excuse her behavior. Offer her your compassion along with any company resources available if you believe she may be suffering from depression.

If you would opt to retain her as an employee if her behavior improved, focus on the attitude at work and offer help through an EAP. Your company may provide access to someone in HR who can help you formulate a non-accusatory conversation and who may be present for the discussion.

Best wishes. I am certain this is stressful for you, too.

—Francee Preston
Patient Relations Specialist
State Volunteer Mutual Insurance Company
Brentwood, TN

Bottom line: Do not procrastinate when dealing with unacceptable behaviors. If you have an HR department, utilize it to help you follow your facility’s policies and procedures. If you keep this employee, set forth some measurable goals with specific timelines. Mentor the individual or have her buddy with someone who can show her what exemplifies good workplace behavior.

Anne Pontius is a senior medical practice consultant with State Volunteer Mutual Insurance Co. in Brentwood, TN, and president of CLMA. Send questions to Ms. Pontius at [email protected].

MLO’s “Management Q & A” provides practical, up-to-date solutions to readers’ management issues from a panel of laboratory management experts. Readers may send questions to Anne Pontius at [email protected]. Unless otherwise noted as “confi dential” by readers, all queries will be considered for publication without further notice to them. Names, institution, city, and state will be removed before publication.