Protect your practice from rude employees


One habitually rude employee – an office tyrant – can take a huge toll on your practice over time if that employee is allowed to run roughshod over co-workers without being called out and required to modify behavior.

receptionist holding hand up to another employee

Incivility is on the increase everywhere it seems, and the workplace is no exception. Incivility in the workplace can be thought of as rude behavior that does not break a rule or policy and does not rise to the level of harassment.

One survey found that 86 percent of respondents had encountered incivility in the workplace within the past year. Another found that 94 percent had worked with what they called a “toxic co-worker” within the past five years.

What behaviors are viewed as tyrannical? They include:

  • Belittling co-workers when correcting them or instructing them
  • Using sarcasm
  • Having an angry or hostile tone or attitude
  • Slamming a door or throwing down an object
  • Glaring or giving mean looks
  • Being curt or failing to use common courtesies in speech or actions
  • Becoming defensive – or even attacking – when questioned about something or given feedback
  • Talking with contempt about others not present
  • Exhibiting passive-aggressive behaviors, such as failing to pass on information that should have been shared

A common thread in these kinds of behaviors is that they might be overlooked as signs of “having a bad day” if they occurred occasionally. However, the office tyrant is someone who habitually behaves this way.

Why should you worry about someone like this in your practice? Why not let employees work out their own quirks and quarrels?

Because incivility in the workplace is like a virus – it spreads. It causes others to change their behavior for the worse also. Eventually patients begin to pick up on the hostile climate in the office, and some may choose not to return.

Productivity suffers as employees spend time obsessing about what the offending individual said or did instead of working. Or employees may go out of their way to avoid working with the tyrant. Absenteeism and turnover may eventually increase.

How should you handle these staff members?

In some offices, incivility starts at the top. Shocking, maybe, but it’s true.

The first step in getting rid of incivility among staff members is to make sure they aren’t getting it from higher up. Look at the behavior of your doctors, practice manager, supervisors – and yourself.

Generally, the higher a person’s status, the less constructive feedback they get about how others perceive them. You may need to pull aside offending high-status staff members and have a frank talk with them. It will take courage, but you may have to confront them.

Secondly, provide training about what it means to show respect for others in the workplace. You could include it as part of your antiharassment and diversity training.

If you have an employee assistance program, it probably offers such training. If not, your health plan or other employee-benefits vendors may. Local mental health practices are another resource.

Finally, hold employees accountable for treating each other – and patients – with respect. Explain that the standard goes beyond just not breaking rules or policies.

For offenders, put the desired behaviors into a performance objective, and evaluate their performance against those standards. Ultimately, you have to be willing to use your progressive discipline policy if an employee persists in acting uncivilly toward others.