Conflicts and complaints, mistakes and misconduct: how to handle staff problems effectively

11 April 2016

handling staff problems

A happy team of employees who work well with each other, and perform their duties efficiently and skilfully, is every clinic owner’s ideal scenario. If your recruitment process and staffing policies all work as you planned, then this will hopefully be the case, but you cannot expect to foresee every possible problem that may arise. Sometimes people make mistakes, and sometimes people just don’t see eye-to-eye. Sometimes people turn out to be different to how they first appeared when you met them. You can’t turn back time to avoid these issues arising, but you can deal with them effectively, and put measures in place to try and prevent them from happening again.


Conflict between staff members


When recruiting new employees, you need to think about the type of person who would best fit your existing team. The profile of your ideal new employee shouldn’t be limited to skills alone, it should include personality. This should help you find someone who suits, but you can’t expect to get it right every time. Don’t knock yourself if six months down the line a staff member acts in a way you never expected them to when you recruited them. Do try and address the issue as soon as you become aware of it.

Even if it appears that it is one particular staff member causing trouble in the team, you should still investigate the situation properly, to find out if this is definitely the case. It could be that another employee is complaining unfairly, or it could be that the problem is not solely with one member of staff. A trouble-maker isn’t necessarily the employee who makes the most noise, so don’t just make assumptions based on personality. Speak to the team members involved in the dispute, and speak to other team members who may be able to shed light on the situation.

If you find that a clash of personalities causes issues in your team, and a bad atmosphere has been created because of this, it may not be that one member of staff has committed an act that necessitates disciplinary action, but you will need to address the problem before it gets worse. Speak to your staff and advise that they don’t have to be best friends to work alongside each other, but they must be able to put their differences aside when in their workplace. Get their agreement that they will act professionally from now on, and inform them of what the consequences will be if they fail to do so.


Defining what is a mistake and what is misconduct


Discontent in your team may have an effect on staff morale, but certain events that are solely to do with staff performance could cause more serious issues for your business. For example, imagine that a therapist has performed a laser treatment and has burnt the client’s skin. Your first priority will be to make sure your client is cared for and placated, but you will also have to ensure this does not happen again, as this could seriously affect your clinic’s reputation.

Unless you were in the room at the time, and you were watching the therapist use the equipment, you cannot make an immediate judgement as to why this happened. Even if your customer claims that your therapist has been negligent, you cannot simply assume that this is the case, or that she made an error, before thorough investigations have taken place. You should speak to your therapist in private to let her explain the situation, and check the equipment she used. You should ask your therapist to run through exactly what she did during the treatment to check that she was fully informed on the correct procedures and equipment settings. If you dismiss a staff member for negligence, but the fault was actually with your training process, you could be accused of unfair dismissal.

If you find that all of your equipment was functioning correctly, your therapist was fully trained in the use of that specific machine, and that you must conclude that the therapist was at fault, then you will have to decide whether to class this as an error that could warrant a warning, or an act of misconduct that could require more serious disciplinary action. If you feel that your therapist made a one-off mistake, and her poor performance was out of character, then take the time to establish why your therapist may have made that mistake, and what she will do to ensure it does not happen again. If you feel that the incident was due to carelessness alone, and you are concerned about your therapist’s skills and attitude, then you may need to consider disciplinary action.


Disciplinary action, by the book


When an incident occurs, whether or not you think it may lead to disciplinary action, you must document everything from the start. Record the events, and all of the conversations you have regarding the issue. The trail will demonstrate that you have followed your company policies correctly, and it will also help you to analyse the situation. If you are issuing warnings and asking employees to agree to a particular course of action, you must document this so you can refer back to it if the issue arises again and you need to take further action.

You should have your disciplinary policy included in staff contracts, or at least a reference to where it can be obtained. When you are faced with having to take disciplinary action against a staff member, you must follow this policy, otherwise you could be accused of acting in breach of contract. You must also tell your employee about the consequences of disciplinary action before you start proceedings. If you follow your policies to the letter, keep employees informed, and record every detail, it will help make a difficult process a little easier to handle.


Prevent small problems becoming big issues


You may not be able to stop all staffing problems in the early stages, but there are some things you should do as standard that may help you to do so. Make sure you monitor your workforce, or employ a manager to do so, and conduct regular one-to-ones. If you keep in touch with your staff, you are far more likely to find out about problems while they are still at an early stage, and you may be able to clear up issues before they develop. These reviews may take up some time in your schedule, but they will be worth it in the long run.


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