Former Employee Back and Creating Problems

Question:

I work in a medical office and I replaced a lady ten years older than me who went back to the hospital at the request of the M.D. to manage a program for him there. I came from the hospital and had been working with him on that side and turned down the job he offered her, because I didn’t want that responsibility.

So, Mary took the hospital job. He assured her she would have a position somewhere in the office after the hospital job. When she found out I was taking the office position, she cried, and said she knew she would never get her job back.

She was not very effective at the hospital and she is back now, and has been for a year. We all knew it would be a problem, and it is.

I have tried to be cordial and professional, but I have boundaries and she inches closer daily. She worked with the M.D.for 15 yrs or so and she keeps him stirred up constantly.

It has been a year and it is time to face the elephant in the living room. The doctor has essentially made her untouchable to the office manager. I am not a whiner, so I don’t go to him, but the former employee does constantly. She wants to have her finger in everything about him, and it is a problem.

I am ready to sit and talk with everyone together. I do want to be kind, and mature, but she needs to respect my boundaries.

Help me with key phrases perhaps an outline etc. for the meeting. She is 63, I am 53, The Dr. is 58. No one is romantically involved. She is wealthy, could retire and enjoy her life, but she gets all her “kudos” from being involved with this M.D. practice.

Signed,

Frustrated


Answer:

Dear Frustrated:

It’s a positive thing that you want to meet about this and get it resolved once and for all. I imagine it will take more than one meeting, but that at least shows your willingness to discuss it and work for a solution.

Let me give you some thoughts, as an outsider, about this situation, based on similar ones and on what I’ve noticed about your question. If you re-read your question you’ll see that you didn’t ever mention anything specifically that your coworker has done to create a problem for the practice, for patients or even for you. You don’t say what her new job is and if what she is doing that you don’t like is outside of her work or within the scope of her work.

You do mention your personal boundaries and your respective ages. So, to an outsider this at first appears to a power play rather than a situation that can be linked to the quality or quantity of work that is being done. I know there is more to it than that–but my reaction to your overview is a reminder to emphasize the effect on work in all of your conversations about this issue. That not only will allow you to be more persuasive about the issues, but it will keep you from appearing to be mostly trying to defend your status in the office.

For one thing, everyone has a role in making sure work is done right…especially in a medical office. So, if she is pointing out serious problems she is not whining, she is complaining appropriately. It may be the doctor welcomes her insights and encourages her to come to him. In that case, you can hardly blame her for enjoying being in his confidence. She still could handle it differently, but from her viewpoint she may feel no one listens and she has to talk to him directly.

However, I’ll assume her conversations with the doctor are more self-serving than trying to be helpful and that her complaints or comments are unjustified. When you meet, keep the emphasis on the effect on work that all of this has had.

Have specific situations or actions of hers and repeatedly link those to work effectiveness for everyone. I can’t give you a good example for that because you didn’t say anything specific that she has done. But, just to provide something for this response, let’s say she tells the doctor that insurance filing is not being done correctly but she is wrong about that.

There are several things that could have a negative effect on work:

*She has disrupted the doctor’s work and taken his focus away from his primary concern–the patients–for no good reason. *She has taken time she could have spent doing her own work. *She has created a feeling that she is more interested in getting others in trouble than she is in correcting a problem, thus making it less likely people will ask her for help or advice. *She has delayed a real solution by waiting until she could tell the doctor instead of telling someone in an appropriate way. *She has undermined the authority of the office manager, to whom she should have shared her concerns. *She has taken the focus of everyone away from their primary concern–service to patients–and placed it on worrying about whether or not she is checking on things just to make them look badly. *She has harmed team communications and made it more difficult for people to share concerns because of fear of how she’ll use that against them. *She has caused you and others to use time that could be better spent in your work, by having to respond to her critiques and complaints. *She distracts everyone when they are working because of the perception that her interest is not in helping the team, but rather in having a supervisory role over everyone. *When the office was busy and patients needed assistance, there was tension and frustration among the staff because of her actions. This requires extra mental and emotional effort to ensure the patients are not effected negatively. *The problem person is losing her ability to be helpful and be a contributing member of the team because people are not seeing her as someone who has value to them and the office, only as someone who is agitating the doctor and others.

Let’s say she is correct about a complaint to the doctor. Some of the same things still apply. She could better use the doctor’s time, her time and your time, by discussing problems directly with you. The other links to work still apply.

When you lay out a list of things that someone is doing to harm the medical practice of the office, and show how much better it would be if those distractions, frustrations and results were not present, it makes it very difficult for someone to justify their behavior as “trying to help.”

It also gives the office manager a reason to take a stronger stance. I doubt the doctor would say the former employee is untouchable if she is caught stealing, or if she is seen harming a patient, or if she is using drugs. So, it isn’t that he doesn’t want her to ever be corrected–he just doesn’t think the issues are anything except personality problems between employees (especially between female employees.) So, that is my main recommendation for a meeting: Put the emphasis on how everything comes back to harming the work of the office and the individuals in it.

You might then want to clarify the role each person has individually and as a team. The office manager would be helpful for this too. What was the role the woman was brought back to fulfill? What is her job and job description? What is yours? What is she doing that is outside her job description and that she should stop, in order to not create harm for the practice and the others employees, and potentially for patients.

(And remember, anything that is emotionally upsetting to those who deal with patients or clients can inadvertently have a negative affect on the patients or clients.)

After the meeting, it will be up to everyone to try to make things comfortable again. This is best accomplished by staying focused on work, not on each other. Put the work of the office first, rather than being hypersensitive to everything she or anyone else does.

Then, rather than observing and fuming about something, immediately, firmly but courteously stop it or express your concerns about it. “Jean, please! I’m doing this the way I’ve been instructed and the way I know it works. Please stop correcting me. That distracts me and puts me on edge and dreading having you come around. Stop it, please.”

You can sound friendly and kind, but hold the line. On the other hand, if she’s right, she’s right. Thank her and correct things for that time.

The bottom line is that it does no good–as you have found–to be aware that something is a problem, but not do anything specific about it except to talk behind her back or feel frustrated. The best time to have dealt with this was from day one when she came back. But, since that didn’t happen, and so much time has elapsed, she has developed the habit of behaving as she does and she thinks she can do so without repercussions. She needs to feel some repercussions. It needs to be more pleasant for her to do the right thing than to do what she has been doing.

Let me add one more note. Your leadership role in this will certainly be appreciated. But, include your office manager so her role is significant as well. That way the various roles of the office are reinforced.

With luck you’ll either achieve a better workplace, with the former employee being able to add her expertise and experience, or she will move on and things will also improve. Best wishes in your efforts.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.