I Don’t Like To Make Threats To Get Rules Obeyed!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about manager threats: Frequently I resort to statements like it is an expected behavior and you need to make a decision to accept it or consider looking elsewhere.

I am the manager of a diverse group of respiratory therapist at the only hospital in a community of 60,000. Sometimes it seems like pulling teeth to get them all to agree and act on the latest policies coming from administration, such as no smoking on company grounds including the parking lots. Frequently I resort to statements like it is an expected behavior and you need to make a decision to accept it or consider looking elsewhere. I would prefer employees would accept new rules and not push the envelope. How can I get the message across without implied threats?

Signed, Not A Dentist

Dear Not A Dentist:

Apparently not all in your diverse group of respiratory therapists have psychological ownership of the rules and policies. You don’t say how the rules are made. Ample discussion of the why for a policy or rule and the process of who makes the rules has a lot to do with buying in to what are the rules. Threats of firing can motivate compliance if when rules are broken, the transgressors are penalized. What do the hospital administrators have to say about who makes policy and rules? And about what must be done to see that they are followed?

Are the rules spelled out accompanied with good reasons and with the penalties made clear for those who do not obey them? Have you spoken with those above about the failure of your group to live up to them? What do your superiors expect you to do? And if you don’t make your group obey, what threatens you? Might it be time to step back from threats and lay those policies and rules on the table? Might it be time for those who dislike the rules to present their objections in a spirited forum to the rule makers? And for the rule makers to seek creative solutions and modification where reasonable and possible and to lay down the law regarding those for which there is no compromise? One company near here recently made a smoke-free policy that stated no employee will smoke, either on the premises, at home, or elsewhere. Incentives and medical help is to be provided for those who will make a sincere and concerted effort to quit, but those who won’t, will be fired. The reasoning behind this policy was to lower the company’s medical bills.

Now that company has the problem of enforcing this mandate through the honor system, surveillance and/or testing. And the employees who feel that the smoke-free employees policy is unfair must comply, cheat, or make a case for modification of that policy.Your challenge is not unlike this company’s. You have policies and rules–no doubt made by and mandated from above. You have resisters and non-compliers. What will you do? Will you confront those with threats and more threats and penalties for rule breakers? Will you provide a forum for the resisters and help them make their voices heard–possibly taking their case up to the policy makers? Will you find other ways to transform your group of therapists into a team of respiratory therapists? Transforming a work group into a team takes dynamic coaching–coaching that has frequent skull sessions to ask: What went well this week? What needs improving? What might we do to make each others’ jobs easier and more effective? Are we having fun? Are we enabling our patients to not only get back to health but to do so while they are having fun?

These thoughts may not solve your problem, but hopefully they will spur you to see your self not as a policeman but as a coach and as a creative-empathetic person. Does this make even a little sense to you? I invite you to share what you do and what does or doesn’t work. Saving face is an ongoing matter especially when one is not seen as a happy camper. May you be a champion of change and a cheerleader for your group. Think WEGO.

William Gorden