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Resolving employee conflict

Q: Two members of my staff don’t get along with each other—at all. The constant bickering and other childish behavior have me at my wit’s end. Sometimes I feel like I’m an elementary school teacher as opposed to a manager. This isn’t what I signed on for, and it’s really affecting my attitude toward the job. Any suggestions you can offer will be appreciated.

A: Employee conflict is a major source of frustration for managers, and a major time suck. Research shows that managers spend at least 25 percent of their time resolving workplace conflict. This equates to approximately 500 hours per year. Not a very good use of your time or the practice’s salary dollars, is it?

And that’s only the impact on the manager. From an employee standpoint, a work environment rife with conflict likewise results in frustration, and this frustration results in job dissatisfaction, disengagement, and potential turnover.

That turnover also has financial repercussions. The cost of replacing an employee is approximately 1.5 to 2 times the employee’s salary and benefits, when you factor in recruitment expenses, on-boarding costs, and lost productivity.

Needless to say, resolving employee conflict is a managerial must.

But how do you do this? A wide range of personalities, points of view, and approaches to tasks make conflict almost a given, don’t they?

Perhaps. Yet, fortunately, you have tools at your disposal to help alleviate conflict: office policies, job descriptions, and performance appraisals.

Here’s how to leverage these tools.

Office policies

If, for example, you have a policy about patient billing and collection, insert a statement similar to this: Staff members will work together as a team for billing efficiency and maximum success in collection.

A modified version of this sentence will work in other policies as well, including a policy for patient scheduling and appointments.

When appropriate, you may choose to get more specific, as in: The receptionist will work closely with medical staff to ensure timely patient scheduling and attention to patients keeping their appointments.

When inserting these kinds of statements, give some thought to points of staff conflict (and your pain points) and try to address them.

Once you make changes to policies, distribute the revised policies to staff members, with the changes highlighted. You should include an introductory email, stating that staff members are required to comply with office policies.

Job descriptions

At the same time, take a look at the job descriptions for the various positions in your office. These documents should include individual tasks, as well as overlapping responsibilities and areas the position supports.

For example, the receptionist’s job description may include a statement like this: Support medical staff by ensuring timely patient scheduling.

The billing clerk, on the other hand, could be responsible for providing the receptionist with invoices for mailing. The description for that position would then read: Provide receptionist with invoices on a weekly basis.

At the same time, the receptionist’s job description would read: Receive invoices from the billing clerk and mail within one business day.

What you’re doing is providing a map for tasks, holding people accountable, and avoiding confusion that leads to conflict

Performance appraisals

Now that you have policies that define what should be done and how, as well as job descriptions that detail responsibilities, you have tools for measuring job performance.

When you meet with a staff member to discuss performance, you can point to these documents and emphasize the necessity of following them. Similarly, any counseling about workplace behavior should be done in the context of policies and job descriptions.

Although you might wish to address a staffer’s personality traits, by keeping it professional you’ll keep the focus where it belongs: on doing the job. The message, when delivered properly, will come across loud and clear. Staff members may not always like one another, but they will work together in harmony because their jobs depend on it.

Editor’s picks:

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Model Tool: Job description template

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