QUESTION: I’ve been a dental assistant at a very busy community health center dental office with several branches for more than eight years. A couple of years ago, a new director came on board. He made some changes and moved some of my coworkers. Everyone left was a new hire with little or no experience. I was in charge of training these people. I was offered a position as a lead, which I declined simply because of the new director's poor attitude. After I declined the offer, he started treating me differently, and sometimes very disrespectfully. While I’m usually told I’m doing a great job during my annual review, this year I did not receive a raise because I was told I need to do more work. Sometimes I’ve been denied my time off to the point that I’m losing my PTO. I keep this job because it’s the only source of income I have, but this atmosphere is not healthy. Help.
ANSWER FROM RYAN VET, founder of Ryan Vet Consulting:
You have identified two key things that can make any work environment challenging: change and a difficult manager. It has been said that people quit managers, not jobs. This is very true. While change in your practice can be exciting and an open door to new possibilities, it can also be frustrating and make going to work quite challenging.
Let’s first address the manager who can be difficult. There are a number of reasons that a manager could be difficult. In each, you must ask yourself whether you are willing to change or if it is better for you to move on. The reality is, if you’re not willing to put in 100% of the effort to make the relationship work, then chances are your manager won’t either. What are some things that can make a manager difficult? First of all, it could be a personality mismatch between the two of you. In this case, you have to figure out whether you can adjust to the personality or if the personality mismatch is too great for you to continue working there.
A second scenario is one in which the manager is just a difficult person. He may have it out for you. You have to take an honest look to understand whether your manager’s actions are against you directly or simply in conflict with your preferences. If it’s the first, you should strongly consider moving on. If it’s the latter, consider taking an in-depth assessment to understand how much of the conflict is your perception, and then work to try and overcome it. In your particular case, where you declined a promotion, your manager could have been stunned by rejection and has never rebounded. In this case, it could be worth your time to have a conversation explaining why you did not accept the promotion and that you still enjoy your job.
Most manager–team member conflict stems from a misalignment of people’s intentions and a lack of adequate and clear communication. When a manager questions a subordinate’s intentions or vice versa, it can lead to distrust and cause conflict. Further, a lack of clear communication, such as not explaining why you declined the promotion, can leave an awkward tension in the relationship. Both can be solved with a very clear, unemotional, and transparent conversation. This should be a scheduled conversation and not done when emotions are heightened.
The other piece you brought up about your challenging work environment is change. Change is very difficult to deal with, especially when everything around you changes and you remain in the same position. This can cause friction as people tend to do things differently than before, yet they lean on you for support and insight. It can be a challenging place to be. Try to assess changes by asking, “Even if I don’t agree, is this ultimately better for the practice, its patients, and the team?” If the answer is yes, it may be time to just roll with the changes. If the answer is no, speak up and let your voice be heard by using clear facts and details. Be careful not to jump to saying things such as, “This is how we used to do it.”
Overall, if clear communication and trying to understand intentions does not solve your problem, I highly advise that you start seeking career opportunities elsewhere. That doesn’t mean quit tomorrow. Use the time to polish up your resumé and start seeking alternate employment. The hope would be that you can overcome some of the differences with your manager. When teams can make it through sticky situations and resolve them, those teams can be some of the strongest teams around and can be unstoppable. Good luck!
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