Thursday Troubleshooter: The dental office manager plays favorites

The situation creates animosity on the team

Troubleshooter 4 11

QUESTION: Our office manager plays favorites with the team. She invites two or three of the staff members to after-hours outings, but excludes the others (we are an office of eight). Her “friends” get special privileges and recognition, while we others are left out of any sign of respect, appreciation, or socializing.

ANSWER FROM LINDA MILES, founder of Speaking Consulting Network:
As the practice administrator/office manager, one cannot play favorites among the team any more than the dentist/owner can. This is how queen bees and prima donnas are created … by an uneven distribution of trust, praise, or benefits by management. Remaining neutral and fair is the sign of a strong and effective leader. Playing favorites and socializing with a few employees during off hours is asking for a division among team members, and the creation of those who think they are above the rest of the team. When a person accepts a middle or upper management position, that person must not try to be the supervisor or boss one minute, and then someone’s best pal the next. This often explains why some practices have total teamwork and harmony among staff members, while others have constant bickering, vindictiveness, jealousy, and staff turnover. My advice is to share these Thursday Troubleshooter responses with your entire office.

ANSWER FROM KAY VALENTINE, FAADOM, CLT, SCN member and Office Manager, Indy Smiles Family Dentistry in Indianapolis:
My question to you is, where’s the doctor in all this? Let’s assume he (or she) is aware of this situation, and like most doctors, does not want to be involved in settling intraoffice struggles since he has faith in his office manager to handle office conflicts. My thought is that you could create a support group with the remaining team members. Have lunch meetings or after-hours meetings, and talk about why each of you feel the way you do. This is not a gossip hour or a grievance gathering, but a way to put down on paper the real story behind each of your feelings. Express and write down your thoughts in a list of categories, such as “We feel …” “We felt that when …” “You could better help us by …” etc. Also, list all the good traits the office manager displays (hopefully, she has some good traits). This list can be, “We love it when…” “We feel that you are best in the following areas…” “We would like for you to include us when…” etc. Write a letter to the office manager (which each attendee will sign) and ask her to schedule a meeting to respond to your letter. Copy the doctor, and leave it up to the office manager to invite the dentist to the meeting. This way she will have time to process her thoughts, the doctor will become aware of the situation, and the letter will reveal to her areas she needs to improve. Remember, we are all responsible for making changes in our practice. Show kindness in the face of adversity and watch things change. The difference in a good day and bad day is how we respond when bad things happen. These are all true if you apply these ideas.

ANSWER FROM DIANNE GLASSCOE WATTERSON, RDH, BS, MBA, professional speaker, writer, and consultant: The office manager position is undoubtedly the most important staff position in a dental office. This person has a tremendous responsibility to see that all systems are functioning efficiently, and that the practice is operating at the highest level possible. The OM is unique in that this person is part of management while also being part of the staff group. The office manager's most important responsibility is staffing. A staff that feels respected and treated with fairness will be highly productive. An OM who plays favorites disrespects the team and foments resentment and hostility, which ultimately leads to unhappiness, turmoil, and staff turnover. Staff turnover is costly in lost productivity and low morale. This OM is showing a glaring lack of discretion and staff respect by showing favoritism. This problem should be brought to the doctors’ attention. Assuming that there are no other problems with her job performance, the office manager should be given a chance to correct the problem. The doctor with the best communication skills should make it clear that showing favoritism is inappropriate and will not be allowed in the future. The OM should be asked if she will be able to carry out her management duties with fairness and without favoritism. Any future reports of favoritism should result in her employment termination.*

* Employers should check with legal counsel, as well as state and federal employment laws regarding disciplinary action and/or termination.

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Send your questions to megk@pennwell.com. All inquiries will be answered anonymously every Thursday here on DIQ.

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