Thursday Troubleshooter: How to get through to the team member with bad breath?
This team feels like they've tried everything, but their fellow dental office professional still has horrible breath!
QUESTION: I work in ortho. We have a team member who has a serious perio problem. Numerous times this has been brought to the doctor’s attention, but he has not dealt with it. Instead of talking to her, he insisted that everyone get a cleaning and checkup. Well, we all did, except her. He even bought special mouthwash for all of us to use. Guess who refuses to use it? She says it makes her mouth feel weird. The whole team is up in arms about this because we can smell it, so I know her patients must smell it. What can we do about this problem?
ANSWER FROM BRIDGET FAY, Odyssey Management, Inc.:
As managers we are faced with some very difficult and unique challenges. This is one of them! I see this situation as a practice problem and one that is probably affecting the patients as well. They just might not want to say anything. It is time to have a very honest conversation with this employee. You are stating the truth, and you have to put personal feelings aside to address this issue.
Sit down with her and be honest, yet diplomatic. Tell her that you are concerned for her oral health because of the smell of her breath, and you are concerned that patients can smell it as well. Gently point out the fact that the dentist encouraged everyone to get cleanings, and ask her why she didn't take advantage of the opportunity. Be sure to practice and review what you are going to say, and keep it simple. You might even want to check HR laws in your state on handling an issue such as this. This employee may not be aware of the problem, or she just might not have the means to take care of it. Give her the opportunity to talk and share her own reaction. Make eye contact so she knows you are concerned, and document everything!
If she denies there is a problem and she is not willing to make some changes, you can consider moving her into a position that requires very little or no patient contact. The final option is to terminate her employment. Before considering this option I would consult with an HR specialty group such as CEDR Solutions. I'd recommend a company such as this even if you have no issues in your office, but in your case it would be especially helpful. Good luck!
ANSWER FROM JILL KRING CARTER, Partner, Dentcetera Dental Practice Advisors, LLC:
You are in the business of helping to create and maintain a healthy mouth, and thus, healthy body. If this employee doesn't understand the basic concept of oral-systemic health, she has no business working where she does. Be brutally honest with her at this point.
Here is an example of what you can say: "We have addressed this as kindly as we could, but you refuse to act. The odor from your mouth is repulsive. The staff cannot stand to be within breathing distance of you. Imagine how your patients and their families feel. Imagine how they must question your knowledge and understanding of oral health. You must be responsible and tackle your own oral health issue, for your patients, for us, but mostly for yourself."
In the meantime, begin noting every possible violation she is making in her job. DOCUMENT. When you have enough to let her go under the laws of your state, do it, unless she has finally accepted her problem and begins to treat it. If she can't understand the problem, you can't have her working there, and you must find ways within the law to remove her from the office. If you work in an “at-will” state, fire her tomorrow. Consult your attorney before you make one move.
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