How to handle rebellious employees

While we all strive to create a healthy work environment, sometimes problems still arise.

We like to think that everyone works in a healthy work environment, but let’s be honest, sometimes there are problems. A reader recently contacted me and asked me to write an article about employees needing to respect management and authority. She felt that management had let her down by allowing a whole lot of drama to continue where she works.

We all like to think that we’re doing a great job when hiring new employees. We look for a “good fit,” or someone who will just be a wonderful addition to our staff. But hiring an employee and predicting the future can be a challenge.

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What can you do about it? I for one am very much taken with the adage that “Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.” As such, I’m a strong believer in behavioral interviewing. Asking a candidate how he or she handled sticky situations in the past is really very useful. I’m not naïve; if the candidate is smart, he or she has mostly likely been practicing the answers to these kinds of questions way before he or she sits across from me. But what the candidate says and how he or she says it is what really matters.

Here are four examples of what you should be asking a job applicant:

  • “Tell me about a time when you had a disagreement with your boss.” (The key is to stop talking after asking this question. Let the candidate squirm figuring out what his or her answer will be.)

  • “Give me an example of a situation where you had to deal with a frustrated patient.” (How he or she describes working with patients will tell you a lot about his or her personality.)

  • “When you were dissatisfied with an office problem, what did you do to make things run more efficiently?” (If the candidate denies ever having been frustrated on the job, then he or she probably isn’t being truthful.)

  • “Tell me how you deal with co-workers who aren’t friendly to you.” (Yes, this type of behavior unfortunately continues into adulthood.)

Now, how should office managers and dentists do when there ends up being a bad seed in the practice? You know who I’m talking about. There’s always that one person who’s rude and disrespectful and who gets away with murder at work. That’s something that drives a wedge between the front and back office staff. It undermines the work that gets done and creates a hostile work environment. It always amazes me how management either plays dumb or ignores the cattiness that gets played out in some workplaces. Don’t get me wrong - this isn’t specific to the dental profession. The difference is that many dental practices are very small, so you’re only dealing with a handful of people. You can’t avoid some behaviors when you must interact with your colleagues all day.

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I am asking you - the management - to please fix the problem. Some folks just shouldn’t be working in a dental practice. They don’t know how to work as a team member. They don’t necessarily think of anything other than getting paid. Some get immense pleasure tormenting or gossiping about co-workers to the point where they quit or break down in tears. This is what I call a hostile environment. Currently, no dental practice can afford to let this behavior continue. However, it’s also up to the employee to let you know that this is going on behind your back.

Once management learns of this behavior, action needs to be taken. To allow a hostile environment to continue is just bad business. It impacts staff morale and could put you in a difficult situation legally. If you’re afraid of your employee, then you really do have a problem. I encourage you to seek out a coach or dental consultant who can help you work through these issues.

What if management can’t control the behavior of an employee? I believe strongly that problems need to be addressed. If they continue, then a plan of action needs to be developed. If the employee has no respect for that plan of action, document a paper trail and get rid of the problem. Make sure that it’s done legally but understand that you need to protect your practice. Negative behavior and rebellious employees have no place in a healthy dental practice.

If you’ve had circumstances where management tolerated this kind of behavior, write to me at