Office drama fallout

Nov. 12, 2013
There is so much drama in my office right now that I'm ready to scream! It is common knowledge among all the staff members that our boss is having an extramarital affair with a woman who is actually a patient here.


Dear Dianne,

There is so much drama in my office right now that I'm ready to scream! It is common knowledge among all the staff members that our boss is having an extramarital affair with a woman who is actually a patient here. Some of us have even seen them out together. This woman is supposedly a friend of the doctor's wife. It just makes me sick, because I really like the doctor's wife.

Then there's the dental assistant who can't get along with anybody. She is in a long-standing feud with the other dental assistant over division of duties.

One of the other hygienists can't stand one of the business assistants, and I get caught in the middle of their problems. This same business assistant is chronically absent, which creates heavy stress on the other business assistant.


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Then I go home at the end of the day feeling drained physically and mentally, only to have to deal with two rambunctious children who seem to enjoy pushing my buttons.

I don't mean to sound like I'm dumping on you, but sometimes I feel like I'm nearing my breaking point. Do you have any advice for a stressed-out, burdened soul like me? Maybe I need a career change.
Western Hygienist

Dear WH,

Your office sounds like the office from hell. It's hard to imagine a more dysfunctional work environment. Let's take one situation at a time.

The doctor's marital indiscretion lands a serious blow to the office morale. Staff members feel secure when the leader possesses a high level of integrity and morality, but when the doctor is dishonest or immoral, it causes fear and insecurity. Staff members want to respect the boss, but when the boss behaves immorally, the result is disrespect. It's amazing to me that so many unfaithful spouses delude themselves into thinking that no one knows about the hanky-panky. The truth is that, in many situations, the only one who doesn't know is the spouse of the cheater. In this situation, you probably feel especially bad for the wife because you like her. You may feel empathy for her as a woman, because you imagine how you would feel if you found out your spouse was cheating on you ... with one of your friends, no less!

As far as the doctor's marital infidelity is concerned, the best advice I can give you is to distance yourself from the whole matter as far as you possibly can. Do not discuss it with your coworkers. Do not discuss it with your family or acquaintances. Let the doctor's marital indiscretions be a closed subject as far as you are concerned. I speak from experience. When the indiscretion becomes more widely known, even patients may quiz you about it. The best answer you can give is to say, "The doctor's personal life is none of my business," or "Maybe you should ask the doctor directly."

I heard a well-known speaker a few years ago discussing financial security for dentists. He said the No. 1 rule for financial security is this: Be the spouse of one person. He didn't make the statement in a joking manner or even tongue-in-cheek. He was dead serious when he discussed our "life pie." The speaker said we get one life pie, which refers to our ability to make money and live comfortably. If we have more than one family to support, our piece of the pie gets smaller and smaller. Divorce can be financially devastating, and the consequences can be long lasting.

Often when two people in an office engage in long-running battles, other coworkers get dragged into the fray. The divide-and-conquer strategy is aimed at getting as many people on one side as possible to tip the scale in favor of that party. You could call someone who is consistently engaged in conflict with someone else in the office a "pot-stirrer." These people get excited over conflict. Typically, they run from one coworker to another with tales of how someone mistreated them or, better yet, some tidbit of juicy gossip. I worked with someone like this years ago. At some point during her 10-year reign of terror in our office, she clashed with every person who worked there. It was a happy day when the doctor finally had enough and fired her. It was unfortunate that it took so long.

Sometimes, doctors are so engrossed in their work that they are unaware of having a pot-stirrer on the team until the conflict reaches the boiling point and someone quits. The troublemaker may be great at his or her work, but ongoing interpersonal conflicts indicate someone who has very poor interpersonal skills. To be successful in the workplace, it takes more than mere clinical or technical skills. Staff members need good communication skills and the ability to coexist peacefully with coworkers. This means setting aside personal agendas in order to focus on what is most important -- our patients.

When two of your coworkers are engaged in conflict and one of them decides to invite you to the fray, the best thing you can say is this: "Look, while I understand why you are upset, there's not ONE THING I can do to fix this situation. You need to discuss the situation with the person with whom you are upset. I like you both, and I do not want to be involved in this conflict." If you do that, you will feel better, and you will draw the line at being dragged into the battle. The other outcome is that you will build respect with your coworker.

It is my feeling that the stresses from your dysfunctional work environment are clinging to you after you get home. When you bring your work problems home, it negatively affects your ability to interact and connect with your family. Learn to shake it off. Do not take your work problems home with you. Here's an exercise for you to do: When you exit through the office door at day's end, do not get into your car until you look up at the sky, take two deep breaths, and mentally leave the problems in the parking lot. Repeat this sentence several times: Problems stay here. Do not get into your car until you have done this exercise. It should take about 10 seconds. And whatever you do, do NOT talk about problems at work when you get home.

Even in the most peaceful work environment, dental hygiene is stressful in and of itself. However, the work is more pleasurable and the day seems to fly by when everyone in the office shares a healthy camaraderie. My experience is that when the leader is happy and understands how to express appreciation to his or her team, there is a greater likelihood of office harmony. For you to survive, you need to grow an emotional Teflon outer hide so the junk in your office slides off and is not allowed to penetrate and break your spirit. It reminds me of a song I learned as a child: "Oh, be careful little ears what you hear …" Be intentional about protecting your mind from negative office situations.
All the best,

DIANNE GLASSCOE WATTERSON, RDH, BS, MBA, is a professional speaker, writer, and consultant to dental practices across the United States. Dianne’s new book, "The Consummate Dental Hygienist: Solutions for Challenging Workplace Issues," is now available on her website. To contact her for speaking or consulting, call (301) 874-5240 or email dglass [email protected]. Visit her website at www.professionaldentalmgmt.com.

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