My advice to you is to become`teflon-coated.` Simply refuse to let your co-worker`s
moodiness rub off on you!
Dianne Glasscoe, RDH, BS
I have worked for the last three years in my present practice. The doctor is wonderful, and I love my patients. The only problem here is a moody coworker who, incidentally, is a hygienist. This hygienist has worked here for five years and, according to the other staff members, this moodiness began when her marriage broke up.
I have never worked with anyone like her! Some days, she comes in with a smile and a good word. I`ve even seen her almost "giddy" at times. However, on other days, she is the most glum person I have ever seen. On those days, she hardly says a word all day long to anyone. I get the impression that she would rather no one speak to her as well. The other staff members and I have tried to get her to tell us what is wrong. But she refuses to discuss her problems with us. I wonder if she knows what`s wrong.
On those "down" days, she seems listless and lethargic. In a fast-paced office like ours, it causes problems with the schedule, because she gets so far behind. I resent having to see an extra patient because of her slackness. Although the doctor is aware of her moods, he seems apathetic about the problem.
I do not wish to make waves here, but her "roller coaster" moods affect the whole office. Her gloomy moods cast a dark cloud over our atmosphere that leaves me feeling depressed. There seems to be very little middle ground with her. She`s either way up or way down. Do you have any suggestions on how to handle her moodiness?
Sunny in Smithfield
I am not a physician, but this coworker sounds like she has some serious emotional/mental problems. Extreme mood swings are characteristic of bi-polar disorder.
Obviously, the coworker is dealing with some unresolved issues in her life. You mentioned her divorce. Divorce is an extremely traumatic event for some people, especially if the person did not wish for the marriage to end. I`ve known people who have been literally devastated by an unwelcome divorce. Healing is slow and painful, but the scars never go away. Some allow themselves to sink into a quagmire of self-pity and depression that becomes more difficult to escape with the passage of time. I believe people in this predicament lack the courage to move beyond this life-changing event and put it in the past. Often, professional help is needed.
On the other hand, some people wear their emotions on their sleeve for others to see. In fact, we`ve probably all done this at some time or other. You know how it goes - you wake up with a stomach ache, and you dread going to work. Your expression shouts, "I`m not feeling well!" All your co-workers and many of your patients will know it. I`ve even overheard staff members pouring out their medical and personal problems to their patients. This kind of behavior shows a lack of maturity and professionalism.
When staff members express negative emotions outwardly, it definitely can affect patient care. If a hygienist is quiet and/or gloomy, patients are denied the opportunity for meaningful discussion regarding their dental health. When front-desk assistants are ill-tempered or sullen, that`s when consultants get remarks in patient surveys about the "bitch" at the front desk. When clinical assistants and/or doctors display negative emotions, patients fear for their well-being.
The effects of a negative or gloomy staff member on co-workers is profound. Even if you come to work in a good mood, a coworker`s gloom seems to `rub off` on you and everyone else whose path this employee crosses.
My advice to you is to become "teflon-coated." Simply refuse to let your co-worker`s moodiness rub off on you! By refusing to let the moodiness affect you, you are sending a message that you will not "reward" this behavior. This is not the same as being insensitive to the occasional problems of a co-worker. But this inattention is an appropriate response to chronic moodiness.
I am amazed that the doctor has not taken steps to intervene in this situation. If the doctor is aware of the staff member`s chronic gloominess and the effect it has on the other staff members, surely he/she is aware of the potential negative impact on patients. My guess is that there are patients in the practice that have requested not to see this hygienist because of a "perceived" unfriendliness.
Also, you mentioned her lethargy during those "down" times and her inability to stay on schedule. Obviously, her work performance is suffering, which has a negative effect on her production. No doubt about it - the doctor or office administrator needs to intervene!
I would suggest a one-on-one conference, in which the doctor or office administrator says something like this: "Jane, you`ve been with us now for five years, and I value you as a member of our staff. However, there have been quite a few occasions lately where you seem visibly depressed and unable to stay on schedule. Could you please share with me what is wrong?"
Wait for a response. Then continue: "While I am sympathetic to your problem, the negative effects your depression is having on the other staff members and patients are disturbing our office morale. My feeling is that you need to get some professional help. This is very difficult for me, but I must put you on notice that, if things do not improve dramatically over the next 30 days, you will be asked to leave this practice. I implore you to get some help so this will not be necessary."
This should be a wake-up call for her. These conferences are never easy, but this is a serious problem that needs prompt attention.
Dianne Glasscoe, RDH, BS, is an adjunct instructor in clinical hygiene at Guilford Technical Community College. She holds a bachelor`s degree in human resource management and is a practice-management consultant, writer, and speaker. She may be contacted by e-mail at [email protected], phone (336) 472-3515, or fax (336) 472-5567.