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Being a Nurse Manager: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Bitter Team

Published August 2, 2016 8:34 AM by Samantha Therrien
Every place I ever worked as a nurse/manager, there is always someone on staff that erodes morale, the employees who repeatedly slack off, talk back, or fail to complete tasks on time. Let's face it: we have all encountered this at some point in our career; the issue is how to handle this. When an employee starts to lose respect, your authority and control can be undermined. This effect can be toxic. Accountability diminishes, productivity level drops, and the problem behavior can spread to others.

When you're a manager, you are responsible for a lot. It can be overwhelming to run a team and a department and demands coming from all sides. We're so busy trying to do everything expected as a team manager that dealing with difficult employees is the last thing we want to do.

Everyone has a bad day, and everyone makes mistakes, so you don't need to address every single time that something happens, but you need take note and be aware if the problem continues. If you notice that things are getting worse, if the staff member is continuing to repeat the same behavior, you need to step in specially in front of other staff members or patients.

Who are these staff members?  They're the employees who:

  • continually find things to complain about
  • spread gossip and start rumors to pit employees against each other
  • talk behind managers' and co-workers' backs
  • undermine manager's authority with a never-ending flow of disapproval

As a manager, you need a strategy to deal with employee's attitudes. Acknowledge the problem. The employee's behavior was unprofessional and inappropriate. More often, bad behavior stems from lack of security and lack of trust-like when a new boss comes in or when there is another change in the organization. Understanding an employee's behavior will help you to do something about it. Things are not likely to improve if you don't address the underlying problem. 

Establishing policy is a solid step in creating a good outline and make it clear that negative actions will no longer be tolerated.

Accentuate the positive. Keep it non-confrontational and positive when meeting with the employee, giving them an opportunity to tell you what the problem is. Try to have the conversation with the employee when everyone is calm. In the heat of the moment, a lot of unpleasant things can get said. Except, it's absolutely necessary for you to speak up right there, at that moment about the problem. Highlight the employee's good work, explain to them that you are there to help them and make their work life easier. This will help build work trust and respect.

Unfortunately, as managers, we're not equipped with psychic or superpowers that allow us to read our employees' minds. My job as a manager is to make sure every single staff member on the team is successful by helping them do their best work and strengthen their career. To be an effective manager, you have to face difficult employees head on, not only for their sake, but also for the sake of the rest of your team. A difficult employee can send bad vibes through an otherwise awesome team and make other staff members' workplace more difficult.

As my grandmother used to say: "If you have nothing good to say, don't say it."

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