Standards of Professionalism

Q. I would like my employees to represent my practice in a professional manner. My efforts have run into a snag related to how my employees speak to patients and to each other. I have one employee who uses slang and poor grammar. I have other employees who discuss their personal life in front of patients. I want my employees to be aware the impact their comments have on the reputation of my practice. What can I do?

A. Begin by setting a standard. Until you communicate to employees what is and what is not acceptable communication, they will continue status quo. This is never easy, but the best way to implement a standard is with the help of your staff. Talk to them, preferable in a group, and tell them your goal to set standards for professional behavior, including the manner of communication. Discuss some of the concerns you have, i.e. employees discussing personal issues in front of patients, use of improper grammar and slang. Ask your staff their opinion on what should be included in the standards. Do NOT, point out the problems you have witnessed. This is not the point where you need to single anyone out. You may face some resistance from staff; just keep the focus on your desire to simply set standards of professionalism and to assure everyone clearly understands expectations.

In developing this standard, do not go overboard. Keep the standard simple. If it becomes complicated, it will become a policy that will be very difficult to administer, and become ineffective. The standard can also be expanded to address areas related to professionalism at the practice. It can include dress, appearance, excessive fragrance, personal hygiene, neatness, etc. This will allow you to address the communication issue as well as other aspects that bring professionalism to the workplace.

As always, you can have the best written standards that everyone agrees with, but it must be administered. When you see a violation to this standard, you must address it. Initially, this may be done relativity casually with gentle reminders, but you must address it immediately. If the behavior continues you must up the ante with documented direction and even discipline. You also set the example. You must follow the standard. Remember, employees look to you as the leader.

I want to address one sensitive issue, grammar and slang. When addressing these issues employers need to be careful, since they may be tied to race, national origin, and culture. The way we speak depends upon who we are and where we are from. Although I have lived in the Lansing area most of my life, my first 20 years were spent in the Detroit area and I am the child of immigrants. This can be heard in the way I speak. I am often asked where am I from? I have an accent. I have a brother-in-law from West Virginia. He is always asked, where is he from because of his southern accent. When you set a standard for grammar and slang, you may find yourself in a situation where one person, due to race, national origin, place of birth, may not be able to change their manner of speech. One, of course, should expect proper grammar. One must also understand that not everyone knows proper grammar, especially if English is their second language. You must be sensitive to the human being. In order to change a person’s behavior, you will need to correct and teach the person the proper use of language. This may initially offend the person, therefore must be done with kindness and in a helpful manner. It you correct the employee it should never be done in public and it should be done coupled with a plan to teach the person. Finally, one must be patient and willing to allow this person the time necessary to make the changes.

Tags: , ,