Even though both nature and nurture have conspired to make us impatient, the situation is not hopeless. There are many ways that a physician leader or manager can develop his or her employees’ patience.
Employee patience is an essential component of excellent customer service in a healthcare organization. This article explores the lifestyle choices employees can make either to support or to thwart their patience. It describes the probable origins of employee impatience and explains why impatience is more prevalent in the workplace today than it was in the past. This article also describes how improper management strategies reinforce rather than deter employee impatience.
The following ten strategies have been shown to be effective:
Model patience: It is not reasonable to ask your employees to be patient if you show them through your words and behaviors that you are not. Become a role model of patience by handling challenges in your practice thoughtfully and calmly. If you have trouble doing this, seek outside help to improve your own patience.
Exploit teachable moments: If employees demonstrate a lack of patience, wait until the moment is
over, and revisit what happened. Help your employees to explore what went wrong, what could be done better next time, and lessons learned. Most importantly, help them to own their impatience and to commit to improving.
Reinforce patience, not impatience: Don’t reinforce impatience by giving give impatient employees what they want. Don’t give in simply to appease an impatient employee. Don’t soothe or placate an employee who is behaving poorly; that’s too much of a reward and reinforcement.
Upgrade your employees’ attitudes toward discomfort and pain: You may have employees who believe that being comfortable is the only state they can tolerate. They may become impatient the moment something is challenging or doesn’t come easily to them. However, working every day in your medical practice will put employees in uncomfortable situations. They will have to deal with patients who may be difficult to serve, new technologies, days when coworkers who are out sick, equipment that malfunctions, and much more.
Create and use positive affirmations to increase your employees’ patience: Positive affirmations, first popularized in the 1920s, are sentences that we repeat to ourselves to reprogram the subconscious mind—for example, “I am a patient person. I am in control of how I react. I can tolerate discomfort.”
Reduce your employees’ exposure to impatience triggers: Sometimes, we can’t anticipate the challenges that will trigger our impatience. Often, however, we can see the problem coming. Does the phone ring off the hook every Monday morning? Is Mrs. Grimsley a patient who always needs a little extra time and attention? Does Denise need to take a 10-minute break every afternoon to check on her latchkey son when he gets home from school? Physically fix what you can fix in your office. For example, improve the speed of your Internet service, replace the broken coffee pot in the staff break room, and improve your inventory control system if those nuisances trigger impatience.
Squash employees’ impatient talk and self-talk: Ranting about the source of one’s impatience, whether aloud, online, or internally, serves only to reinforce the bad feelings. Do not allow impatient talk inside your medical practice.
Build your team: Employees may be more likely to be impatient with one another if they don’t know each other. Employees who get along well will have fewer reasons to become impatient with one another. Develop a culture in which employees greet one another every day, even coworkers they may not know well.
Help your employees to practice patience: Exercises can help us develop patience. Now and then, put yourself, on purpose, in situations that make you impatient, and try to keep calm.
You do have a say about what they do. Explain that impatient behavior will not be rewarded with raises and promotions in your medical practice and that it can jeopardize employment. If you have an employee who behaves impatiently with you, coworkers, or your patients, specify precisely what he or she must do to change and by when. Exercise your right to fire an employee whose impatient behavior interferes with the smooth running of or the goodwill of your medical practice. Just be sure to document the behaviors you observe as well as the appropriate verbal and written warnings that you have issued. Make special note of witnesses to the impatient behaviors and any other evidence you have to support your observations.
Laura Hills, D.A., President
Blue Pencil Institute
This article appeared in the Journal of Medical Practice Management, July–August 2018