Miserable Coworkers
February 6, 2015 12:22 PM   Subscribe

I need advice and coping strategies to deal with coworkers who are rude to clients.

I am a full-time employee who works with one part-time employee and my full-time boss (manager).

I am in the medical field and see patients in an outpatient setting. I have worked in my current job for eight years.

I work in a hospital system that scores very well in patient satisfaction and is considered one of the top 100 hospitals in the country (there are 1600 top 100 hospitals in the country but that is another story). My point is that there is a huge emphasis on patient satisfaction in my workplace.

The patients that we see are walking and talking and exercising in an outpatient program. Their insurance is billed. 75% of our patients are over 65.

I work with my boss once or twice a week. She was once gregarious and chatty but has become increasingly rude to patients and families. She is under a lot of stress and has a lot on her plate. She manages two outpatient programs in the hospital system and also is in charge of an employee wellness program. At work, she is in contact with patients, at a desk, and doesn't have her own office. While she is at the desk I am on the floor assisting patients and also work with a laptop. The desk overlooks the floor where the patients are. The desk where my boss sits holds monitoring equipment that is essential to our program. The patients approach the desk to get paperwork and other equipment. My boss is behind the desk and charts on the patients and uses the computer for other managerial duties.

Since my boss in stressed out, and doesn't want to engage with patients or families or get into conversations, she often resorts to ignoring people and mumbling. A patient will ask her a question and instead of being professional and answering, she looks down and mumbles. She doesn't answer the question, she doesn't make eye contact, she just mumbles to herself. I am not exaggerating. My boss has also become confrontational and uncooperative with people. She is mildly hostile. She doesn't greet patients and has very little patience or interest.

The other person I work with is 65 and has recently changed her employment status from full-time to part-time. She plans on retiring this summer but I'm not sure that will happen. She sighs a lot during the day. I think sighs roughly ten times per hour. I'm not sure she is aware of how much she is sighing. She is rude to people, impatient, and unfriendly. At times, she is unfriendly with me and will sigh at things I say, which is perplexing because to the best of my knowledge I am not annoying or loud or inappropriate or anything but professional really. Like my boss, she sits behind the desk while I assist patients. Even though she is retiring this summer, she is taking a month long vacation before she does and I will be picking up her hours. This is another area that upsets me. Instead of hiring another worker, my boss relies on me to pick up her hours no questions asked.

I do not work with any other people except my boss and the part-time coworker. On occasion I will travel to work in another outpatient setting. The people there are professional but that setting is not my home base. That setting also has a worker who travels to see her boyfriend each month in a different country and I am often called on to work there. I wonder how these people can get so much vacation time. I also work by myself one day a week and see patients. These days are busy and I should be working with another person.

My boss and I are friends. We talk and share details of our lives. She is a single mom and has three kids. She cannot quit this job and has never indicated that she would want to. She has been the boss for over 15 years. We are friends but she is still my boss and I cannot tell her that her attitude sucks. I do not want to quit my job. While stressful at times it is less stressful than other jobs in my field and the hours are great.

My sighing coworker has been an employee for two decades in the same department. We have also known one another since the beginning. She is somewhat intimidating. She has made rude and hurtful comments to me personally in the past, and I have just blown them off. Even though she can be rough around the edges and downright rude to patients we are friendly and eat lunch together. She is more than twenty years my senior. My boss is particularly fond of this coworker. They have known one another for ages.

Currently I am the only one who is friendly and professional with patients. We are extremely busy and sometimes the atmosphere can be overwhelming. My boss is concerned with productivity. I am concerned with my patients and their wellbeing, and my coworker isn't concerned about anything but the end of the workday. Coworker and boss are more apt to let patients figure it out for themselves and not assist them. They become impatient and almost angry when they have to help patients. They think it's a conspiracy or patients are messing with them when they don't know how to turn on a machine. A lot of our patients are elderly and have had histories of strokes and cannot remember how to turn on a piece of equipment. I am not trying to boast or brag but I am often told the following things by patients: "You're really good at this." "You're the glue that holds this place together." "Oh, she's the boss? I thought you were the boss." "You are so nice." "You are so good to us." "You weren't here on Friday, we missed you."

I am sorry this is so long. I'm trying to paint a picture of what it's like at work and I'm wondering if there is anything I can do or say to influence my boss and coworker to be better employees? I am becoming resentful that my coworkers are rude to patients and taking so much vacation time and relying on me to work their hours. In the past it was easy for me to say yes and work for them because I was part time. My current status is full-time, .8, meaning I work 32 hours a week. When I pick up hours I am 40 or under and not working overtime.

You may say my boss and coworkers are suffering from burnout but I cannot understand why my coworker, who works part-time and has a four day weekend every week, and only works two days a week is burnt out. There is no excuse for her to be so rude and out of the two, she doesn't need to be there because she is so miserable.

I am very hesitant to complain to upper management and wouldn't think of it, really. My boss is a good person but is overwhelmed. I am overwhelmed at work too but it's just as easy to be professional and nice. My view is that it's smarter to be kind and professional. This way it never comes back to haunt you with patient complaints, or patients dropping out of the program. Also, I don't have it in me to be unkind or ill-tempered in the workplace. I am uncomfortable when people are being mistreated.

What would you do in this situation? Should I talk to my boss? What would I say in this tricky situation? It makes me mad that my superior and veteran coworker are so unprofessional. Any tips or advice you can give me is appreciated.
posted by Fairchild to Human Relations (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I am very hesitant to complain to upper management and wouldn't think of it, really.

Ok. So you are left with very few options now.

What would you do in this situation? Should I talk to my boss? What would I say in this tricky situation? It makes me mad that my superior and veteran coworker are so unprofessional.

Your boss is aware of her actions. She just doesn't care. Why do you think your words will have any positive impact?

I'm pretty sure you will be putting your job on the line if you say something.

Rather than spending your time counting how many times per hour your coworker sighs, or how often your boss is rude to your clients, you should figure out a way so that YOU are the point man for dealing with customers. Maybe they can be some kind of support or something.

Thats all you can do without pissing off your boss. If you WANT to piss of your boss, then there's tons of things to say...but it seems as if you aren't willing to do so if it means putting your future with the company at risk.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:37 PM on February 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: What would you do in this situation?

I'd request building maintenance to add a table to hold the monitoring equipment you use and add a partition between that table and the desk. That's a subtle, but noticeable, indication to patients that the people doing work at the desk are focusing on the work that needs to be done rather than customer service.

"Patient satisfaction" means different things to different people. For instance, for me, it simply means that I get out of the medical facility as quickly as possible and that the medical professionals waste as little of my time as possible. "Patient satisfaction" needs to be divided between customer response issues - which are valid - and actually getting work done - which is equally valid. It is common to divide workloads between employees to be customer-facing and non-customer-facing in order to ensure that both customers and internal requirements are handled. It sounds like that's already being done.

Should I talk to my boss?

If you want, but you need to be able to condense your request down to approximately 50 words. In this case, I would say, "it doesn't seem like there are sufficient resources allocated to [department] to simultaneously meet patient needs and keep track of paperwork. What can we do to more effectively serve our patients given our situation?" You need to take your coworkers out of this. You are not in a managerial role, and you are not accountable to their performance. Most importantly, you should be stating your request in terms of things you can do to improve the department, not complaining about your coworkers. The former is the way towards professional development, the latter tends to be perceived as gossip even if it is entirely correct.

It makes me mad that my superior and veteran coworker are so unprofessional.

The solution to this is to determine what "professional" means to you and figure out or request help in figuring out how they can be more "professional". This is a slightly different phrasing than you use because it's a positive indication to your management that you want to improve the situation rather than complaining about the situation. If you simply tell management, "[coworker X and Y] are unprofessional", there's nothing practical management can do about the situation - they have no metric to measure against, and they certainly aren't going to fire X and Y simply based on your feedback. If you tell management what the department needs in order to succeed, they have an actionable plan on what to do. That might mean reassignment of employees, it might mean more employees, or it might be that they consider the current situation to be the optimal arrangement. You should not necessarily reject the last option unless you know exactly how to make the situation better. It's quite common in areas of reduced resource capacity (like medicine!) for management to realize that a situation is subpar, but that there may still be nothing to do about it.
posted by saeculorum at 12:38 PM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Have you thought of taking this to Alison at Ask A Manager? You might get some good insights from there. She almost always has a Friday open thread (here is today's) where you can ask a question without submitting it directly to her and then waiting to see if it gets published. There are most likely people with experience in your industry who can offer you targeted advice. I love Ask A Manager and find it so helpful. (You might even find something that can help you in past archives.)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:43 PM on February 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

Honestly you sound like a good seed stuck in a bad place. Think of how much more you could benefit your (different, but still) patients if you could move -- and the picking up hours is a side thing, but if you start somewhere else you need to make it clear what your boundaries are for that. I'd start looking for another job if I were you -- there's not much you can do to make your entrenched coworkers act different. They've probably been like this since before you got there.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:47 PM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

I wonder how these people can get so much vacation time.

They might have been accruing vacation for a long time? It might be part vacation, part unpaid leave? It might be that you don't have the same benefits as them because you aren't officially full-time? Look in the employee handbook, and if you need to ask your boss or HR to clarify. Find out how much vacation time you can get. Make sure you are taking all that you're entitled to. Sometimes vacation time is "use it or lose it," so you may have already lost some simply by not taking it.

I also work by myself one day a week and see patients. These days are busy and I should be working with another person.

Insist on it, then. Document the wait times or the things that can't be done because there is only one of you, and make a respectful, proper request for another person to be scheduled to work with you.

I am becoming resentful that my coworkers are ... relying on me to work their hours. In the past it was easy for me to say yes ...

Get very familiar with your employee handbook and maybe even ask someone in HR to help you understand whether you are allowed to decline to work beyond a certain number of hours. If it is possible for you to say no, then just say no. To the extent you have a choice, don't say yes and resent it. Say no.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 12:55 PM on February 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

Long story short you need to go to higher higher-ups, or you need to quit.

There really are no other good options. Anything else you do will just stall and waste time until you're confronted with the two options above anyway.

I know you probably don't want to hear this. If you go to higher higher-ups, and they are competent at all, perhaps you should suggest to them restructuring of the department, a new division of responsibilities, or hiring a third person. That would help your boss and you.

Things will change when the sigher retires. She's probably just dragging it out for the benefits or something and not really working anymore.
posted by quincunx at 1:17 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

If the problem is your boss, you can't change the atmosphere.

Request a transfer to another department so that you can be in a friendly and helpful environment.

You can't bring this up to your boss, there is no circumstance where it will be well received. It's your boss's job to handle the attitude of your co-worker.

Reporting it will likely not result in any changes, and in such a small work group, it won't take a genius to figure out who's complaining.

So, request a transfer to a different department, or just resolve to be the ray of sunshine in a gloomy area. YOU can't fix other people.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:44 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

You say you don't want to go to the higher-ups. Is this because you don't think they can or will do anything constructive about the toxic environment? Is it because your boss will know that you went to them, (and you are not in a position to deny it) and make your life miserable? This sounds like a patient satisfaction issue, and possibly a patient safety issue, so if you think that your higher-ups can help solve the problem in some way, think of going to them as helping the business, not as "tattling" on your boss.

If you feel as if your current situation is unfixable, your options are to get a transfer or find another job. You sound like you are in healthcare, which, luckily, means you shouldn't have much trouble finding another job.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:55 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Speaking as a frequent sigher, who has been called out for it in two jobs, she may likely be largely unaware of it. It may be a habit of years. It may be something she does as a sort of transition.
posted by jgirl at 1:58 PM on February 6, 2015

Your boss and coworker aren't just being unprofessional, they're being abusive.That's the thing that really jumps out at me here. Your boss actually expects elderly stroke victims to know how to operate random equipment on their own? What. the. hell. Seriously. I don't care how overwhelmed she is, that is not appropriate.

I agree with Rosie M. Banks that this is a patient safety issue. That alone should be reason enough to talk to your higher-ups/HR/ombudsman/patient advocate department/whoever about this. What if a patient gets hurt because they didn't know how to operate equipment properly (should they even be operating it on their own)? I'm sure your hospital's management wouldn't appreciate that lawsuit. What if someone's family gets pissed at your boss's treatment of their family member and files a complaint or sues?

(If you do decide to transfer departments or find a new job, please do what you can to make sure that your boss doesn't continue to abuse her patients.)
posted by i feel possessed at 3:34 PM on February 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

Boss needs to do paperwork. (Has this increased lately?)
Coworker recently went down to part time (and is planning to retire?)
You often staff the place solo. (Can you cite dangerous incidents?)

It sounds like this might all be improved if there were another person working in your department. Gather all your facts, record incidents that demonstrate the need, get your own boss on board and see if there is a way to approach higher-ups with that request rather than complaints about behavior.
posted by CathyG at 5:27 AM on February 7, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you for the answers and advice.

Yes, we do need another person. I just found out that my boss did hire someone PRN at the other outpatient place. That will help a lot and will prevent me from having to travel there.

We see our patients three times a week, for months, so it's up to us to build rapport and maintain some sort of professionalism. I think we also have to duty to make it enjoyable as possible so they will come back. They don't have to deal with a cranky person once, they have to come into contact with us multiple times. That is why my coworkers expect patients to know what's going on. It's a long program and some clients get to know how things operate and a lot of people still need help. My coworkers are good people but just not always good to the people we see. I think they once were, but are over it so to speak, and that makes my job so much more difficult. There is nothing like a workplace where your coworkers work as a team. It makes work enjoyable. When they are miserable and rude, it's stressful. When a person is so miserable at their job, I think it's time to do something else.

It's true that I probably can't complain directly to my boss without blowback, and I especially cannot complain without specific strategies or ideas on how we can improve. Thank you to those who reminded me of this.

I especially like the partition idea and am trying to think of a way that this can be implemented.

Thank you again.
posted by Fairchild at 11:21 AM on February 7, 2015

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