dealing with abusive patients, incompetent coworker needs too much help, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Putting up a sign about abusive patients

I am a long time manager of a multi-location health care group. Our staff can’t work from home because –you know— patients! With the exception of a few weeks in April of 2020, our staff worked throughout the pandemic to take care of our patients. In the past year, protocols have changed as the pandemic progressed. We started with locked doors and patients texting when they arrived. Our staff took temperatures and asked 10-15 Covid questions of every patient who entered the office. They sanitized door handles, waiting room chairs, counters and those nifty Lexan shields at the front desks. They couldn’t eat together in the lunch room so some ate lunch in their cars. They met patients in the parking lot (in the northeast in the winter) to deliver items that needed to be picked up. They were rock stars!

Amazingly, almost all of our staff stuck with us through this entire time — which is great because the labor market in our area was challenging before the pandemic and is much worse now. The people who work here are stressed and exhausted. Some have lost family members during the pandemic. Overall our patients have been grateful for our services and complementary of our efforts to keep them and our staff safe throughout the last year. In the past month, however, we have had an astounding increase in patients who have been downright abusive to our staff. For example, patients who interrupt staff members and threaten to “talk to the owners” and “get them fired” over a minor communication issue. On more than one occasion, staff members have been brought to tears by these patients. We have lost two wonderful employees in the past few months because they can’t deal with the rude patients! In these cases a manager or the physician contact the patient directly and dismiss them from the practice, but I don’t feel that is enough to show our staff that we support them.

Normally I am squarely opposed to posting signs in the office (for all to see) to correct a problem that is caused by only a few, but I am seriously considering posting something in support of our staff. What would I say? We are doing our best? We appreciate your patience? Don’t be mean to the staff? As we were discussing our options we thought we could add, “We can’t believe we have to post this either…” We certainly don’t want to offend the 95% of our patients who are appreciative and just a joy to deal with. How do we show support for our staff and address this situation in a positive way?

I don’t think the 95% of your patients who are polite would be offended by that type of sign; they’d probably just be disappointed that it’s necessary (disappointed in their fellow humans, not in you). But I’m also skeptical it would work for the other 5% (in the same way that group emails about one person’s problem behavior tend to go right over the head of that person). They’ll either ignore the sign or think it doesn’t apply to them or think their behavior is justified anyway. People are abusive to others aren’t going to read “please be patient / we’re doing our best” and change their behavior.

But firing abusive patients — as you’ve been doing — is a powerful way to show your staff you support them. You can also empower them to deal with abusive patients on the spot; let them know you’ll have their back if they tell a patient they’ll be asked to leave if they don’t speak more politely/wait their turn/etc.

2. My incompetent coworker needs too much help from me

I share a cube with a perfectly nice, but mostly incompetent coworker. She and I are peers, but she is the admin to four different managers and I’m in a non-support position that reports to her managers’ boss. Whenever one of her managers asks her to run a report or do a project for them, five minutes later she’ll be whining (yes, literally whining) for me to help because she barely knows the basics of Microsoft Office and the company’s database software. Besides not being familiar with the programs, she’s also afraid to ask clarifying questions, so a good part of my time helping her is spent trying to figure out what exactly she was asked to do in the first place. And the process is repeated every time she gets a new project because she retains none of what I teach her. And I’m not talking about trickier things like pivot tables and macros, I mean basics like how to change font size or sort a spreadsheet.

I love being the person in the office that everyone goes to when they want to learn something new, like a cool time-saving Excel trick, or how to do a mail merge. But when I’m repeating myself every single time she asks for help, it gets frustrating, and I’m afraid it’s starting to come across in my tone with her. (“Oh, I see the problem — you need to sort your spreadsheet. Sort it. By the first column. Column. Click anywhere in Column A. The A at the top of the spreadsheet. Column A. Now choose ‘sort’ from the Data tab. Data. At the top where it says ‘Data’…”)

It’s not outside my job description to do these kinds of reports and projects for her managers. Can I just train them to ask me to do them in the first place? It would take me less time than trying to teach my coworker how to do them over and over again.

You could, but it would be covering up the problem. Another option is to stop letting her rely on you so much so she has to figure things out for herself or get more guidance from her manager, which is going to be more helpful in the long run. (What’s she going to do if you’re out for a week, after all?)

Why not start saying, “Sorry, I can’t help — I’m swamped today” and see if she becomes more self-sufficient? You could also have a big-picture conversation with her about the pattern — “I’ve been spending a lot of time helping you figure out X and Y and it’s keeping me from focusing on my work. I’m going to be more disciplined about not doing that, but you can check resources like A and B or talk to (manager) directly with questions.”

Read an update to this letter here

3. I’m supposed to say “your services are no longer needed”

During Covid, my organization hired an additional two dozen people to help with our busy season, which ends very soon. The organization has decided to retain half these positions into the not-busy season. When asked, almost all of these temporary hires were interested in staying on.

During the one-on-one meeting where I talk to each person who is not being retained, my organization will only permit the phrase “your services are no longer needed.” With that constraint, what’s the best way to communicate this information with empathy?

Are you sure they mean you can literally only use those words or might they mean you should stick to that overall concept? If they really want you to use those exact words, you should push back because that’s going to come across really badly — gratuitously callous and just weird. Instead, normally you’d say something like, “We had more people interested in staying on past the busy season than we have positions to offer, and unfortunately we’re not going to be able to offer you work past (date).”

If you really that you’re not allowed to say that or something similar, please push back and advocate for more human-sounding messaging than “your services are no longer needed.”

4. Do I have to give notice in person when I’ve been working from home?

I have been trying to leave my company since last June, when they were critical of me for being less productive when I was caring for my child at home because daycare was closed due to Covid. I had been forced back into the office through last fall, and the majority of employees disregarded the company’s mask mandates. I got Covid even though I wore a mask … which I gave to my husband and child … which my child gave to his daycare teachers. Which caused the daycare to totally shut down for two weeks … and all the while I was again criticized for my lack of productivity when I was sleeping round the clock due to COVID fatigue.

I finally found a new job that I am excited about and suffice it to say that I would be thrilled to never see these jerks again. I have been working remotely since I got Covid and would love to give notice over the phone rather than having to go in and listen to my boss’s commentary on it. My friends in the same field are split, with some saying I don’t need to go in to give notice since I have been there less than two years, and the other half saying that I should to avoid leaving on a bad note. I will be leaving on a bad note anyway — they already have deemed me lazy and uncommitted because I had to care for my child and then got COVID. What do you think?

You work remotely, so it’s fine to give your notice over the phone. There’s no reason you need to go there in-person for this one business conversation when you’ve been doing everything else from afar. (That said, I don’t understand your friends saying that it’s okay because you’ve been there less than two years — length of employment doesn’t really enter into it.)

5. Reapplying for a job I was a finalist for before Covid froze hiring

Last year, just before COVID hit, I was interviewing for a dream job at an organization I’d love to work for. My interview process started in March of 2020 and by April they had moved me to the final stage of the process. By May of 2020, they let me know that they had paused all hiring until further notice.

Well, it’s been a year and it looks like they are picking hiring for that position up again, and I’d love to reapply. I want to reach out to the recruiter and see if they’re still interested in me and If I can pick up where we left off or if I should apply through the usual channel. (I did check LinkedIn to see if he was still working there as it’s been a while.) If I do reach out, should I include a bit about what I’ve been up to professionally the last year? Should I apply and then send an “FYI I’m still interested” type of note? I’m not even sure he’s the recruiter working on this particular position. Should I be reaching out at all?

Go ahead and reapply to get yourself officially in the ring, and mention at the start of your cover letter that you were interviewing with them last year before they froze hiring. (Update your cover letter so it’s not the same one you submitted last time.)

Then email the recruiter or hiring manager you were working with last time, remind them of where things were left last year, and say you’re still very interested in being considered and you’ve submitted a formal application and would welcome hearing from them if they still think it might be the right match.

I wouldn’t assume they’ll definitely want to pick back up right where you left off; the position may have changed in the last year or they might want to start fresh and see where you fit in relative to the other candidates in the pool this time. Or they might be thrilled you’re still available and want to move you back into their process quickly. But doing both things above should position you as strongly as possible. Good luck!

{ 488 comments… read them below }

  1. Polecat*

    #1, my veterinarian had to send out an email in the first three or four months of Covid and tell people to stop being rude and abusive to the staff. I agree that this won’t stop the 5% of people who are just out of control, but I think it will help the other 95% to up their game. I know that once I got that email, I made sure I was very pleasant in all my interactions with them. I felt so bad. I would never be someone who would be horrendous, but could I be slightly snippy or a little short? Sure, I’m human. And I think putting up a notice or sending an email will help staff morale as well, so that they know that management supports them.

    1. Tussy*

      Little disappointed to hear that you are indeed a human not a literal polecat talking about the vet they go to.

      1. Forrest*

        I really want a Creature-Comforts-style clay-animated polecat saying, “I would never be horrendous, but can I be a little short? And snippy? Sure!”

      2. Bagpuss*

        Yeah, but a polecat (or three polecats in raincoat) would *say* they were human, to allay suspicion, wouldn’t they?

    2. Chas*

      Yes, while I think Alison’s advice to empower the staff would be the best thing, I’m also someone who would find a sign like that to be a good reminder to be more pleasant generally, and to possibly be a little more lenient with staff when things do go wrong (for example if they’re late calling me through to my appointment I’d probably be more patient and wait longer than usual before asking how long the wait is likely to be. Things that aren’t necessarily abuse but still put pressure on the staff)

      And if there’s situations where the abuse is happening in front of other customers, maybe it would also encourage those customers to speak up about it? (I once managed to get someone to quit yelling things like ‘some time today would be nice!’ in a KFC just by saying ‘They’re doing their best, you know!’ But I was the only person out of about 20 adults waiting who spoke up)

      1. Hazel*

        If the sign also helps bystanders to stick up for the staff, that’s a bonus, too.

        1. Birdie*

          I think a sign can also be helpful in empowering staff members. I don’t expect that the existence of a sign will make any of the rude individuals think twice, but it can give the staff something to point to as evidence that the rude patient is breaking clearly-stated rules and that the staff is within their rights to ask them to leave.

          My work deals with a lot of policies and rule-writing. Clients are expected to read them over (they generally don’t) and my colleagues are required to review the policies with them (the clients usually forget what they were told), so having them easily accessible and in writing helps back up my colleagues when someone throws a fit because they’re told they can’t do something that clearly violates policy. It can be easier to put your foot down when you can show that you’re backed up by a clearly-stated, non-negotiable rule made by leadership that they should already be aware of.

          1. ophelia*

            This makes me think maybe a sign that’s a bit more “this is what we would like to see, behavior-wise” would be useful. Something like, “It’s been a long year, and we are doing our best! Please: keep your mask on, give us a bit of extra time to get your paperwork sorted, and be sure to [do whatever else]. Our staff are doing their best!”

            1. Sol*

              I’ve seen this at clinics, and I even went to one pre-pandemic that had a posted list of general expectations for patients since it was a long-term program for chronic health issues. Among other things it stated outright that abuse of staff was not tolerated and could result in a patient being dropped from the program.

              I think if you include it with other information, and empower the staff to inform patients who are being abusive of this policy, it could make them feel less trapped by this kind of behavior. Pointing out consequences works on some people, so it could be used as part of a de-escalation process. (and the people it doesn’t work with were likely to keep being abusive anyway.)

            2. PT*

              Yes, this. I worked somewhere where I had to make these signs, and it is generally most helpful to frame them in a positive, this-is-what-we’d-like-to-see way, unless you absolutely can’t (like ELECTRICAL SHOCK HAZARD! DO NOT TOUCH! should not have any softening words around it.)

              Like, “The llama paddock will be closed from 4-5 pm today, Wednesday May 20, for a staff training. We thank you for your patience and apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.”

              You do have to be careful because sometimes the well-behaved customers will see a sign that says “Customers who abuse staff will be banned,” and assume that you’re forbidding anyone from questioning the staff and thus they will go into all interactions with the staff expecting a confrontation, which causes unnecessary confrontation over stupid things.

          2. KaylinNeya*

            I agree. I work in healthcare and have worked in urgent care and family practice. Some people are great. Some are not. As a staff member, even just having a sign about what will NOT be tolerated can be very helpful/empowering – particularly if you know that the management means it. For example: Welcome to the Llama Clinic. We have a strict no violence policy among our patients. We do allow violence of any kind including:
            Mental, physical, verbal, etc. Patients are expected to: be kind to llamas, speak respectfully, etc. Patients who cannot follow this policy will: (fill in the blank).

            Personally, I can deal with the rude people (because people who are sick are often frustrated and in pain – which doesn’t make it ok, but it does make it understandable). It’s the patients who become abusive that I appreciate these policies. Because then I don’t feel like I will be left hanging out in the wind.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              “We do allow violence of any kind including”
              Sorry to nitpick but the crucial word “not” appears to be missing here?

        2. TvH*

          that’s a good point! We do need to empower bystanders.
          …lots of stores have had to resort to hiring security guards due to non-Covid compliance and rude idiots. I wonder if that is an option. Expensive, but maybe even for a short term, it would save on staff leaving?

      2. Anon for this*

        A sign would also help reassure the staff that yes, these patients WILL be fired if they abuse the staff. Because if the staff quit anyway, firing abusive patients doesn’t help with staff turnover problems (it sounds like the real problem here is the fact that even though abusive patients are immediately handled the staff are still quitting).

        I had someone leave a group of people on a video game because someone else said something absolutely indefensible. Before the leadership could bring the hammer of wrath down on this person, the insulted person was already gone “because I can’t stand being around people who approve of things like that”. The experience left the remaining group of people deeply unsettled and unhappy because no one DID approve of things like that, which was why rude jerk was immediately jettisoned as soon as the leadership was made aware of his rude jerkiness. A sign could at least help the staff feel reassured that unexpected rude jerks will be dealt with. The quiet nature of the firing of rude patients may also be contributing to this, most types of patients don’t come in more than once every couple months, so it might not be obvious, from the staff’s point of view, that they are being fired.

        1. ellex42*

          This makes me think that a meeting with all staff to reassure them that clients who behave badly will be fired and management wants to hear from staff if a client is behaving badly would probably be helpful. A sign is directed at the clients and doesn’t really mean much to the staff, and the kind of people signs like that are aimed at are the same kind of people who ignore signs like that (or any sign at all).

          1. Pickled Limes*

            Yeah, I think this calls less for a sign and more for some staff training. OP1’s staff doesn’t just need to know that management is supporting them and firing abusive patients. They also need to know they’re allowed to shut that behavior down in the moment, and OP can provide them with some scripts they can use.

            I’m in public libraries, and we have the occasional abusive customer. The usual approach in my library starts with a really simple script like “I need you to lower your voice and take a step back please.” A lot of the time, even something as simple as that can shock a person into realizing they’re being more aggressive than they intended to be and they’ll be suitably ashamed of themselves and start behaving better. But some people are, in fact, committed to their assholery, so if the behavior continues you’ll need another script like “If you don’t stop yelling, I’ll need to report you to my manager.”

            And OP, as the manager, can kick the person out of the building right then and there if they have to.

            1. M-C*

              I agree with PIckled Limes, this is not so much of an issue with the public as a staff training issue. The public will do whatever they will do, and I can guarantee your imagination will fail as you try to cover all the bad things they could come up with.

              But the fact that staff quits, even when the patients are later kicked out, says that the staff doesn’t trust that this is how situations will be handled. Not only do they need to be confident that this will be the case, that this is policy (put it in writing?), but they need to be able to handle the situation themselves. They need to be able to walk right off the front desk and go get a manager who’ll help handle the patient on the spot. They need to know they don’t have to sit there and be screamed at, and only later will the situation be handled, even if it’s ultimately handled well. I would add they should have a say in whether the patient is really kicked out, like someone they know is usually fine is losing it because their child —, but the default should be by policy that the staff feelings are upheld. If of course the office is well organized, and not just having 50 people show up on Tuesdays at 9am..

              1. Nope*

                My hunch is they are quitting for other reasons. The abusive patient thing is a tiny part of it. Healthcare, human or animal, is not for the faint-hearted at its best, much less now that people feel empowered to be jerks. I lost someone who had 30 years of experience to a warehouse job because she was so sick of dealing with unreasonable clients.

          2. Artemesia*

            At the same time, clients should not be abused by being made to wait endlessly and ignored which is pretty standard in a lot of doctor’s offices. I remember when I was working and pregnant and the OBs office literally signed all women with Tuesday appointments to 9 am and then you just waited hours for your turn — because ‘doctor’s time is valuable’ but working women — well ‘why are you working?’

            One aspect of COVID I have liked is that many offices to deal with the infection risk before the vaccine actually ran a tight ship. You were not to come in before 5 minutes before your appointment, you were immediately whisked into an exam room and you were in and out quickly. My husband has to have regular medical care COVID risk or not and for the first time were were not spending 4 or 5 hours waiting waiting waiting.

            So yeah — fire obnox patients but also examine how you are treating patients.

            1. Pickled Limes*

              A long wait time is not abuse. It’s not pleasant and can really screw up the other aspects of your day, for sure. But sitting and waiting for a medical appointment is not the same as being abused. Please don’t conflate that here.

              Front desk staff in almost all sectors are frequently on the receiving end of threats, obscene shouted rants, and other very frightening behavior from customers and clients and comparing that to sometimes having to wait a long time to see a doctor is not okay.

            2. M-C*

              It’s true, long wait time are not properly abuse, not like screaming maskless at a receptionist. And nobody minds waiting hours if necessary, if the doctor is busy saving someone’s life or dealing with an urgent medical problem (if they’re told, which is often not the case). But most wait time in doctor’s offices is due to disorganization, to greed wanting to insure every second is billed, and to utter contempt for patients’ time and lives in general. I have spent years without seeing a doctor because I was a contractor and had to take an entire half day off for an appointment, couldn’t get anywhere quickly from my far suburban job, recovered before I could get an appointment, couldn’t basically afford not just the fees but the time to get there. And yet we all know offices where time is managed in an adult manner, and people get seen quickly enough without causing a ruckus even if they do have an emergency. I don’t trust doctors on a medical level when they can’t be bothered to get that part of their practice together.

              1. Paperdill*

                “Most wait times in doctors offices are due to disorganisation, to greed…and to utter contempt for patients time and lives in general”.
                I hope you are are using hyperbole, here, because, as a health care worker I find this comment utterly contemptible and insulting.
                The very nature of healthcare means the unpredictable happens however well we try to plan. Resources are finite. And the healthcare worker at the coal face the vast VAST majority of the time just wants to help people.

                1. TardyTardis*

                  Umm…some doctors are worse than others at this, and you would be wrong to say there is never any greed or disorganization. I only go to women doctors if at all possible, because I have been treated like a second-rate person by several male doctors (though I would build a statue to my male OB guy). I like being listened to, and trust me, you can tell when the doctor doesn’t.

            3. Kella*

              I don’t think there’s anything in this letter to suggest that patients are being mistreated or otherwise having to deal with mismanaged care. Even if a situation *is* mishandled, that’s not an excuse to be so rude that you make the worker cry. It’s not unreasonable to expect patients to handle themselves like adults in the event that something goes wrong. Submit a complaint? Sure! Threaten to get someone fired? Uncalled for.

          3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            The sign is there to back up staff when they say “no abuse tolerated, if you continue I’ll have to ask you to leave”.
            Also, it shows the other, pleasant patients that there is a problem and those patients will be more likely to want to back staff up, help as witnesses if violence does break out etc.

        2. Julie*

          Yes! This! My friend works in pediatrics and making it clear to parents that they could be asked to leave has made a huge difference in this difficult year.

        3. SK*

          I think it’s great that you got rid of the person causing the problem as soon as you realized it, but it’s possible that this was simply the final straw for the insulted person so I wouldn’t look ill on them for bailing. It may be that they made a few borderline comments that simply didn’t register for the rest of the group. They could also assume that if the jerky person had been with the group for much longer than them, there’s simply no way this was the first instance of this behaviour (even though it could legitimately be the first time!). Anyway, I’m not saying anyone did anything wrong here – just saying I could understand why the insulted person or the staff at this health care group could have felt the need to leave even if the issue was taken seriously.

      3. Joan Rivers*

        For me, signs are useless and even counter-productive. What works better to me is actual communication, which LW says has been a reason patients have been upset.
        An actual meeting, socially distanced and masked, might make the point better. Or offers to meet w/disgruntled patients to discuss their issues.
        But that requires good communication. What are they complaining about?
        I’m not defending rudeness at all but if patients claim they’re rude due to communication problems, maybe trying communicating? Answering questions.
        If patient rudeness is coming from fear / anxiety / confusion, then answers might calm them. Or show that they DO need to go.

        1. Jessa*

          I agree. A sign will set a bad tone for the majority of polite patients. I saw one at a a doctor’s office where I saw front staff being rude and unhelpful to multiple patients while I waited in reception. Once in exam I saw a sign like that in the exam room. It really put me off. I think follow that good advice usually given about managing people, Council specifically, don’t call in the whole group and also lecture the innocent. It also brings a cloud of unease to what is already an anxiety a producing situation for slot of patients who have anxiety over being there.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I so agree. Typically, when I see a sign like that I probably will see unhappy, abrupt staff.

            I’m not in the medical field but I work in another arena where people are NOT happy for reasons. My boss and I put up clear signs indicating proper procedure (sign in at the desk, etc.) I make sure that people know the steps of the process they have arrived for. I repeat myself dozens of times per day answering questions because that’s what the job IS.

            Rudeness is handled on a case by case basis. I consider myself fortunate because in 8 years there was only one person who was over the top and I had to hang up on him. Interestingly, he was yelling so hard, that I repeated myself a few times saying, “If you continue to yell, I will hang up” and he could not hear me over his own yelling.
            Yeah, he ticked me off in the moment but where I landed was that I actually felt sorry for him. Ability to communicate- have a back and forth conversation- is a quality of life issue. The folks who can work their way through difficult conversations can make out better in the long run than folks who just yell/cuss/act snotty. In direct opposition, I remember one guy who came in he had no color in his face and his hands were shaking, he was the most scared person I had ever seen in my job. For whatever reason the guy opened up. He said, “I am worried about X”, where X was a thing that just WILL not happen. So we chatted about the particulars of that. I guess it was enough because he was able to find a chair and sit to wait for his turn. Of course, X did not happen and he left looking much better.

            Signs that indicate normal procedures can help- such as “please check in at the desk” or “please wait here someone will be with you shortly”.

            It’s also super helpful if people are told BEFORE hand what is coming up next. “This process takes about 15-20 minutes.” OR “I will send you confirmation by US mail.” Even bad news can help ward off problems, “I am sorry, we are running behind today and it’s going to be a half hour wait.” People like to know what is coming up next.

            It’s also helpful if people know what to do if something does not fall together the way it should. “If you do not hear back from so-and-so by next Tuesday, give me a call and I will check on the progress for you.”

            There are times where we cannot help a person, so we will explain, “I can’t help with Y because that is an ethics breach because of [reasons].” If I can redirect to the correct person, I do.

            Jargon. Jargon is a big flippin’ deal. I know if I am on the receiving end of an explanation loaded with jargon that only someone in the biz would understand I feel insulted. I try to break things down at work and NOT be that insulting person. Additionally, there are times where a person can believe that a jargon word means one thing and it actually means something way different. Two people can end up talking right past each other if neither one checks to make sure they are both on the same page.

            Overall, I have been lucky for the retailing experience I have had. Most retail places live by the idea that if a customer is angry, there is something wrong that the employee did. (There are exceptions, of course, but they are rare.) There is a way of speaking that tends to calm situations down. That way of speaking has numerous components and techniques. This is not to throw it back on the employee but there are times where the employee does not realize how much real and/or perceived power they have. If you think of a yelling person as a person who feels their autonomy has been taken away from them, it sometimes makes it easier to break down what is wrong and get to the core of the matter.

            But in the end, there are just some people who cannot be helped.

            1. Pickled Limes*

              “Typically, when I see a sign like that I probably will see unhappy, abrupt staff.”

              Have you considered the possibility that the staff are unhappy and abrupt because they receive so much abuse from their clients that their workplace has had to make signs about it?

              1. Artemesia*

                Or they are a place that places no value on patients’ time and routinely are organized to make patients wait for hours and have their comfort ignored. Not long ago I was forced to wait hours for a blood test — across from me was a woman obviously with late stage cancer or having chemo or something who was very ill, pale and thing and leaning on her husband’s shoulder who waited hours for her blood test. Mistreating patients is a US thing. I have never been treated that way in Europe where I could schedule a test and go get it right when scheduled and have friends doing chemo who could be seen quickly when it was their appointed time for test or treatment.

                1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                  I’m in Europe and I’ve had to wait plenty of times, including 2 hrs for a scan once after surgery went wrong. A doctor friend told me later that I literally could have died waiting.

            2. DJ Abbott*

              Confirming that telling people what will happen is a big help. It always helps with my anxiety so I can be mentally prepared. If I’m not told, I often ask.

          2. M-C*

            I agree that a sign can be counter-productive. I don’t know why I still go to these meetings where the abusers got to write a policy saying how we’d all be nice to each other, and then read it aloud to us at the beginning of every meeting to twist the knife further in the wound. Well, actually I know why: zoom, and the fact that I can switch off video and go grind my teeth in another room…

        2. generic employee*

          On the other hand, if the patients don’t like the answers (“No, you may not have the receptionist’s home phone number”/ “No, you may not read another patient’s chart”/ “No, you may not have antibiotics for a viral infection”/”No you may not go in that room to see what’s taking so long”) they may well escalate. At best they’ll take up time that could be spent assisting the people who wait quietly.

          1. Artemesia*

            or ‘We don’t care that your appointment was at 1 and it is now 3 and you took time off from work and need to get back and so what that you called at 12:30 and were told it was fine to come on in for your 1 pm appointment’

        3. PT*

          If you don’t have a sign/policy in writing, the first thing the bad customer will say is “There’s no sign that says I couldn’t do that.”

          This is how you end up with places that have signs that say “Please do not hit the llamas with a vuvuzela while riding a Segway in a circle around the llama paddock.” When obviously, no reasonable person would argue that there needs to be a sign telling you not to do that because you just…should not do that.

      4. Denver Gutierrez*

        Awhile back, I was at Target and some jerk was being awful to the poor cashier, accusing him of something that did not happen. A bunch of us defended the cashier and also assured the manager who had come over that the young man had done nothing wrong. We probably did not get the jerk to consider how he treated others, but at least the cashier knew that we had his back and not everyone was awful.

        1. Violette*

          My favorite manager-has-employee’s-back story was when I was working the Customer Service desk at a big box home improvement store and some huge guy started bowing up to the Returns clerk, then bowing up to me when I intervened. He got LOUD. Every other word was a cuss word and he was working himself up in a lather.

          My store manager, a slightly-overweight guy in his 30’s and about 5’5″, heard the commotion, came literally running over, and HURDLED the Returns desk to insert himself between me & the clerk and the Ragey Dude. It was one of those moves from an action movie, where someone leap-slides across the hood of a car. It was truly impressive.

          It was also impressive when he boomed, “I NEED YOU TO LEAVE MY STORE *NOW*.” And when Ragey Dude, who had immediately deflated, whined and tried to plead his case, Manager dropped his voice in a way that makes people more menacing and said, “There are only two options available to you. You leave on your own — Right. Now. — or you are forcibly removed — Right. Now.”

          The guy walked out, through the crowd that had gathered, with his tail between his legs.

          The manager was a soft-spoken D&D, WoW kind of a guy who had gone back to school to get a Bachelor’s in Education so he could be an elementary school teacher.

    3. Lacey*

      Yeah, while I would never be unkind to the staff at my doctor’s office, I’m often just sort of… there. So a sign like that would be a nudge to put in the effort to be active friendly towards them.

      1. Clorinda*

        I think that being just sort of there is fine. It’s the people who are rude, unreasonable, and demanding who are the problem. The people who come in, go through all the covid processes without complaint, and leave having paid efficiently are fine!

        1. Clisby*

          +1. Nothing about that sign would make me put forth extra effort to be extra friendly. Ordinary, no-drama politeness is all that’s required.

        2. Denver Gutierrez*

          As someone who has to deal with the public at work, “just there” is just fine! You don’t have to be my new best friend, just don’t behave like a spoiled toddler over things we can’t control.

          1. tra la la*

            Yes, “just there” is great, actually! I don’t always have the energy to respond to effusive friendliness. Normal politeness is awesome!

    4. Allypopx*

      I think that is an important factor! Awful people will be awful but I think the people who aren’t will see that sign and be horrified it was necessary, and up the cheer. Enough extra good interactions may make the bad ones slightly more palatable, or at least easier to push through.

      I agree with Alison as well that empowering them to kick people out, if you haven’t already, may be a big help.

      Also can people just…not be the worst please.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Awful people will be awful but I think the people who aren’t will see that sign and be horrified it was necessary, and up the cheer.

        There is a sign at a local drive-through that asks customers not to blow smoke at the employees. Every time I see it, I’m horrified that it’s necessary. And yes, if I weren’t feeling particularly cheerful that day, it might remind me to be extra nice to the person on the other side of the window. Awful people will ignore it.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          Many years ago, I worked as a bartender is a college bar that allowed smoking indoors. Many times people would be smoking and ordering a drink and just not thinking, then say, “Oh! So sorry!” and wave the smoke away that they had just exhaled. But on a number of occasions, I had someone who was intentionally being rude and blew smoke in my face ON PURPOSE. They were swiftly kicked out of the bar, but I would still feel the aftershock of it the rest of the evening. I remember someone asking me if I was alright because I looked like I had been crying. My eyes watered the whole night and my makeup was going down my face…

          So yes, agreed. Awful people will ignore it. But others might see it and be inspired to do better.

        2. DJ Abbott*

          As a person with a severe cigarette allergy, making a mental note not to work at a drive-through!
          Now we get to deal with weed smoke too. It was legalized in my state last year and I was waiting for a bus the other day and got a face full of weed smoke from a jerk walking by and blowing big clouds of smoke. :p

      2. HigherEdAdminista*

        For sure! I have been reading people’s experiences online with the general public using COVID as an excuse to be horrible to them at work, and while I hope nothing I have ever done would qualify as horrible, I definitely have those things in mind when I am in a shop. I make sure to be a little extra friendly to hopefully let the other person know that for the length of our interaction at least, everything is going to be nice and easy.

      3. Malarkey01*

        I think a sign can also help for those people that aren’t usually awful but are being difficult that day- and not talking about abuse but I know I’m guilty of once snapping at the receptionist when I was having an awful day, got my sick kid over to doctors after confirming the appointment, and got there and was told someone should have called me because the results weren’t there and we needed to reschedule (and dealing with a sick child also comes with some fear and stress on top of it). I sort of yelled “are you kidding me this is ridiculous. How can you jerk sick kids around like this”. I immediately regretted it as soon as she said I’m sorry I’m sure this is hard and ended up crying and apologizing and then bringing them chocolates when I came the next day for the new appointment.
        Seeing a sign and sort of setting my mood as I walked in might have helped in a year where a lot of people are dealing with more than normal (again no excuse for it, just a way to prevent some of it).

    5. BethDH*

      I have a family member who can either be the jerk person OR one of the most pleasant customers you’ve ever had. It seems to depend on how much she perceives a person as an individual vs face of the company. It’s a very us-vs-them mentality: is the employee a fellow victim or a henchperson of Evil Company? Once she’s identified a person as one or the other the treatment remains the same even if they don’t give her what she wants.
      I can see a sign working on her and others of this type.

    6. straws*

      I agree. I think there are many benefits to a sign, even if the 5% completely ignore it:
      1) the nice people may up their game, as Polecat said
      2) the nice people may feel more confident speaking up if they witness abusive behavior
      3) it’s a written, visible statement to employees that management has their back that they’ll see on a daily basis. hopefully you don’t have to fire patients every day, so that daily reminder may go a long way for morale and for empowering employees to defend themselves!

      1. Pickled Limes*

        It’s also a written statement that staff can point to when patients are being asked to leave for their behavior. One of the most common questions I get when trying to get a customer to behave better is “Where does it say I can’t do that?” Posting a Code of Conduct style statement gives staff something to point to when that question gets asked.

    7. Smithy*

      This is a really good way to think about how to improve a situation. Ideally there’d be a way to reach and change the most abusive cases, but it may be that alerting “the middle” that there’s been a problem may help as well.

      Certainly no one likes waiting at the doctor for late appointments, but for those likely to get frustrated and irritated but not abusive – being a little more mindful may help them take off some of that edge. And it may be that by the other 95% being a touch kinder, more patient, etc, that might help staff have more bandwidth for the impossible to change 5%.

    8. Momma Bear*

      I think that a reminder of how you can be kicked out of the practice needs to be sent as a cover your butt kind of message and then after that feel free to remove people from the practice for not following the guidelines. This is less about expecting them to comply and more about putting them on notice/empowering the staff.

    9. Some dude*

      A few breweries I’ve been to recently have had signs that said “This is all weird! Let’s just be cool and have a good time!” and I appreciated that. I appreciated them acknowledging that this all is hard, and asking for clients’ patience. It may not convince the 5% to not suck, but it will show the staff and clients that you are thinking of them. Just please make it nice – I hate signs that assume I am a terrible horrible person and effectively shout at me.

    10. Aitch Arr*

      All 3 polecats want to do is make a circuit with you.

      diode, cathode, electrode, generator, oscillator…

    11. CFrance*

      My dog’s groomer put up one of those posters (you’ve probably seen on Facebook) explaining the many facets of grooming a dog and how it was vastly different from getting your basic human haircut. (I mean, really… anal gland expression???) People (not me) were apparently complaining about the fees.

      While I wasn’t one of the ones complaining about the cost, seeing that poster sure was an eye-opener. I upped her tip for keeping our 85-lb Golden Retriever shed machine looking good. I can’t imagine anyone seeing that list continuing to complain.

    12. Hey Nonnie*

      I vote for a sign too. The medical clinic I visit already has a sign, and if I remember correctly I’m pretty sure it pre-dates the pandemic. I was never offended by the sign, I was actually glad they have a specific policy for it because it protects the workers (as it should) AND everyone else. It’s pretty terrifying to be in the room while someone goes off on a person, even if you’re not their target. (Been there, done that.) With people that irrational, who knows how they might escalate or who else they might turn on.

      Their sign says something to the effect of the staff having the right to work in a safe environment, and therefore abusive behavior will not be tolerated. Don’t even put a hint of apology on the sign. This is a clinic policy and it can be stated as just a matter of fact.

      1. Sasha*

        Google “NHS zero tolerance poster” if you are short of ideas.

        Lots of different examples, with varying levels of politeness (ranges from “our staff have the right to work in an environment free from verbal and physical abuse” to “punch our staff and we’re calling the police”).

    13. CoveredInBees*

      I’ve heard that people have been absolutely horrendous to veterinarians during the pandemic. I get that everyone is stressed in general and it can be rough to hand over your fur baby and just wait. My elderly dog had to have a surgery with a 50/50 likelihood of dying from it and I couldn’t be there to hold her for the anesthesia or when she came out of it. (She came out of it great, btw) This was ALL THE MORE REASON to be extra kind to the people doing extra in caring for your pets.

  2. Beth*

    OP1: Do you have a protocol in place for what to do when a customer is being abusive? If you can set up a plan—something other than “be polite and wait for them to move on” or “ask them to stop,” neither of which are all that viable in practice—that might go a long way towards making these interactions more survivable. For example, do you have a manager who can step in at a moment’s notice when these situations come up? If so, empowering your front desk employees to say “I’m going to get a manager to handle this, I’ll be back in a moment” might go a long way towards limiting their encounters with customer abuse.

    1. tra la la*

      This seems really important and as someone who’s been frontline staff, I would rather have something like this in place than a sign. A protocol gives the staff some power in the situation, and to have a set procedure in place also means the staff can respond automatically rather than be caught off guard in the moment.

      People tend to ignore signs. Also, if I’m frontline staff, I might not want to have to explain to well-intentioned 95%ers what’s happened that made the sign necessary. Having a clear, actionable protocol in place would definitely make me feel supported.

      1. Beth*

        Yeah, I’m just thinking, OP has made gestures of support already, but so far it doesn’t sound like they’ve done anything to make their front line staff less helpless in the moment where a customer is abusing them. When it comes to bullying and abuse, being empowered to take action right away (versus being told you have to endure it, even if someone promises to address it after the fact) is a game changer. If OP is losing staff over this, I think empowering their employees in that way is going to be crucial. Front line staff need options on what to DO about this abuse—options that they’re comfortable doing and trained on thoroughly enough to remember in a high stress moment, and that they know for sure management will 100% back them up on.

        1. tra la la*

          Exactly! I know I’ve frozen when someone’s become abusive, and not being sure that management would back me up makes that moment even scarier. A clearly established protocol and action in the moment supports the staff.

          1. The Rural Juror*

            Right. Like the action could be to stand up and leave the room, but immediately find a supervisor to go and handle the situation. Even if the staff feel empowered enough to be able to remove themselves from the situation that would mean quite a bit. No one deserves to be made to just sit there and take abuse.

        2. hamsterpants*

          Having management backup is so crucial. Having an abusive customer call your manager should not be a terrifying prospect — it should give you a chuckle knowing that this wannabe power move will backfire.

          1. Methuselah*

            Sadly for most people in retail and the restaurant industry, having a horribly abusive customer call the manager is very terrifying. At the very best the manager will give in to the customer and give them whatever they want even if it is against policy and humiliates and undermines the employee and gives the customer the power to repeat the horrible behavior knowing it gets them their way. At worst the employee gets fired.

            1. Lacey*

              That’s so frustrating! I know I used to get angry because managers would give into complaining customers even when it went against everything we’d been told to do, but I never got in trouble for it. They told us to keep handling it the same way!

              And I have multiple friends who’s managers backed them up and actually banned customers from the store/restaurant for being mean to the employees. But I guess that’s not the norm.

      2. Amaranth*

        I think that having a sign that says rudeness means losing your appointment will keep some of the folks who are grumpy from acting out. Nothing will ever stop the most selfish drama llamas, but reducing some of the medium-grade snippiness as well as empowering staff to tell someone to leave might help morale. (also, have an actual way to support them when they choose to refuse service. Since this is happening a lot, it might also help to hire a security guard who can step in if someone gets irate or tries to intimidate staff.)

        1. Jyn’Leeviyah the Red*

          That’s a great point — and it has the benefit of reminding patients/clients who are typically patient and kind that there are others who may have been *not* so nice lately, ideally increasing empathy in general.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          I like that. A sign that says “please be nice to our staff” won’t do anything, but a sign that says “patients who are rude and abusive to our staff will be dismissed” might.

        3. noahwynn*

          We’ve found the same at the airline I work for. We have a card we give out onboard that acts as a “inal warning for the mask requirement. It does get about 90% of the people who act out to eventually comply. The remaining 10% of the problem passengers are still a problem, but I think the written card clearly shows them that we are serious and that this is not just an employees who is going to nag you.

          Our steps are pretty simple:
          1) First employee asks you to comply
          2) First employee tells you to comply
          3) Second employee tells you to comply
          4) Final warning via card
          5) Flight met by law enforcement and FAA/TSA notified. Passenger placed on company no-fly list.

        4. JustaTech*

          I think that a sign to remind patients to be kind to the staff might be helpful for the people who are being rude/loud/emotional because they are scared/upset. Doctor’s offices can be scary places where you can be suddenly confronted with a giant bill or scary/life changing diagnosis.
          So a sign might be a helpful reminder to patients to not project their fear onto the staff (something I know I’ve done unintentionally, and apologized for, but it would have been better for both of us if I could have been reminded by an inanimate object rather than the person I was talking to).

          But you’re right that it won’t do much about the people who don’t care except give the staff something to point to when a rude patient says “oh yeah? says who?”.

      3. Good Vibes Steve*

        When I worked at a check-out, my employer didn’t much well, but one thing they did do well as having a secret signal that would call security to your counter immediately. We were encouraged to do this with any unruly customer, to have back up when things escalated. Miraculously, when a security guard hovered nearby, customers always calmed down.

      4. Not So NewReader*

        And describe what is not acceptable behavior. According to my boss, if they raise their voice she thinks I should just end the conversation. I tend to go with context, some people get very animated when they are upset- but they are not upset with me. They are just telling me about something that upset them. Context is everything.

        Working in retail we used the buddy system a lot. If someone was giving a cohort a hard time, it was up to me or anyone else near by to go over and join the conversation. Sometimes just having that extra person quietly stand there changes the direction of the conversation. Other times the extra person can pull the conversation off the badgered employee and turn the conversation around.

        So here, stage 2 would be the buddy system. If that did not work (which it usually did) then the next step would be to get the manager on duty. Only a manager could ask the person to leave, so the hidden subtext here is by calling the manager we were saying, “Please remove this person.”

    2. Quoth the Raven*

      Yes, a protocol is needed, and it’s just as important to endorse it. Make certain that whatever actions your staff can take, like asking someone who is being rude to leave, is supported by management, rather than letting the patient have their way.

    3. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Yes. And making sure employees know exactly what their power is in the situation. Are they empowered to call a manager over? To ask the patient to leave?

      1. anonymous 5*

        YES. To me, the sign is a good idea–it makes clear in writing what the policy is, so that part is covered. But having a protocol in place means that the staff have both the security of a known course of action (so they don’t have to think on their feet how to respond in a stressful situation) AND the assurance that they’ll be supported.

        1. MsSolo (UK)*

          Yes. Usually, when I’ve seen signs like this (which are pretty standard in UK doctors’ offices, as well as train stations, post offices, and even some retail shops) it’s clear the intent is to let the patient know the staff are empowered to refuse them service. It doesn’t necessarily stop the abuse, but it sets out the consequences clearly (usually with a note about the escalation e.g. if a staff member asks you to be respectful and you fail to comply, then you will be refused service).

      2. Le Sigh*

        Yeah, this was crucial in retail. I was pretty good at handling customers, but when it clearly was headed for a point of no return, I just called the manager. That was the protocol, because managers had the authority to either a) placate them with a coupon or b) send them packing. I think it was especially helpful to staff who might be good at their jobs but not so great with confrontational situations — they knew they had an escape hatch.

        We took enough abuse as it was (including once having to dodge a box of shoes thrown at my head) that I had no qualms about handing things off. Plus the worst offenders seemed to get *happier* when I called the manager because now they get to feel like they’ve gone over my head to the real authorities (eye roll). Enjoy your 20% off coupon, Bob.

    4. Bounce*

      100% agree. And potentially some known follow up support like time for a break or ensuring there’s a follow up conversation to suppprt them afterwards.

    5. Bagpuss*

      I think this is really important.

      I’d suggest talking to the staff to ask them what they’d like to see, but also be ready to put forward suggestions yourselves.

      e.g. say you are considering a formal protocol which expressly states that for people on the phone, they can give them one warning then put the phone down, for people in person they can call a manager / senior person and that that person has the authority to tell the abusive individual to leave.

      You could consider a ‘ 2 strikes and you’re out’ policy, where the first time someone is rude or makes threats to get someone fired they get a warning letter and if it happens again, they are banned – staff may feel more comfortable reporting the less major incidents if they know there is a specific policy, and you can make it clear that you are still willing to ban people for a first offence where that’s appropriate.

      I think you it also makes sense to have signs and a statement on your website and in any T&Cs you give people when they first sign up, explicitly stating that you reserve the right to refuse service and to permanently ban anyone who is aggressive or verbally abusive towards staff.

      1. Grey Coder*

        I like this. I was thinking of a yellow card/red card protocol, where the employee has the power to issue the yellow card directly (with some internal documentation process as well for the records). That’s an immediate consequence for the abusive patient/customer and gives the employee more control.

      2. cat lady*

        yes to asking the staff what they’d find most helpful! “Here are my ideas– what do you think? What do you need?”

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I like this a lot. A while ago I had a person insist that I do something unethical. This person was angry, almost yelling and just a bear to deal with. I explained that what they were asking could jeopardize my job. It was so clear to me that the person had NO idea how our system worked. However, the person did identify themselves and I recognized that they are in an adjacent field. I also realized that I could call their boss or I could file a complaint with my own higher ups.
        After I hung up, I decided to take the wait and see approach. If they called again after clearly being told not to call and who to call instead, then I would at least report them to my higher ups and ask them to look into it. A peer with a similar encounter decided the same. Fortunately neither one of us received another call.

        Eh, I know I have made jerk moves myself. If someone told me to take a chill pill (by means of explanation) then I changed course. It happens to a good number of us. I could see what the above caller was trying to do and I understood his perspective.

    6. Asenath*

      The health care facilities I go to (all operated by the same health care authority) have signs up in places where there are a lot of patient interactions – blood collection clinics which collect specimens from outpatients, for example – warning of abusive behaviour, and that security will be called in if necessary. It never happened while I was there, but I’ve been in other parts of the complex and heard “Security to (Blood Clinic, ER, whatever)” frequently enough to know that they do deal with abusive patients.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        My friend went to the ER during Covid for a non-Covid matter. As he approached the metal detector the security guard asked him, “Did you come here to hurt anyone today?”

        I think we would have left if it had not been for a number of factors- not the least of which is the next ER probably would have asked the same thing.
        My objection to the question is they did not ask a female friend when she went to the ER. Men are not the only people capable of hurting others.

        1. Sasha*

          That is a really bizarre way to start an encounter – you have to wonder what was going through the security guard’s mind to start off on that foot. It is just such an aggressive way to open.

    7. Harper the Other One*

      +1 to this. Knowing that if a customer/patient does X or Y you can hand them off to a manager immediately is so helpful in front facing positions.

      1. Humble schoolmarm*

        Yes, when I worked circulation at my local library, we had a doorbell installed on the circulation desk that rang in the work room where the managers were. Before, you just had to stick your head through a door to get help, but for some of that 5%, they escalated a lot if you tried to walk away. Both having and using the doorbell really increased my feeling that I could safely escape from the stampeding drama lamas.

        1. OhNo*

          Yes! I like the idea of having a “panic” button that summons a manager. Not only does it make it easier to call for assistance when needed, it might give the manager a chance to see the behavior in situ.

          I’ve had enough customer interactions where they are abusive to me and then flip like a switch to being sweet and understanding and “just confused!” as soon as anyone they think has power shows up, to think that silently summoning a witness can only be a good thing.

        2. BethDH*

          Oh wow, that would have helped me so much in my most customer facing role. You’re right that walking away moves a tantrum-adjacent customer over the line quickly.

        3. Drago Cucina*

          We had posted patron behavior signs because one of the first things people would say it, “There’s nothing that says I can’t do X.” Ridiculous yes, but we could point to the sign by the front door. A phrase that we took from another AAM post was, “We don’t do that here.” They were very helpful for our less confrontational and younger staff.

          Also, to always get a second person if possible and get a counter or desk between themselves and the irate person. They also needed to tell me immediately so I could send a formal letter. That was one of the biggest problems I had. Getting the info ASAP. It’s easier to to say, “If you ever act like that again you will be banned” if it’s during or right after the incident.

    8. MCL*

      I had to speak by phone to a customer service person at an appliance store yesterday about a delivery miscommunication, and she was incredibly stressed out at the very start, clearly thought I was going to be very rude. I was like, “Oh my gosh, it’s okay! I’m not going to yell at you.” I felt terrible for her. I do think empowering staff to get a manager (and explaining how a manager will handle these situations typically) would be helpful.

    9. HannahS*

      I don’t know how clinics are structured in the US, but I think you also need to get the clinicians on board, to loop them in to the idea that if someone is abusive, they lose their appointment. Where I am, I think the doctor or NP would bear the liability, so they need to be on board.

      I have worked in an emergency room that saw a lot of abusive and violent behaviour. If a patient couldn’t safely leave the hospital, we called security and dealt with the behaviour. If the patient didn’t need emergency care (example, a woman who came in the middle of the night because her foot hurt, was screened and triaged by a nurse, didn’t want to wait to see a doctor, started yelling and trying to hit the nurses and clerks), they were asked to leave. It sucks. Almost everyone is reasonable or at worst gets huffy. But if it’s starting to get beyond that, it can be helpful to have the clinician come out and say, “You can’t talk to the staff that way. If you won’t wait quietly, then you need to leave and we will reschedule your appointment.”

    10. HR Exec Popping In*

      Yes, I would encourage the OP to establish protocols and to give your employees latitude. By this I mean given them the authority to make decisions (within the boundaries of your protocols) to address customer related issues. Both to the positive and negative. If you want to show your team members that you support them, empower them.

    11. Littorally*


      Working in a call environment, we have a script for dealing with abusive clients, specifically because it’s so common to freeze up when someone goes off the rails. Very simple, very short, easy to fall back on when you’re being screamed at.

      “[Sir/ma’am], please stop speaking to me this way, or I will end this call.” Say it twice, and third time you hang up. Then you log it and send it to your manager, who will review and decide if we’ll be starting the process to term the client.

      Obviously the exact procedure would be different if you have someone in front of you in person rather than on the line, but knowing the process is there and having a pre-written script helps a ton.

    12. CaVanaMana*

      And then your managers quit or are stressed because they’re taking all the abuse and employees who are stressed because they’re not trusted to use their own judgement when it comes to receiving abuse. It’s not empowering to go get a manager when someone is abusive or difficult. It’s empowering to be able to say, “I’m not going to be treated like this by you and you will either choose to be respectful or leave the premises” or handle the situation. Much of the time when someone is demanding a manager it’s just Karen trying to undermine the employee. There’s no need to give in to that.

      It’s empowering to give the front line staff the power to shut it down on their own while knowing that the manager has got their back when they do.

      Put the signs up and give guidance to the staff on how to handle these types of patients. Don’t have stringent rules on what is or isn’t abuse. People generally know when they’re being treated badly. Trust your staff and let them know they’re trusted.

      1. knitcrazybooknut*

        As a manager, I love being handed those problematic customers. I have the skills and the “rank” to take care of these folks. Usually being able to speak to The Manager calms them down 5%, and then I just kill them with kindness. I worked in payroll for 12 years, and there’s not much that will get my heart rate up at this point. I would rather have my direct reports pass someone to me than take any abuse whatsoever. That’s what I’m here for, and they know they can come to me for cover. Plus I’d rather have them doing their jobs! Keeping them happy or at least content is way more important than the fifteen minutes I’d spend humoring someone and leading them to the answer my employee was giving them anyway.

        1. knitcrazybooknut*

          Plus, nine times out of ten, they calm themselves down just waiting for me! They’re passed to me and suddenly they’re either reasonable, or I can wait them out, listening to their entire story/rant before I try to help them. That’s usually enough.

      2. No Name #1*

        Okay, but as someone who works in retail, honestly it is part of managers’ role to deal with “escalated situations” and abusive customers. And I’ve worked in other client facing fields where I had a bit more power to speak up but it’s still in the manager’s purview to address difficult customers/clients/patients because at the end of the day, a manager is getting paid more than their staff (with some exceptions) and across the board this is what managers do in client facing and customer service jobs. The responsibilities come with a higher pay grade and typically more benefits and job security. It sucks, and no one should have to deal with abuse, but in a world where that occurs, the people with the least amount of power and pay in the situation should not have to deal with it alone.

      3. Humble schoolmarm*

        I would argue that managers are more likely to have the power to do something to appease many of the people who are being unreasonable as well as the time in that moment to handle the problem. When I worked in the library, most people were escalated due to small over due fines when they were sure(!!!) that they returned the item on time. I had no power to waive fees and I had four other people in line waiting to be checked out, so that caused a lot of stress. My manager was much better positioned to talk the person down and decide whether waiving the fines was the right call.
        There’s also a certain type of irate people that respond well to appeals to authority. A manager can say the exact same thing you’ve just said five times, and yet they’ll except it when it comes from someone with more authority.

      4. M-C*

        Staff are people, and people are different. Some staff are perfectly capable of shutting down the jerks on their own, enjoy it, want to be able to. Some are young, inexperienced, or simply adverse to conflict. The latter need panic buttons and access to a manager, not so much the former. Giving people options is really the way to go.

    13. Emma*

      There’s loads of good advice here. I work in a sector where we often deal with abusive behaviour, and this is how I’d summarise my own employer’s (successful!) approach:

      1. Empower employees to handle the situation themselves. This could involve having protocols, specific wording for staff to use, or just making it clear to staff that they are encouraged to tell abusive clients to leave (or hang up on them if the abuse is by phone). The details depend on your staff and the personalities you have. My office has never needed strict protocols because about half of the team have great schoolmarm voices and are fine with winging it, but your team might be different.

      2. Provide effective backup from management. Staff should be able to call a manager in immediately who will take over handing the client, and management should back up staff’s decisions – if I have told someone that their appointment is cancelled because of their behaviour, the manager backs me up on that even if it’s not the call they would have made. Management should also not act like this is some great trial or like they think they shouldn’t have been called (I’m looking at you, Fergus).

      3. Follow up effectively and make sure your staff are aware that you’re doing it. Dismissing patients who behave abusively is great – make sure staff know that’s what you’re doing. Also, if you need to have further contact with someone, if they want to put in a complaint etc, bypass your frontline staff – tell them they can only contact you in writing, attn you.

      You might also consider offering your staff some training on how to handle these types of interactions, how to de-escalate when someone is working themselves up etc. I find having those skills really useful and it allows me to downgrade some situations from “you’ll receive a letter in the next few days explaining that you are banned forever”, down to “why don’t you go and cool down and come back in half an hour so we can try to sort this out”. BUT – you would need to make it clear that this is about giving your staff tools to get rid of the person ASAP: not about them not handling interactions correctly. The problem is the abusive client, not the way your employees are reacting.

  3. Worked in IT forever*

    OP 1, if I put up a sign, I wouldn’t focus on a message such as “please be patient, we’re doing our best.” I’d be more direct, like saying that threatening or harassing staff will not be tolerated. I’ve seen that kind of sign before. I can’t remember where, but I think it was in a hospital or government office (I’m in Canada). I agree with Alison that the good people will not be offended by that. They’ll just be surprised and dismayed that there’s a small percentage of people who have to be told to behave.

    And firing patients is a really good idea.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I agree that some sign along the lines of “Abusing our staff will get you fired as a patient. We want to keep our employees” sounds right to me.

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        One of our clinics recently put up a sign spelling out specifically that there was zero tolerance for racist comments against staff as well. Most non-jerks would feel good patronizing a place that openly protects its employees.

        1. Blue Eagle*

          “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone who speaks to our staff in an abusive manner.”

    2. Audacity has been on sale this year*

      I’m a physician and we have signs that say abuse won’t be tolerated. It doesn’t stop the abusive patients and we still have to fire them, but it reminds the staff that we do support them and don’t expect them to tolerate abuse.

      Also, my dad’s dermatologist has a sign that says, “All of our patients bring us joy – some when they arrive, and others when they leave.” I aspire to be at that level of whatever you would call that one day.

    3. Kathlynn (Canada)*

      I’ve also seen “abusive language/violent behaviour will not be tolerated” in hospital/health care situations. Have always been sad that theyare needed,but glad that the head people will protect their staff from potentially dangerous situations. (at least if their actions follow through with the sign)

    4. Batty Twerp*

      These kinds of signs are really common in the UK at train stations, GP surgery front desks… Almost everywhere except supermarkets.
      (Not sure what that says about the great British public…)

      1. Ron McDon*

        Sadly, I’ve recently spotted them at supermarkets too.

        But yes, very widespread in the UK – not sure it stops the behaviour of these people, but good for staff to know they have the backing of management to shut the behaviour down … as long as management do back up their staff when it happens.

        1. English, not American*

          Super common, and they usually have the consequence written there, which is handy to point to in a “my hands are tied by the policy, nothing I can do to help you, sorry-not-sorry” sense.
          The company I work for has a “behaviour policy” on our website, since we only deal with members of the public over the phone or email. It used to be called the “unreasonable behaviour policy” but was renamed as that only made the angry people more angry!

        2. UKDancer*

          I’ve also seen them at the supermarket especially at the cigarette / lottery counter as well as at stations, doctors’ offices and other places where the public have access. They’re incredibly common around the UK. I think Ron is right, they’re more to ensure staff know they can step in and apply a consequence than anything.

        3. Bagpuss*

          Yes, we have it in our terms of business – explicitly states that we have the right to terminate if they are aggressive or abusive to staff, and we do also have a sign in reception.
          We also have a formal policy which explicitly says that staff can (and should!) put the phone down on anyone who becomes aggressive or abusive over the phone – ideally after warning them, but that’s not essential depending on circumstances.

          We rarely have to use it but having a formal policy which is part of what’s covered in the induction for an new staff member means it’s clear, and that employees have something concrete to reference and know that we take it seriously.

      2. Grace*

        Yeah, I was going to say, are these sorts of signs not common in the US?

        Usually worded along the lines of “Aggressive and abusive behaviour towards members of our staff(/volunteers) will not be tolerated and may result in you [being asked to leave the premises/being refused service/being asked to disembark the train/being reported to the police]”

        I feel like it’s less a sign that the British public is worse than other countries and more just that it gives staff an appeal to authority if customers are starting to get loud?

        1. londonedit*

          I was going to say the same. I think it’s so the staff have something concrete to point to – you’re being abusive, our policy is written right here, I have the right to ask you to leave so I’m going to do that.

          It’s really common to see signs like this in the UK, especially on public transport and in situations like GP surgeries and hospitals.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Can confirm they are all over the railway. Backed up by the BTP (love those guys).

            (For non UK people: special arm of our police – British Transport Police.)

            1. londonedit*

              Also love the BTP! I discovered the other day that not everyone is aware of the 61016 text number, so I’m posting it here as a PSA – you can text with info about any non-emergency crime or police issue on the railway (including ‘there’s a person on this train being intimidating/abusive and I’d like police officers to board the train at the next available station’). It’s discreet as it doesn’t involve having to ‘call the police’, and it’s a great way to alert them to a problem that they can then investigate or send help for.

              1. London Calling*

                * not everyone is aware of the 61016 text number*

                What, you mean that deeply annoying and repetitive onboard advert about ‘if you see something that doesn’t look right…’ HASN’T penetrated the brain and doesn’t haunt the dreams of everyone subjected to it over the last few years

                1. londonedit*

                  LOL, I know…I was genuinely surprised to see a friend posting about it on social media as new news…but there you go!

              2. Keymaster of Gozer*

                I got to admit, even working FOR the railway I forget that number. Which is bad when you consider I had to put it on our intranet page….ooops.

                (Seriously have horrible memory for numbers and dates)

        2. UKDancer*

          Having worked in a range of countries, I don’t think the British are any worse than anyone else and there are well behaved and badly behaved people everywhere in equal number. I think it’s definitely just to make the consequence clear and for the staff to have a process to point to.

          I don’t know anyone has ever complained about the signs in the UK (certainly they haven’t anywhere I’ve worked where the public are present). I mean they’re just there in a lot of places. If you don’t behave badly, it doesn’t apply to you so that’s fine.

        3. RabbitRabbit*

          Not very common, at least from what I know. Abuse of healthcare workers in all forms – verbal, physical, even sexual assault – is sadly too common, and some states have been cracking down in recent years on putting extra laws in place to enforce safety for healthcare workers and to compel the institutions to allow this kind of reporting. Too many places basically treat it like it’s part of the job, even from a patient essentially in their right mind.

        4. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Yeah, I’ve seen similar signs in Costas, in Sainsbury’s, in most food places. I’ve always seen them so guess I don’t consider it anything more than a ‘don’t be a wanker or we’ll throw you out’ statement.

          Which is kinda British.

        5. Mimi*

          I (US) would not say that I’ve *never* seen one, but they are certainly not common here. It’s pretty much accepted (even by people who wouldn’t dream of mistreating service staff) that people in customer service positions are going to have to deal with abysmal treatment.

        6. Allypopx*

          No the US often takes a “the customer is always right” approach and pushes the message that you as an employee are worth less than the dollar value of the transaction you’re handling :)

          Clearly not in OPs case but in many places. Those signs exist but aren’t super common.

        7. Reba*

          We definitely have them in public transit (many state laws provide specific penalties for assault of transit workers, utility workers, etc).

          But it would be very rare to see this posted in a retail space, even if that was indeed the policy. There’s kind of a thing with those jokey signs about watching your kids–“unattended children will be given an espresso and a puppy” kind of thing. And recently I have seen some restaurants be praised on social media for posting signs about obeying covid rules and staff treatment, but I think these are establishments that have a certain tone or audience already.

        8. Clisby*

          The only places I’ve seen it where I live (Charleston, SC) are restaurants, and I never noticed them before pandemic times. Caveat: I haven’t been looking for these signs, so it’s entirely possible other places do post them. I go to the grocery store way more often than other places, so if signs were posted there, I think I would have seen them (if not, the placement leaves something to be desired.)

          1. pretzelgirl*

            I have seen them in restaurants too. They seem to be only in privately owned restaurants and now chains.

        9. Not So NewReader*

          Rural America. In the 80s I worked for a couple (they owned a decent sized business) who had NO problem asking people to take their business elsewhere. These two were ahead of their time in that regard. Then I found out that several businesses had black listed the same customers for the same reason. These customers were well-to-do folk who were probably some of the saddest, loneliest people in our area. The way they went at things, there is no possible way they could have many good, strong, healthy relationships.

          These two bosses were my heroes in this regard. I learned a lot from watching them remove people.

          Years later, one of those customers came back and directly said to me, “I am the way I am because I am just. so. lonely.” I said I understood and told her that I still could not wait on her. “When you have your items gathered, I will ring you up. But I cannot help you with your selections.” I never rang her up, because she was not able to decide what to buy on her own. So sad.

    5. Keymaster of Gozer*

      There’s a sign in our doctors building (UK) that says if you are aggressive or abusive or violent toward any staff or other patients then you will no longer be able to attend the practice and will have to go find a different doctor.

      I’ve never found it offensive because I’m not the person they’re directing it toward.

      1. Nobby Nobbs*

        Phrasing it as “aggressive, abusive, or violent” or something similar, as opposed to something gentler like “rude” strikes me as important here. Lessens the chance of people with heightened anxiety (because they’re, you know, sick) or a bad history with the medical system assuming they’ll be seen as crossing a line for speaking up or advocating for themselves. (That’s always the problem with generalized messages, isn’t it? The real jackasses assume it doesn’t apply to them and the conscientious to the point of anxiety crowd assume it does.)

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          That’s a good point too. I mean ‘rude’ could just mean ‘not saying good morning to the receptionist’ whereas ‘aggressive’ is much less likely to be misconstrued.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Thank you, thank you.
          Long story short I could write a book about what has happened to me and mine. I see a sign like that and the first thing I want to do is leave. Seriously. I feel cornered and trapped.

    6. Schwanli*

      As someone who would never be abusive to staff I have to admit that when I phone up a government office and get a recorded message about non tolerance of abusive behavior it gives me a very negative feeling. It makes me think the staff are not going to be helpful to me if my problem isn’t easily solved, and that they don’t view me as a human being. I think I’d feel differently if the message at least included some sympathetic acknowledgement of how stressful it can be for people who have problems, while also reminding them that any abuse could result in being dropped as a patient.
      Empowering the staff to end any conversations with someone who’s become abusive sounds much better, and would make me, if I were staff, feel valued and better able to cope with the out-of-control 5%.

      1. Grace*

        I’ve never seen anyone view those sorts of warning signs as a negative thing. Like people mentioned above, signs and messages about non-tolerance of abusive behaviour are everywhere in the UK, pretty much as standard in any customer-facing role, and generally are seen as a good thing – they show that management back up their employees and don’t allow them to be screamed at, sworn at, have slurs and death threats issued… Not to mention that in healthcare roles, the risk of physical assault is shockingly high.

        They’re not about saying staff have the right to ignore your problem, they’re saying that staff have the right to respect and security while at work. The NHS zero-tolerance signs – there’s a huge movement across all sectors of the NHS to stamp out abuse towards staff – generally include wording along the lines of “NHS staff shouldn’t have to face violence or abuse at work from the general public” before the line about non-tolerance and risk of prosecution.

        1. UKDancer*

          No I’ve never thought of it as a negative thing either. It’s just a fact of life. People shouldn’t have to face abusive behaviour and management should support them if they’re being mistreated.

          People (especially those in service jobs) have the right to dignity at work.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            When I see prominent signs or hear warnings about treating staff with respect my first thought is more along the lines of if I saw a ‘don’t take a dump on our floor’ sign: not ‘oh they seriously think I’D do this?!’ but ‘oh man, I can only imagine the kind of abuse these people have had to deal with to make a sign like that necessary’.

            (Side note: I wish I could put a warning like that on our IT Helpdesk line but we’re an internal support only department so we’ve been to,d we can’t)

        2. londonedit*

          Yes, it’s the same with the ones on trains etc – along the lines of ‘Our staff have the right to work without fear of attack or abuse. Anyone found to be abusive or violent towards our staff will be removed from the train/station/whatever and prosecuted’. I’ve never seen it as a negative thing – to me, it’s positive that a company is putting its staff’s welfare front and centre, and it’s also a positive sign that violence or abuse won’t be tolerated in the environment I’m also currently part of.

        3. Kittymommy*

          Yeah, I mean, I can tell you as a government worker that the amount of times I have been screamed at, cursed at, had stuff thrown at me and spit on, and because I work “for the taxpayers” is assumed I have to take it is insane. If my employer would put up signs or earn people that you can’t abuse staff, I would be in heaven.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I actually agree with you, Schwanli. It’s just a few more words on the same message but it frames the message.
        “We know that this is a very stressful time for everyone. While we are working hard to help everyone, abusive behavior cannot be tolerated. Patients exhibiting abusive behavior will be asked to leave.”

        Going back to years in retail, how things are said does matter.

    7. RN tired of abuse*

      I work in a large hospital (in the US). We absolutely have large signs posted at all entrances stating abuse of any kind is not tolerated. Abuse/ violence towards healthcare workers is out of control and has been for decades and I’m thankful my employer is doing their part. The key then is to back that up. As other people stated, empowering employees, scripted responses if needed, having rapid management back up etc is important. You can also huddle after each event for a debrief (NEVER make that punitive towards employees- e.g. ask them what they could have done different- that’s putting the blame on the employee).
      We also have patients/ visitors sign formal behavior contracts if needed and if they violate those they are banned. (Well the patient part of that is trickier but in a clinic you could do that).

      1. HC staff safety matters too*

        The healthcare system I work for also recently put up zero-tolerance signs. It never hurts to set expectations and consequences and it helps me feel like they have our backs. Our code system was also recently updated to differentiate between combative people and verbally abusive people and they both get lots of follow-up by leaders and security.

        Patient care and safety is important but so is staff safety! I feel like that gets lost sometimes.

    8. KB Canada*

      Also in Canada, and it is very common to see these types of signs in medical offices. I think they typically say something along the lines of “Abuse of staff will not be tolerated”.

    9. EPLawyer*

      There are two kinds of people who are abusive to staff right now. One are the people who are jerks. A sign will never reach them, but you can impose the consequences so you at least don’t ever have to deal with them again. The other are people who feel the whole Covid thing is out of their control and are acting out with what they CAN control. Doesn’t make it right. But, the second group, a sign spelling out consequences WILL get through to. Because it will cause them to stop and think about how others are also not in control of the overall situation right now. So they will rein it in and problem solved. If they don’t they belong in the first category and should be fired as patients.

      Empower your staff and follow through. Let them KNOW the abusive patients have already been fired and going forward if you fire others let them know it actually happened. The staff has to know the consequences were actually imposed not just know its the policy to do so.

    10. Budgie Buddy*

      Weirdly, I think “Please be patient, we’re doing our best” could even make the situation worse. If I as a customer saw that sign, I would try to be chill, but some part of me would also be “Aw crap this means they’re understaffed AF and I’m gonna be here forever.” So in a way, I could take the message as admitting I have a reason to be frustrated? It would put the thought in my head.

      1. Ama*

        Yeah the main reason I don’t like that wording is it puts the “fault” of the situation on the staff — who aren’t the people causing the problem!

    11. BunBun*

      Agreed. In Canada as well, and these signs are EVERYWHERE (clinics, hospitals, even regular shops). Basically they are all variations of “Abuse of staff will not be tolerated” combined with “We have the right to refuse service”.

  4. Jillian*

    OP2: I’d expand on Alison’s “I’m sorry I can’t help; I’m swamped today” to add “Try Googling you questions; you should be able to find an example on YouTube.” Honestly, I’m to go to person for Excel and Word in my office and I’ve learned everything I know from Google.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      That’s what I started doing with my worst offender: “have you checked your notes from the training last week on this – I know I have notes about this I took that day.” Or, “try resource sheet MNO on the share drive.” It hasn’t stopped all the questions – but made me a far less attractive resource because I now expected him to work for the help he was getting instead of just giving the answer to him.

      1. Joan Rivers*

        Or, “Why aren’t you taking notes? I can’t keep repeating this, you have to take responsibility for recording what you need.” In the moment. Point out what she does wrong upfront, like not taking notes.

        Or, “I can answer that question for you but you’ve asked it before, and I can’t keep doing this. You understand that, right? I have my own job.”

        1. Denver Gutierrez*

          My manager had to do something like that with a coworker. This woman had been told several times she was doing a certain task wrong, yet she just kept doing it. Her excuse was she had a bad memory. The manager said then she should be writing things down because the next time the mistake got made would mean a write-up. The kicker was everything, including that task, was in our procedures manual that everyone in the department was given. There was even a spare copy in the department to access if needed. The problem with this employee was not just her memory, but her tendency to rush through everything. I once had to firmly but nicely tell her that she needed to slow down and pay attention.

      2. Momma Bear*

        This often works. If you don’t make it easier to get the answer from you, they will find other resources/learn.

    2. Sharing a Cube*

      OP here–yes, exactly! All the answers are on Google and I don’t get why she doesn’t automatically look there first. My new phrase is going to be, “Gosh, I’m in the middle of something right now–did you try googling it?”

      It’s a little more difficult because we share a space so she feels like I’m always accessible to her. Unfortunately, headphones are not an option.

      Her managers already come to me pretty frequently with requests, so I have a feeling that they are aware of at least some of her limitations. I sincerely doubt they’ll do anything about it, though.

      1. Ron McDon*

        Don’t forget – she’s being paid to do her job, it makes no sense for you to take over doing her work in addition to your own job!

        I think a conversation along the lines of ‘I was happy to help you out with those sort of questions when you were new, but I can’t keep doing it going forwards, and a lot of the things you ask me I’ve shown you (many times) before. Perhaps you should make yourself a ‘how to’ document, where you copy and paste the instructions on how to do the things you struggle with’. Of course, if she asks you how to copy and paste it’s a lost cause :)

        The other option is to spend a bit of your time typing up a step by step guide on how to do these procedures, which I did after we had a high turnover in one role and I was spending time showing each new person how to do the same things. But if it’s more nuanced than set steps (e.g. she has to notice the font size needs changing, or the columns need sorting) that won’t work.

        If her boss asks you to do this persons work, it might be worth having a conversation with the boss about how your colleague’s skills aren’t suited for the job – I wonder if she exaggerated her ability, or they weren’t clear about what skills were required at interview. Either way, they should definitely incorporate a skills test next time they hire for this role.

        1. Joan Rivers*

          What LW should N O T do is do the work for her. That’s the worst idea. Yes, it’s tiresome, but nip her questions in the bud by pointing out she repeats them, and pin her down about what she’s going to start doing differently.

          She may actually quit if she’s in over her head, but that’s up to her. She could also ask to take a computer class.

      2. Barbara Eyiuche*

        Is she older? It took me quite a while before I would automatically think of googling something first, rather than asking someone. Now I do, and am sometimes amazed a the obscure but helpful videos one can find on YouTube, but it definitely wasn’t my go-to approach simply because I wasn’t brought up with computers. In any case, I would just keep suggesting she google things, and only come back to you if she can’t figure it out.

        1. Tired of Covid-and People*

          Removed. It’s not ageism to share one’s personal experience. – Alison

          1. Haven’t picked a user name yet*

            I’m not sure you should consider it agesim for her to express a suggestion based on her own experience. She didn’t say old people are terrible with computers, what she said was – it wasn’t my first thought.

            That doesn’t mean age or experience plays any role here but sharing personal experience doesn’t strike me as ageism, it struck me as a bit harsh.

            1. Mental Lentil*

              Agreed. This is about not being around computers early in her life, because they simply weren’t a thing then. Barbara makes an excellent point.

              This should be a safe place for people to share their personal experiences without everybody else acting as the thought police.

              1. Elle by the sea*

                Exactly. I’m in my mid-thirties but grew up technology free. I didn’t use computers until my early 20s and never thought I would ever use them. No-one around me used computers for anything – to play games at best. I am in software engineering now, but I still have really embarrassing knowledge and skill gaps. Since I never used the slightly more advanced functionalities of office, self-learnt everything and have terrible habits/no knowledge of shortcuts, I often cause a shock to people who are in general less tech savvy than me. Because they learnt the basics and I didn’t.

        2. Corrvin (they/them)*

          Plenty of folks that aren’t “older” also don’t have experience with computers, because they grew up poor with no computer at home, and then got jobs where their computer tasks were limited and they were trained by another staff member, rather than encouraged to seek out answers on their own. You might be surprised what “common knowledge” isn’t common if you don’t have the resources to discover it.

          (I wrote papers for my bachelor’s on an IBM Selectric typewriter. It was the Windows 95 era, but I couldn’t afford a computer and had access to a typewriter.)

          1. Corrvin (they/them)*

            I probably should include, before I get any advice myself, that right after college I got a job in tech support, built my own computer, got into online gaming, met a bunch of other techy types, and now have a job where I get to teach people how to do things on computers, even if they’ve never used one before (and it’s so awesome to get to do that).

          2. Elle by the sea*

            That’s right. Although I grew up upper middle class, my family was completely technology-free and I didn’t even find it strange that I didn’t use the computer for anything until the age of 20. But now things have changed – my parents use the computer every day and I work in tech. Life is strange.

        3. Aquawoman*

          This is funny to me because IME, I’m frequently surprised at younger people’s failure to google.

          1. Mental Lentil*

            This is very situational. There was a golden age of the internet when you had to really search to find stuff, and not everything was on the internet. Then along came Yahoo search and suddenly it was a lot easier to find things. Those of us used to doing things the hard way easily conditioned ourselves to just searching for stuff (initially via Yahoo, and then via Google).

            But again, this is only if you were in an environment where you had access to computers and the internet. If you didn’t have access to these things because of socioeconomic conditions, the thought that you can just google stuff probably isn’t second nature to you.

            With regard to young people, quite a few of them I know (and a lot of adults, as well) strictly use the internet for entertainment, so the entirety of the internet for them is Instagram or YouTube. They can find stuff on those apps (and for them, these are very much apps, rather than websites) but finding stuff out in the broader internet is a foreign concept to them. But again, this is situational. If you don’t have a phone, and can only use a computer at school, you’re probably more familiar with Google than YouTube or Instagram.

            tl;dr: It’s all situational and there are a lot of situations.

            1. ArtsNerd*

              As someone who remembers Alta Vista and Ask Jeeves fondly, I frequently forget that youtube tutorials are widely available!

      3. Antilles*

        Why would her managers do anything about it?
        The work is still getting done correctly and on time, nobody’s complaining (at least, it doesn’t seem like you’re making a big deal of it), and everything’s still flowing well. It’s not impacting them, so they likely don’t even recognize it as a serious concern.
        Especially since each of them is only seeing one-fourth of the problem – they probably see it as “meh, he just needs a little help on this one little task” and don’t recognize that those ‘one little tasks’ all add up to a huge commitment.

        1. Shirley Keeldar*

          Absolutely. From the managers’ point of view, there’s no problem–they have two jobs’ worth of work, they have two people to do the jobs, the jobs are getting done. They may be completely missing the fact that you are doing 1.5 jobs while your coworker is doing .5! So, alas, if you want this to change you’ll have to go back to doing 1 job, not 1.5 . I get that it’s hard–I also want to help people who ask me. Maybe you can try a transition where you help one more time with each task, tell her to take notes because it’s the last time you can explain it, and then just…don’t help next time? Good luck!

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            As a manager, I would actually see it as a problem if I had one person doing 1.5 FTEs of work and another doing .5. That sounds like it would burn out, kill the morale of, and possibly LOSE the 1.5er, who is obviously the person I’d prefer to keep. I’d want to know about this and to help OP draw a reasonable line or reset expectations with the needy coworker and arrange for appropriate training. Because good people who feel like being good is just getting them dumped on leave, and then I’m stuck with FTE pay for .5 FTE work AND no one good to train the replacement.

            1. Willis*

              Yeah, honestly, I don’t even think I’d want one of my staff spending a lot of time training an admin on basic stuff like this. The OP is not running a remedial Microsoft Office class and shouldn’t be spending her time setting up training exercises, walking her through things repeatedly, monitoring her notetaking, etc. If I were the OP’s manager I’d want to know that this other person was sucking up so much of her time. Maybe the co-worker could take a class to improve or maybe she’s just a bad fit for a job where you need those type of skills.

        2. EPLawyer*

          Yep yep yep. Managers won’t do anything about it as long as the work is getting done. You said the managers are already coming to you. You need to make it THEIR problem not yours. Oh I’d love that sort the spreadsheet on Llama mental health issues, but I can’t my boss (remember above them) says that setting up the Alpaca retreat is my top priority. Of course you can only say this if its true. But unless they start having an issue with getting work done, your co-worker will stay in her job and it will be your job to pick up her slack. It would be better if your coworker were either encouraged to improve her skills or find another position more suited to her abilities.

          1. Mockingjay*

            Totally agree. This is a ‘let her fail’ situation. She was hired to do these tasks; she needs to do them. Nothing will change until her manager sees that she’s not performing at all.

            I’d have had a conversation with my manager long since, just to protect my own self. “Boss, Lucinda asks me everyday/frequently [use real metric] for repeated help in the most basic word processing and office tasks and reports. It’s chewing up huge chunks of my time. Can you speak to her manager about getting her formal training on X software? I’m happy to help with an occasional tip, but I can’t keep disrupting my own work or else I’ll get behind myself.”

        3. Artemesia*

          This. As long as management gets some poor shlub to step in and do her work they will not fix this. The OP needs to say ‘we already discussed this more than once and I cannot continue to do your work for you — you need to google it and figure it out.’ If you show her anything — show her how, don’t do it, and say ‘this is the last time I am going over this same thing so you need to make notes –‘ and stop until she gets out the notepad.

          And make it clear to management that she is not skilled and seems unable to get up to the job. If she has questions about interpreting management assignments send her to the manager for clarification of the request. EVERY DAMN TIME.

          It won’t get solved as long as you do the work and protect management from dealing.

      4. ecnaseener*

        You could even pick out an online Office reference site/tutorial for her, and send her the link so she doesn’t have to google it herself every time. That might smooth it over and make her feel less like you’re abandoning her to the wolves.

      5. Cat Tree*

        This might be hard to pull off since she’s asking questions identical to what you’ve already shown her, but you could also try feigning ignorance.

        I’m sort of like you. I have a reputation for being good at this stuff, and generally I love helping my coworkers. But I have occasionally encountered a person who took advantage and it was just to much. So in those cases I will sometimes just say “I don’t know”. That’s really hard for them to push back against because they can’t argue me into knowing something.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          Exactly, I’ve had this experience quite a bit. Even when I pointed out to the offender that they were causing me to lose my place in my work or make mistakes (which could be expensive!) they still didn’t get it. I started wearing headphones, even when I wasn’t listening to music, and adopted the phrase, “I can’t help you with that. You’ll have to look it up.”

        2. ArtsNerd*

          I’ve definitely started feigning strategic ignorance, and pushing my coworkers to at least *try* to do something before asking me.

          A bunch of my coworkers are pretty tech-phobic for whatever reason (and it’s not all older folks) and I’ve made really solid progress in helping at least one of them understand her problem is a lack of confidence and not a lack of ability. Hmm, I should probably make it even more explicit that she’s not going to break Mailchimp by pressing a wrong button.

          1. ArtsNerd*

            Also OP2 you have my deepest sympathies. Your coworker sounds absolutely exhausting.

          2. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

            oh man, “lack of confidence and not lack of ability” is a huge one. I’m a college librarian and do a lot of tech help, and sometimes I just have to go, “you know what to do just as well as I do!”

      6. anonymouse*

        I am the department go-to person. It even says so on my reviews and I love it. But I’ve learned (through 25 years of trial and error) that the “go-to” person does not have to be the “does everything everyone asks” person. Helping does not equal doing.
        It was hard to feel I wasn’t “helping,” but I had a person like you (not incompetent, just demanding, though) and I’d said “you have to google that yourself right now” and “it’s in the instructions” so I thought it was cool. Well, not exactly, because once when she was trying to help someone else, but couldn’t, she tried to redirect the frustration at me, by saying in front of the other coworker “I know you hate when people ask you questions, but…”
        So I was proud of myself for replying in the moment, “to paraphrase Ray Charles’ mom, I’ll show you once, and help you the second time. If you are asking me a third time, I’m not helping, I’m doing.”
        And I learned to stand by that.
        And if I forget something I’ve done a million times, I own it. “I should know this, but where is/how do I..?” That’s another key. You can be fallible.
        You’ll find your balance.
        good luck.

      7. Elle by the sea*

        There are many people who are (1) not able to phrase their questions in a way that it yields a relevant answer (1) they do find the answer but are unable to understand/process it without being spoonfed. But that’s why YouTube tutorials are so useful – if you are the auditive type.

        1. Artemesia*

          Good point. I have fixed car issues and household issues I had no clue about by looking at tutorials. They are great for the clueless who understand that if someone can do it, I probably can do it if I see how

          1. Mental Lentil*

            I used to work at a major hardware retailer and I had a lot of people who came in with a YouTube video pulled up on their phones saying “I need to buy all the stuff to do this.”

            I had a lady come in who needed a new kitchen sink, but didn’t want to pay a plumber to do it. She came in with a video, and I walked her around helping her to buy everything she needed to install a new sink, including (literally) the kitchen sink.

            Two weeks later, she came in with pictures of her new kitchen sink. It looked great and she was so proud! I was so happy for her.

    3. Willis*

      I agree with suggesting she Google stuff or use the help function. It kind of blows my mind that this isn’t a first resort for people in response to basic Word and Excel issues (if increasing font size could even be classified as an “issue”).

      I had a woman similar to the OPs coworker who used to ask me stuff like that and it soon became apparent she didn’t know even relatively simple things in these programs. You try to be helpful at first but eventually you can see the person isn’t even making any effort to learn.

      I would say the OP DEFINITELY shouldn’t start taking these projects on directly. Don’t keep covering for this coworker or your just going to up your workload for no reason. If she can’t even do this stuff and won’t learn it, her manager needs to be aware so they can decide if they need to get someone in the job who can actually fulfill its function. It’s not on OP to fix this.

    4. Mental Lentil*

      As someone who has been in OP’s position, I can verify this works if you apply it consistently.

      Honestly, a lot of people just have no idea how to find stuff on the internet. So I escalate things like this:

      First request: “Have you tried Googling it?”

      Second request: “Have you tried Googling ?”

      If they find a tutorial that explains it, but are having trouble following it, I’m more than happy to help them out, provided they’ve tried to do it themselves first. My go-to phrase is something along the lines of “Go ahead and try that, and if you get stuck, let me know.”

      You need to train them to be self-sufficient. But for a lot of folks (young and old alike—there’s a difference between using tech as a consumer of data and as a producer of data) a computer is just a big magic box that is subject to Clarke’s Third Law.

      1. delta-cat*

        The “if you apply it consistently” is so important.

        I worked with someone a bit like this. I won’t go into details, but suffice to say that it was a fun day when the person was away who usually helped her with IT things (read: did everything for her up to and including letting her use their login credentials since one of the things she couldn’t do was remember her own password). My interaction with her that day literally ended with me standing over her, dialling the IT department, and saying, “hey, this is Cat, I’m here with Jane, she needs a password reset” while she sobbed uncontrollably.

        All of which to say, if a coworker who is that sorely challenged and intimidated by technology has gotten used to being helped over and over again, and never being asked to solve a problem for herself … once you cut off that help, you have to prepare yourself for the extinction burst. It may get very ugly.

      2. Mental Lentil*

        Oops. The second request is actually “Have you tried Googling it [insert appropriate keywords here, because figuring out what to google is sometimes difficult for people]?”

    5. lilsheba*

      We had an employee like that. She literally couldn’t retain info for more than a day in her head, and sometimes asked the same thing twice a day. She was incompetent when it came to computers in general, and frankly in this day and age that inexcusable. She eventually got fired for horrible performance.

    6. Home Away from Work*

      Maybe she needs that annoying Clippy turned on? Or did Microsoft get rid of Clippy? (I turned it off way back when so I wouldn’t throw anything at my computer screen)

    7. RB*

      Could your office send her to a beginner’s Excel class. If those are opening back up to in-person classes, that would be great. Like, not at a community college but at a place where they do these sorts of trainings in a one or two-day session. My employer was only too happy to send me to any number of Excel classes when I was new. It’s nothing to be ashamed of needing, but she’s probably afraid to ask. Could you suggest it to her manager?

    8. fogharty*

      I have folders full of bookmarks for tech support sites.
      Here is one I use frequently, if we are allowed to post links?
      I’d show her once (once) how to use a community forum (search for answers, post a question) and direct her there from this point forward. Also show her the Help Menu that every application will have.

  5. Aggretsuko*

    #2 has to work for FOUR MANAGERS?!?! Good god. How did she get hired? How have none of them noticed?

    1. LilyP*

      I think that’s pretty normal for admins, right? She does support tasks for all of them. Probably only one person is specifically her direct manager (in charge of performance reviews and stuff).

      1. Juniper*

        I’m a pretty classic admin, and I’ve only ever worked for two at a time. Unless it’s a tightly run ship with clear delineations of responsibility (which, based on the LW’s description, I’m guessing it’s not) having four managers would be a handful.

      2. EmKay*

        I’ve worked for anywhere from one to seven managers, plus all their reports.


      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Right — it doesn’t say she has four managers, it says she does admin support for four people. That’s not odd or problematic. (Think of someone who does admin support for a department. They don’t report to all those people; they support them.)

      4. NotAnotherManager!*

        This is how my department is set up – we have a department admin who does support and projects for me plus five managers as well as special projects for a peer and my boss. She’s excellent and very efficient, but the I am the final arbiter of priorities and if the managers are giving her conflicting deadlines/priorities or too much work to fit into the allotted time, I sort those out. On the org chart, she reports directly to me and I write her reviews.

        This sort of setup is not unusual for the law firms I worked in, either. A secretary or admin typically had an administrative manager but was responsible for supporting X number of attorneys. Daily tasking came from the attorneys directly, the admin manager handled HR-y type stuff, conflicts, coaching, etc.

      5. Clisby*

        That’s what I’d think. When I worked as a computer programmer, I’d typically be in a department where a couple of admins supported about 25 people. That didn’t mean all 25 of us *managed* the admins. We were just all allowed to send in support requests. They were managed by the department manager.

    2. Juniper*

      Good catch! And I think you answered your own question. None of them notice because she has four managers. She sounds incompetent, but that also sounds exhausting.

      1. Clorinda*

        There’s nothing for them to notice. OP is taking care of it. If OP takes away that support, the managers might notice.

        1. Juniper*

          Very true. But a hands-on manager assigning all her tasks would likely have sussed something out.

    3. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

      I suspect none of them have noticed yet because OP keeps bailing them out. I understand wanting to help out fellow coworkers (or just get the whining to stop), but nothing is going to change if the work keeps getting done.
      OP – If you are feeling particularly charitable you might put together a “dummies guide to Word/Excel/email”, or if you have existing resources you could point her to those, but you should not keep holding her hand theough the whole process. You can tell her you can explain it one more time, but that she will need to take notes because you don’t have the capacity to keep doing this. Until she or her manager(s!) start needing to actually deal with the issues themselves, they will just assume everything is fine.

    4. FashionablyEvil*

      Probably *because* she has four managers, especially if they don’t talk. “Hmm, Jane was late getting me that report. There must have been a fire on Fergus’s project,” or some such.

      (Why yes, we do have problems like this at my organization.)

    5. Hotdog not dog*

      I just left a job where I provided administrative support to 5 on a regular basis and had been assigned 2 more “temporarily” to cover when another admin left. (“Temporarily” typically ends up being several months, sometimes a year or two.”) Especially when working remotely, Google, the Help button, and YouTube were faster and easier than asking a colleague when my brain froze, which could happen easily when I received multiple assignments at once. (which of course all needed to be done first, had some unexpected complication, and often had to be completed with either a client or a salesperson on the line listening in “to make sure Hotdog gets it right.”) In case anyone is wondering, no, I am not second guessing my resignation in the least!

    6. Jennifer Strange*

      At my previous job I had five by the time I left (started with two). To be honest, it’s part of the reason I left.

    7. introverted af*

      This sounds like my workplace – the admins in fundraising cover 3-5 fundraisers, one more senior admin covers the 3 VPs, and one more senior than that covers the president and exec VP. With COVID and some retirements/people leaving, we’re covering more than usual. I cover 4 that all work on a team together, but mot others cover a couple teams of 2 or several that are solely responsible for their area. In my experience, the more varied the fundraisers are you cover, the more you are a secretary and the less time you have for more interesting projects.

  6. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    OP2, I have been you in the past. I didn’t mind helping out (and still don’t for people who are asking just a quick question), but I have your helpless coworker too – only mine refers to me as his “portable brain” and has done so in front of management (yes – he did get reprimanded for that remark, but still tries to use my brain instead of his notes – which are mostly nonexistent). What I eventually started doing with him was asking him if he had checked files ABC or help resource MNO, and if he said no – told him, “well, that’s my first step/steps, so go try that first.” He really, really eased up on asking me to help when I started making him do half or more of the troubleshooting on his own – but only to redirect it to other people in the department.

    To Alison’s question about what will they do if you are not there for a few days – mine ended up pestering the lead and manager with so many questions that they labeled him “not suitable for full time.” He has been searching for transfer opportunities – and supposedly accepted a spot in a different department, but hasn’t heard about his start date.

    (My whole shift is made up of part-timers, except for the management group of four – two leads and two assistants.)

    1. Paisley*

      I’m also that person at my office. They are primarily things software-related (how do you do this in Word, Excel, Acrobat, Outlook…) I used to show them how to do things. Sometimes they were things I don’t know how to do, I just know how to find the information – Google. But I realized that the people at my office are lazy and would rather have me either do the task or tell them all the steps instead of finding out how themselves. So then I would google the instructions and send them the link. It didn’t really ease up on the questions (I get 10-20 interruptions per day from people needing my help when I have an incredibly large workload myself). Now when they ask me a question, I say, “type that right into google search and you’ll find out how”. Because it’s not that I’m particularly smarter than any of these people, with technology these days, you don’t need to know how to do everything, because technology changes so quickly, you just need to know how to find out how to do things. So I’m trying to teach my staff that philosophy and that they need to do a little digging themselves. It’s worked for a few people and not for others, but we’re getting there :)

  7. Ponytail*

    Just to point out, that some employee contracts spell out how much notice you have to give and it can be very much linked to how long you’ve worked there. In the UK in particular, 2 years used to be seen as a milestone, where you got all sorts of benefits (and responsibilities) that you wouldn’t have with less service under your belt (maternity leave, for example). I could see notice period being one of these.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Not really a thing in the U.S. — two weeks is pretty standard. Some higher level jobs expect three or four weeks, but it’s not formally linked to length of tenure in any way.

      1. John Smith*

        I am amazed that 2 weeks is all that is required. Is that a benefit or a hindrance? Genuinely interested. I have to give 3 months notice!! (That’s common in local government)

        1. 0870GS*

          It cuts both ways.

          On the one hand, if you get canned, you only get two weeks’ notice (if at all)
          On the other, you are very mobile in the workplace… So, tradeoffs really.

          The market has, just about, normalized to it. You don’t get anything like the effective transitions that you might with extended notice periods, but asking staff to cover with extra work for a short period of time is baked into expectations.

          Speaking as someone who has spent time in both the UK and the US workplace, as as an employee I’m not sure which I prefer. As an employer, definitely the US system.

          1. SC*

            Gotta say I’m really warming up to the concept of shorter notice periods, at least on a “grass is greener” level – because 3 months is the norm where I am, too, which means between the interview process and onboarding, it can easily be half a year until an opening is truly filled.

            What is worse, we might not even get someone 6 months from now, because our sales pipeline is still affected by covid, so management is fretting about the possibility that in 9 months or so, the issue of being understaffed might resolve itself from the other side (which naturally means we don’t *really* have a vacancy, as far as they’re concerned).

            Suffice to say I’m anticipating mutiny…

          2. Juniper*

            I’m also in a place with 3 months notice after having come from the U.S., and from both an employee and employer perspective I would argue for the longer notice periods.

            For an employee, I’m not actually sure 2 weeks notice makes much of a difference in terms of mobility. If you’re doing some serious job-hopping, then yes. But at least where I am, all employers assume that new hires will have at least a 3 month notice period, so it doesn’t really factor into the decision-making process at all. And as you noted, having a 3-month buffer period of a guaranteed salary if you’re laid off (often without having to work) provides a huge sense of security.

            From an employer perspective, 3 months guarantees that projects can be effectively handed over, loose ends tied up, and managerial responsibilities delegated so team members are also taken care of. Plus, depending on the availability of the person being hired, it can also allow for an overlap period that ensures comprehensive training. I’ve worked for a lot of upper level management responsible for hiring decisions, and I’ve never once heard it discussed as a major hindrance to good personnel management.

            1. Tara*

              I have a three month notice period (UK, finance) and I almost feel like it’s a deterrent for people to leave. I feel like it’d be so awkward! My old one month notice was bad enough…

            2. Rez123*

              ” But at least where I am, all employers assume that new hires will have at least a 3 month notice period, so it doesn’t really factor into the decision-making process at all.”

              I think this is the key. In general we have 2 weeks notice if you’ve worked less than 5 years. After 5 years it becomes 4 weeks (some contracts might say something else). When I first read about the 3 months I was really shocked since there is no way I could get a new job with that. But the difference is that when that is the norm, then the system is set up in the way that teh 3 months is expected. Here the system is set up based on 4 weeks so the 3 months wouldn’t work.

            3. Bagpuss*

              I think what’s key is what is normal for the field / industry you’re in – I’m in law, where 3 months is absolutely standard* and you factor that in when you are recruiting, but obviously if you work in afield where there’s more variation or where your employer has a longer standard period than most others in the same industry then it could be more of a hindrance to changing jobs.
              *for lawyers. For admin and support staff 1 month is more usual

              1. londonedit*

                Yes, that’s the thing – I worked for a company that ended up changing its notice periods. Previously everyone had had a three-month notice period, which in my industry isn’t usual – three months is common for senior positions, probably because in publishing you’re working with schedules stretching months in advance, but for more junior staff one month is pretty standard. So the company I was working for at the time discovered there were grumblings from more junior members of staff because three-month notice periods were offputting to future employers, and they changed the notice period to one month under a certain level of seniority. It’s fine if all the companies in a particular sector broadly have the same sort of notice period, but it does become problematic if there’s one that insists on three months when everyone else would expect a new member of staff to be able to start a month after accepting the job.

                1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                  I think it makes sense that for jobs of lesser complexity, the notice period is shorter. Because you can hire a new person pretty quickly for such jobs. If it’s an entry-level job, you can pretty safely hire somebody who is not already employed and can start immediately, and even have the leaver train them before their notice period is up.
                  Here in France two months is standard for employees, and three months for executives.

            4. Smithy*

              I’ve worked in the US under the 2 week model and in a country where I gave three months…..and certainly if that much notice is the norm, it’s not going to impact getting talent. However, I’m really not sure how it helps the employer.

              For my role, it wasn’t the kind of job where you ever truly wrap anything up. So it was largely a case of working for two months as usual, and then one month of working on handover materials. And because I knew I was leaving, I can’t say I was exactly pushing in the same way. Also, because of the longer notice period as a norm, they weren’t any closer to finding my replacement by the time I left.

              Ultimately, it worked out for me because I was able to stay on as a consultant while I returned to the US and looking for other employment. But from the time I gave notice to the time a replacement started – it was about 7 months? Certainly in places that move slow or have hard to fill positions, that can happen whether you give 2 weeks or 3 months. But from my one experience in that situation, I’m not entirely convinced of the benefits beyond the security for an employee who’s been let go.

              1. Juniper*

                Oh, you’re absolutely right in that the primary reasoning behind it is to protect employees (at least in my country where labor laws are still really strong). And as a I said in another comment, in many instances it doesn’t actually end up being 3 months, because employees have vacation time to use or the company releases them early if the employee requests it.
                But depending on the industry and the specific responsibilities of the role, it can absolutely be a protection for the company. I worked at an engineering consulting company where we ran large-scale infrastructure projects. Having key project personnel, or god forbid the project leader, quit with 2 weeks notice would be disastrous. Same for my current company, where a few individuals are responsible for very technically advanced processes. But my role is a lot like yours, less project-based, so for me 3 months would indeed be overkill.

          3. Sutemi*

            Two weeks isn’t time to train a replacement, it is to transition duties to other workers and wrap up projects.
            In a system where the departing employee gave 3 months that isn’t enough time to post a job ad, hire someone new, but then they have to give 3 months at their old job so the inefficiency in training still shows up.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Except that you can also hire someone who has no notice to give, because they are unemployed or because they have already resigned from their job and have asked to have the notice period waived.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Also in the other direction there’s really no concept of the UK “garden leave” in the US. Only a few senior execs may get something like that.
          A US employee giving notice can be told to leave immediately and with no pay beyond time already worked. A US employee let go may be given no notice–there’s no law or contract saying they must pay anything beyond hours worked. Severance pay is offered by ethical companies, but not legally required.
          That’s one reason there’s so much importance to company policy on accruing vacation time & paying out unused vacation–it might be your income before start of next job.

        3. Tired of Covid-and People*

          If I’m unhappy I want to get out ASAP. I can’t imagine being required to work in a toxic environment months after I’ve found a new job. I much prefer our US practice in this instance, I know many foreign commentariat think everything sucks about US employment, but this practice does not.

          1. Juniper*

            I wouldn’t say it sucks, but having worked in both I will say that those who prefer shorter notice periods generally have a more specific, narrow reason for wanting to get out quickly, and/or have a skill set or some other cushion that makes them less reliant on a safety net. Fortunately, most people leave because of low-key reasons, and not to escape a toxic work environment. And when redundancies come around, it’s an important protection for workers.

          2. Heather*

            One of the reasons things “suck” about US employment is that people can be fired with minimal notice, so employees have to accommodate toxic behaviors that wouldn’t be tolerated elsewhere. Knowing that you’ve got at least 3 months with income to find a new job empowers employees to push back on unreasonable employers. Lengthening notice periods would reduce these issues, not increase them.

            1. Juniper*

              Exactly. And these protections don’t exist in isolation. Countries with mandated 3-month notice periods generally have a lot of other laws in place regulating the working conditions that negate most of the arguments above. If you’re at the point of quitting because of a toxic workplace, guaranteed HR, the company’s working environment committee, the joint works committee, and the trade union have already been involved advocating on behalf of the employee. If they can’t find a way to amicably resolve the situation by keeping you at the company, almost guaranteed you will be released early from the 3-month notice period.

          3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            From what I’ve heard, toxic environments are far more common when a boss can fire at will, where there is very little legislation to protect employees, where workers are expected to cover when their colleagues suddenly give notice or get fired, so there’s that.

        4. The Other Dawn*

          As an employee, two weeks is great. It would be torture if I had to stay at a company for three months after giving notice. I’d be completely checked out mentally probably after a week or so. Lots of people leave because they’ve found something more suitable to their skills, knowledge, etc. Others leave for more money. And many others leave to escape a bad work environment, which could be a bad manager, coworkers, or culture. I can’t imagine having to stick around for three months in that last scenario.

          As a manager, two weeks is really short, but it’s pretty standard. That time is meant to be used by the manager and the employee for wrapping up projects, transferring some knowledge, and starting the hiring process for a replacement. It’s not usually meant to be used to get a new person on board and have them trained by the time the employee leaves–that’s usually not possible in two weeks’ time. Three months would be great because then it’s likely that could happen, but even three months might not be long enough depending on the candidate pool, the type of job and other factors.

          1. Juniper*

            Common practice here at least is coming to a mutual understanding of when it works to leave. I’ve seen several cases where the company simply pays out the 3 month notice period and lets the employee walk. A lot of other employees have vacation time left over that they tack on to get out early. Most people I know end up a little ahead, financially, and don’t actually end up working the full 3 months. But it does presuppose a number of other conditions being met (like longer vacations, decent union representation, strong protections for workers, and a general agreement around the 3 month notice period) in order to be possible.

          2. ecnaseener*

            It sounds like even with three months you wouldn’t usually be able to get someone hired and trained — if the new hire is coming from another job, they need to give three months notice to their employer before they can start!

            1. Bagpuss*

              Yes, you don’t normally get an overlap, but it is possible to get things organized, so you can ensure that there are proper notes, there’s time to arrange interim cover either internally or externally (and if you get a temp or locum you can arrange overlap and a formal hand over, if appropriate)

              There’s often an element of flexibility – for instance, we have someone leaving who has requested a shorter period because the new job they have found would like them to start a bit sooner, and we’ve agreed.

              I think that like a lot of things, it depends on what you are used to.
              In my experience, *most* people (both employees and employers) are able to be professional and work normally during the notice period – those who can’t or don’t are normally those who don’t behave very professionally in general.

              Some people will ‘go sick’ and get signed off to avoid working their notice, so if you were in a genuinely toxic workplace that would be an option (and probably quite genuine – stress is an illness, after all)

              1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                Yes, I was on sick leave for several months because of my employer being unreasonable and toxic. Then the work doctor signed a note to say I was unfit to work there. She had to go to see the boss beforehand, and noticed how stressed the staff were, and decided to launch a thorough investigation into the firm, interviewing all staff members and checking that labour legislation was being complied with.

            2. Juniper*

              It’s not really that uncommon for people to be able to start right away. Some are already working as independent contractors, some are coming off of maternity or anther longer leave, some have been back in school, some use vacation time, and some just haven’t been working for a few months.

          3. Lyudie*

            “I’d be completely checked out mentally probably after a week or so.”

            I have a lot of coworkers in India, where long notice periods are required, and we have definitely had people mentally checked out the last few weeks…it’s not great for anyone. We had stuff not done well or in a timely manner, and someone once declined to make a certain update to the content rather than a shortcut because “that’s a lot of work.” Yeah but it means the content is better and more usable for the paying customers…sigh.

          4. Allypopx*

            As a manager I also like two weeks because honestly you often end up with a lame duck in the position if it’s much longer than that, and it can be awkward! Not even a lame duck in terms of them not WANTING to do work but at a certain point you’re not assigning new projects, you’re getting loose ends tied up…it just fizzles out.

            As an employee, I try to give a more generous notice period if a) I think it’s necessary to do the things aforementioned b) I can, under the circumstances and b) my employer deserves it. But knowing I’m not tied to more than two weeks (and arguably not even tied to that) makes a job feel much less suffocating.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Very often, if it’s clear that the person is going to be a lame duck during their notice period, or if they might sabotage or walk off with the client file, they are let go pretty fast, and are then paid a salary to do nothing until the end of their notice period. It really is a safety net for the worker.

          5. JustaTech*

            As a person who’s working with someone who has given their notice and is clearly checked out and not taking any care with their work (making mistakes that are more work for me), three weeks is bad enough. I can’t imagine trying to work around this senioritis for three months! (After this behavior I shan’t miss her when she’s gone, and that’s not how you want to leave a company.)

        5. Dust Bunny*

          It’s just a thing. I mean, it’s standard so it’s already built into everyone’s expectations.

    2. I'm just here for the cats*

      Yes the contract might say how much time they have to give, but do they say HOW they give their notice, which was more what the LW’s question was. If the LW has no need to go into the office, and is working remote I don’t see why she would need to. Now if the LW has work equipment they might have to go in to give it back or something, but that would be towards the last 2 weeks

  8. Them Boots*

    OP2: I know it’d be easier in the day-to-day to just do her work, but that sort of thing snowballs into you doing two peoples’ jobs. Management is fine with it because the work is being done and your coworker is fine because she’s not having to do the work, leaving you holding the bag. Do you really want this? Maybe it’s better to do as Alison suggested and let someone competent get you colleague’s job…Secondly, I’ve been in a similar situation and had one guy who was exactly like your colleague, we will call him Floyd. I ended up realizing how much of a time suck he was so I told him that I was happy to help him learn and successfully support his managers (who used to be mine) in an admin capacity but that I couldn’t keep teaching him the same things over & over, as it was a waste of time by the third, fifth, tenth explanation. I told him that beginning that day, he could ask me to show him something twice (for the same thing) and ask questions & take notes during the training, because the third time for the same issue I wouldn’t help him and he was on his own. He said sure, fine, then proceeded to ask for help on repeat questions. I prompted him to take notes, but he declined because he had it. Third time comes around within the first week of my new policy. He could not believe I wouldn’t help him!! Oh no!! Temper tantrum, whining and then ran back to his boss to tell on me. Boss said I was right to put my foot down and Floyd better figure it out. After that, notes were taken and Floyd magically was able to retain any training I gave him…(I was the office trainer because I was considered the most patient when training new staff and was pretty good with our systems, so when I hit the wall with Floyd, my rep helped me stay out of trouble.) Some people have trouble realizing that just because something is easy in the moment, doesn’t mean it will be easy later and thus don’t take notes. Some people purposely pull the helpless act because then someone else will come up and rescue them -a version of weaponized helplessness. Some people have trouble figuring out what a clarifying question would be. Either way, this approach has served me well, benefit of the doubt the first two times takes care of those who are trying, and a generous boundary for the others, where complaints to management make then look really lame!

    1. HelloStranger*

      We’re dealing with a coworker at my work that I sometimes swear willfully doesn’t retain things and is asking his (female, POC notably) coworkers to help him with things when it shouldn’t be a problem. I’ve brought it up to my boss AGAIN because HIS boss refuses to do anything real on it. It’s exhausting to handhold a man twice my age and pretend to be nice about it all the time. I’ve mostly been trying to be annoying to him in delays in replies and very short responses but the problem is that I’m not his only harassed coworker. I’m hoping his boss finally does something or I feel I’m going to have to say something straightforward to him. Which again, won’t fix the problem of him going to someone else.

      1. EPLawyer*

        But you do respond, so its working. Stop responding at all. Or respond with “sorry I can’t, I am swamped.” He will figure it out quickly when no one will hold his hand.

      2. Pickled Limes*

        Maybe if the other staff in your office see you say “Sorry, Herbert, I can’t help you with that,” they’ll get the courage to start saying it themselves.

      3. Them Boots*

        If you are willing to put up with some friction, the above ‘starting today,’ really made me feel better about putting my foot down. I’m generally a people pleaser so it was really hard to put this boundary up, but it was so worth it! And it took less than two weeks for this guy to run into the boundary on two separate topics, have his tantrum and decide to take notes to do his job. No reasonable person will call you on the carpet for not training someone three times on the same exact process, especially if it’s a pattern. Also, once I started this, the other admins took note and did the same thing, so he did eventually run out of people to hold his hand. You can’t help your co-workers if they choose to help your colleague after you put your foot down, but you CAN give them a template. The beauty of this was that no one could accuse me of not being helpful, but still trained my Floyd to stop leaning on me so consistently. Put your own oxygen mask on first! Good Luck!!

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      This is the best way to deal with the helpless coworker.

      The one thing I would add is to document the instances if you have a boss who sides with (and coddles) the helpless coworker. The documentation should contain how much time you’ve used assisting said coworker, and anything you might have had to let slide because of this, or check in with the boss to set priorities if you are supposed to serve as ongoing support. I had a helpless coworker and my boss specifically assigned me his work on top of my own…until I had to push back on some deadlines.

  9. Jef*

    About the abusive patients – I think I read something here (perhaps another forum) about a doctors practice that allowed each employee the option of ‘firing’ one client/patient each year. I think the employee wrote that it was an absolute relief to know that they could get rid of abusive patients.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I vaguely remember that too, and I think it’s an excellent policy in principle (thoug the practicalities of its execution might be complicated).

      It’s unlikely that LW has any clients they can’t afford to lose: indeed it sounds as though they’re so busy that a certain amount of attrition would be beneficial. So I would like them to have the confidence to email and physically post on/in their building something like:

      Verbal abuse of our staff by customers has reached an all-time high. From (date) any customer cursing at, insulting or yelling at staff will be refused service, at the sole discretion of the staff on duty. We reserve the right to remove such customers from our books.

      There’s a softer version that acknowledges that emotions can run high when pets are injured or unwell. But I suspect that when clients yell for that kind of reason, it’s less upsetting for the staff and easier to defuse.

      1. Tired of Covid-and People*

        Medical offices would do well to remember that people can behave badly when they feel shitty. Waiting an hour past your scheduled appointment when in pain or extreme discomfort can cause less than stellar behavior that I would hesitate to call abuse.

        1. LolaBugg*

          This may be true, but patients would do well to remember that if an office is running behind, being abusive to staff will not bring your appointment faster. This isn’t retail where the customer is always right. You have to treat medical staff well if you want them to treat you well. Any medical professional worth their salt knows people aren’t at their best when they’re in pain. That’s very different from abusing staff

        2. RabbitRabbit*

          As someone who’s worked in healthcare for a couple decades now, I’ll assert that all but the most obtuse healthcare workers know people get grouchy when they have to wait, especially if they’re not feeling well. That’s not abuse.

          Abuse is the ones who swear at you, insult your intelligence/looks/parentage/race. Abuse is when they scream, when they threaten your job, when they call you incompetent because the doctor is delayed in surgery due to an emergency and you lack a crystal ball.

          Abuse is when the little old men who charm the doctor also ‘accidentally’ touch the nurse/tech in various places when she’s doing the initial workup, to the point where the techs will only go into the room two at a time because having another pair of eyes watching makes his arm spasms miraculously disappear. And when the doctor doesn’t want to discharge that patient because a little old man can’t possibly be doing that on purpose. And even if he is, he needs care. And the doctor probably feels too weird about telling the patient “stop groping my techs” but at least your colleagues figured out how to deal with him.

          That’s not even counting the physical violence.

          1. LolaBugg*

            You said it better than I could because I don’t work in healthcare. No one should be subject to any of that. Patients like that absolutely deserve to be fired.

          2. SomebodyElse*

            I am not disagreeing with your examples of abuse, but that all seems a far cry from the example of abuse the LW gave:

            “For example, patients who interrupt staff members and threaten to “talk to the owners” and “get them fired” over a minor communication issue.”

            I think that along with patients having a shorter fuse that the staff also does if this is what is being referred to as abuse. To me this is run of the mill rudeness that anyone who works with the public at large encounters in any day.

            That being said, if this is their particular bar or standard… then that’s their prerogative although I’d caution that firing all of their patients over behavior like the above may not work out how they think it will.

            1. RabbitRabbit*

              We can only take the LW’s word that the treatment from the patients rises to the level of abuse. Threatening one’s job over a minor issue certainly falls into my definition of abusive treatment. Refusing to let a staff member talk or explain a situation could definitely be used abusively; I’ve seen patients spin up allegations of what the staff is doing, in front of a waiting room full of other patients, while a sputtering clerk tries to inject reality while also trying to keep the HIPAA privacy of that patient in mind and thus being unable to defend themselves to the onlookers. And that doesn’t even address the range of language that could be used against staff.

              Abuse towards healthcare workers was rampant and pervasive even prior to the pandemic. After a very short honeymoon period, it’s only gotten worse from what my still-working-with-patients colleagues are reporting. Me, I got out pre-pandemic due to stress. I’d rather be one of the ‘suits’ and deal with regulations all day. At least if a doctor starts ranting at you then, 99.9% of the time if you just listen sympathetically, they burn themselves out, apologize for taking out their frustrations on you, and ask what they need to do.

        3. EventPlannerGal*

          I think that health workers are very, very aware of that, though. I don’t know what health worker wouldn’t be. From the context of the letter it seems very clear we’re talking about much worse behaviour than general discomfort-induced shittiness- I mean, I sincerely doubt that OP’s colleagues are thinking “well, that person who’s been sitting for two hours with a broken arm snapped at me so I’m going to quit my job”.

        4. Kora*

          It’s still abuse even if you are in pain or extremely distressed. Your lack of emotional regulation in those circumstances does not compel others to accept being treated badly by you. You don’t get to inflict harm because you are suffering!

        5. littledoctor*

          I agree and I disagree. I have a lot more tolerance for “abusive patients” than a lot of people, and often I do roll my eyes a bit at some of the complaints I hear about “abusive” patients. I’ve heard doctors and nurses get incredibly upset when a floridly psychotic patient in hospital threatens them or is somewhat aggressive or says something offensive, which I always find very odd. People sometimes seem to take it so personally, when surely we all understand that this is a symptom and the patient has literally no control over their words or actions. Getting angry with an acutely psychotic person for threatening you is like getting angry with an Alzheimer’s patient for forgetting something.

          And even outside of psychosis–you’ll hear people who work in paediatric oncology complain about the patient’s parents shouting at them, when surely we ought to be able to understand that the parents are under an extraordinary amount of stress. Their toddler may die! Perhaps we can show a bit of grace, under the circumstances.

          At the same time–a GP’s office isn’t quite such a stressful environment that threatening staff or shouting or whatever the case may be seems excusable to me, outside of cases where they’re acting that way as a symptom of a medical issue. We’re all adults with some control of our actions. (outside of delirium, psychosis, etc.) Waiting an hour is unpleasant, obviously, especially when ill, but most people do manage that. I think patients in such cases should strive to show more grace to the people trying to make the medical practice work in these scary times.

          1. Grace*

            A friend worked reception at a GP here in the UK, and had people screaming down the phone or in-person and swearing at her because she wouldn’t set up a repeat prescription for antibiotics (read: the doctor refused to give them antibiotics for a cold so they tried to scam the receptionists), or because they wanted the brand-name medication when the doctor had written it for the generic, or because there were literally no appointments left in the system and she’d offered to call the urgent care centre in our town for them instead.

            Pretty sure no receptionist deserves threats of physical bodily harm no matter how much pain someone is in, and that’s not even mentioning the sexual harassment and sexist comments made by patients.

            1. Anon for this one*

              I worked front desk reception and had a patient come in to treat the disability she had sustained twenty years before when SHE was working reception and a patient threw her glass candy bowl in her face after waiting “too long” for an appointment. This kind of thing happens and you never know which patient is going to do this to you. We always try to treat patients with understanding and compassion, not to mention that I don’t want share a waiting space with you for a prolonged period during a pandemic, either!

          2. pleaset cheap rolls*

            I read the head of a hospital say that a patient that complained a lot and then took to social media to meant that his staff “may have been intimidated by a knowledgeable patient who was using social media to voice her concerns and critique the care they were delivering.”

            Her name was Dr. Susan Moore.

            She died due to lack of treatment.

          3. Artemesia*

            A friend with a terminally ill adult child getting chemo had to be there every moment at the hospital because otherwise nurses did not administer his epilepsy medicine on time which was absolutely critical to his health as he had severe epilepsy. He had to be consistently assertive to make sure he was properly medicated and also properly medicated for the extreme pain he was experiencing. Many people have hospital experiences like this. I have no doubt that an organizing in love with ‘firing patients’ would love to use it to punish patients and their advocates who are standing up for themselves. Yes no one should be cursing at providers, but without assertiveness many people don’t get adequate care.

            I remember how assertive I had to be to get one of my kids properly diagnosed with a chronic and difficult diagnosis when the peds just kept dismissing her repeated bouts of illness as ‘well some kids are like that.’ When they did the tests they discovered that yes she did have a specific issue that when managed correctly stopped the symptoms. I am sure they didn’t like how demanding I was.

        6. Mental Lentil*

          As someone who has spent a lot of time in doctor’s office, yeah, they know that already. It’s part of their training.

          Also, I’ve seen patients feeling shitty and showing it (which is rare) and I’ve also seen patients being abusive (which is even rarer, fortunately). It’s not difficult to spot the difference.

          1. Lana Kane*

            Absolutely – thereis a very marked difference, and to be successful in a job that provides support to medical staff, you need to know where that line is.

          2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            My father ended up in hospital six months after my mother died, and he had three operations in as many weeks. At one point he had to see a physiotherapist who was trying to assess whether he needed physiotherapy, a walking frame or whatever. My father was a true gentleman, yet there he was telling the physiotherapist she was horrible because she was making him move about to see just how much it hurt. She took it all in her stride. I apologised outside the door and she brushed it off saying she was used to it. When I mentioned it ages later, my father was horrified “I said that?” He just wasn’t in his normal state of mind at that point in time.

        7. Temperance*

          I’m chronically ill and had some other serious issues. Taking my issues out on the staff or medical team never crossed my mind, because I’m not an asshole.

        8. Archaeopteryx*

          If the doctor’s office is running behind, it’s often because either a) a previous patient was technically past the cutoff point where they should’ve been denied their appointment, but their issue was serious enough or for other reasons the provider made an exception [A courtesy that the waiting patients would presumably want to be extended to themselves one day as well] or b) A previous patient ended up being complicated or getting really bad news.

          Not to say that there aren’t mistakes or badly run practices, but you have to consider that often there are really good reasons for running late that you will want to take advantage of someday her self as well. The doctor that provides a listening ear and doesn’t make you feel rushed sometimes has the other side of the coin meeting that they do that for everyone and can run late.

          1. Baker*

            I absolutely get that a doctor can be running behind because of an emergency or other exception condition. On the other hand, I’ve had doctors’ offices where I had to wait 30-60 minutes past my appointment time Every. Single. Time. At some point, this becomes less of an exception condition and more of a business model — one that does not respect their patients’ time.
            To be sure, that disrespect would not justify abuse of staff — especially (though not exclusively) because that model isn’t something staff has any control over.

            1. Artemesia*

              yup. they over schedule to keep the cash register pinging. Gave an example elsewhere here of my OB who scheduled all Tuesday OB appointments at 9 am (and Weds apts etc) and just had the 20 or so women ‘wait their turn’ because women have nothing important to do. I was working and it was a real pain to have to take half a day off for routine care. Waiting a half hour is reasonable; more than that every time is bad management. If they feel they can’t have any down time they could make a practice of scheduling patients to ‘work in’ and make those last minute appointments wait and honor the scheduled appointments.

            2. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

              I was front staff at a mental health clinic, and this was often the business model. It definitely wasn’t my decision, and it was only kind of the clinic manager’s decision–medicaid refused to pay for 45 minute appointments, only the (substantially smaller amount) for 30 minutes, so I was required to schedule half-hour appointments, but the therapists weren’t willing to cut off clients after just half an hour so…people ended up waiting. A lot.
              I had a lot of empathy for people’s frustrations, but them yelling at me wasn’t helping any of us.

        9. Pointy's in the North Tower*

          My sister works in a cardiology outpatient clinic. Patients have yelled, cussed her and other staff out, and threatened them because appointments were behind. Reasons that appointments are behind are: a patient coded and/or died during a stress test (has happened more than once), patient had a heart attack and the doctor had to do emergency surgery/hospital visit that morning instead of clinic duty (sadly not uncommon), patient had complications after surgery and possibly died.

          Then you throw in the creepers who ‘accidentally’ touch certain areas on women’s bodies and leer while trying to look down their shirts (they don’t try to hide it). I am 100% in favor of policies and procedures allowing staff to tell these people to GTFO. Not feeling well doesn’t give you a free pass to be a raging glassbowl.

        10. Anonyme*

          ICU nurse here. We can tell the difference. If someone is ill and swearing up a storm to deal with the pain, that’s fine. Do what you need to do. If they aren’t a constant ray of sunshine, that’s ok too. We’ll work on making you feel better. If you have dementia, we get it. It still feels awful though. When we are talking about abuse we are talking things like my experiences below:
          – Getting punched in the face.
          – Having a longterm joint injury from a patient attack.
          – Being called a dumb f*ing c*** who they hope gets murdered.
          – Being told that they have a gun at home and when they get home they are coming back to empty it into us.
          – Being followed around the nursing unit by a family member screaming because their family member had to wait to go for a walk while we resuscitated someone else.
          – Having every movement in a patient room photographed by family so they could add it to the file they had for suing us.
          – Having patients trying to convince us to provide sexual services.
          We aren’t stupid. When we say abuse, we mean rampant, constant, verbal, sexual, and physical abuse.

          1. Mockiingjay*

            I completely believe you and I’m doubly sorry that I have to believe you. Thank you for taking care of people in spite of all this.

        11. Koala dreams*

          That’s a good point. I’m constantly surprised how the systems are set up to make sure the customer facing staff only talk to the patients or customers when they are the most stressed. Horrible phone trees, routinely overbooking patients, lack of information. Then people get surprised that people are rude to staff. Better systems won’t deter truly abusive people, but for the average patients it will make a difference.

        12. I Flay Dragons*

          I have 30+ years in healthcare with very sick and injured patients and families. Of course we know people feel crummy and scared. NO one is asking for “sweetness and light” but for respectful interactions, and a hate and violence free environment.

          In my experience, kind people can be in a lot of pain (psychological or physical), yet they remain fundamentally kind. (Exception: conditions w/ direct effect mentation/cognition (head trauma, dementia etc)). They make the effort despite dire circumstances – to the extent where I have been forever inspired by their kindness and compassion.

          People with a tendency to being unkind, miserable, hateful and rude tend to behave that way when in distress. Being sad, grief stricken, angry at the world, frustrated with the system etc – this is all okay. But being mean, racist, sexist, rude etc is not.

          Of note: many people are horrible to our clerks and unlicensed persons (+\- our nurses) and are completely appropriate with their surgeon or other person they deem in authority or more worthy of respect (often this centers around gender and race). So many of us simply do not buy the excuse that pain or fear compels people behave inappropriately.

          1. I Flay Dragons*

            Nesting fail: this was in response to the defense of this behavior and statements that we need to have more empathy. LW states patients are being “abusive” and so I believe we are supposed to take them at their word.

        13. KoiFeeder*

          I have a strong and serious fight reflex that gets worse when I’m in pain, which is why I warned the ER nurse that I needed to sit on my hands before he did the physical exam when my gallbladder was trying to kill me, because I probably would’ve decked the poor man otherwise. I know I have issues and I’m trying not to take my problems out on the people in charge of making sure I get treatment, if nothing else.

    2. Harper the Other One*

      I was coming to comment about this exact story! I believe it was that as part of their end of year bonus they could choose one patient to fire if they wanted (with caveats that it would only happen if their care would not be affected – those currently requiring significant medical supervision would get “fired” when their case was stable.)

      I also liked their setup because it was at the end of the year, not in a moment of heightened emotion, so staff would have time to consider if this incident was out of character for Mr. X or not.

      Alternately, maybe the practice could set up a three strikes rule and give all patients a new practice policy that lists behaviour that automatically gets you a strike, and if you hit three you will leave the practice as soon as it is medically safe to do so.

  10. Archaeopteryx*

    It was such a relief escaping retail into healthcare, even starting at the front desk, because of how willing we are to fire patients. In retail, they want customers’ money so desperately that they’ll let them get away with anything.

    The best thing you can do is to have a manager or lead readily available to cut off the abuse before it goes on too long and to take the patient aside or into an office so that your staff doesn’t have to endure it. And definitely yes to empowering your stuff to politely and calmly end a phone call or stop helping someone. They should feel OK to say “Sir, I would like to help you, but if you continue to use this kind of language/get abusive/can’t be civil i’m going to have to terminate this phone call.”

    What’s also helpful is the patient’s relationship with their doctor, especially in for example primary care where they see them for years and get very attached. There are ton of people who can be horrible to the staff and then sweet anything to the doctor. I remember one patient was snide and belittling about a costume a coworker was wearing for basically our version of spirit week. She was able to message the doctor about it, who made the patient go back out and fully, humbly and openly apologize to her, promising that if the patient didn’t they would be dismissed. It was very deserved and very satisfying.

    A holistic response that rapidly and decisively shuts down abuse and empowers your staff is something people will stick around for.

    1. Tired of Covid-and People*

      Just don’t forget to have empathy for patients who may be hurting or feeling very unwell so it is difficult for them to be all sweetness and light. Understanding needs to run two ways. Sometimes offices are just poorly run and the impact on the patient is disregarded.

      1. Chilipepper Attitude*

        Fair point but you tell them about the problems without being a problem yourself. And if the stress of being unwell causes a patient to lose it one day, I dont think that is the patient the OP is talking about.

        And sometimes if you want that doc, you have to work around the problem office. My son went to a specialist we really liked. His office was very poorly run. So we asked if we were doing something wrong to get x. They looked blankly at us. We figured out how to make it work for us so we could keep going to the doc.

      2. Colette*

        If you’re being condescending, racist, or otherwise abusive, that’s not because the office isn’t well run or you’re not feeling well.

        1. Artemesia*

          Absolutely and there is no excuse for violence (unless mentally disturbed), cursing or ugliness. I a not convinced that aggressive firing patients policies would not also be used against people who are assertive when receiving poor care.

      3. lailaaaaah*

        There’s a difference between being in pain and being an asshole, though, and it sounds like the behaviour OP is describing comes from the latter group.

      4. virago*

        The definition of my screen name is a hint that I am not of saint-like patience. But there’s a difference between a patient who answers only when spoken to, or who is not “all sweetness and light,” and a patient who threatens to get someone fired.

      5. Archaeopteryx*

        If they are poorly run then there should be plenty of specific complaints to be able to make it to either the provider or to management as to what the issue is. None of those necessitate getting aggressive, condescending, or uncooperative with the staff, which is what we’re talking about. and the people who are polite and deferential to the doctor but treat the staff like dirt should only be judged on how they treat people they think are beneath them, same as with waiters, etc.

        1. Archaeopteryx*

          Also, unprovoked side rant: don’t establish care with a doctor’s office that’s an hour or more away from where you live because you like the doctor so much, and then complain (or even chew out!) the staff every time about how far away it is from your specific suburb, or about city traffic. You knew where the office was when you chose it! You know to factor in that there will be traffic in the city! You do the same rant every time ! It’s bananas to me how many people do this and exude such bitterness to the staff about the office location. Distance versus having the exact doctor you want is a trade off you made, and that you can unmake at anytime.

          It’s things like that that they have to put up with as well, with such a lack of self-awareness. People try and make the staff a garbage can for all of their negative emotions, no matter how irrational.

      6. Nope.*

        There is a massive, massive difference between “not being sweet” and being abusive. I trust the letter writer has worked in healthcare and around ill, understandably grumpy people to know the difference well.

      7. M*

        But even when an office is poorly run or if you’re feeling unwell, you shouldn’t be abusing to the staff. When I was younger, I saw a doctor who was consistently 45 minutes behind schedule. I would try to make appointments for first thing in the morning because I had to work after, and my commute was long (so an 8am appointment meant I wasn’t getting to work until at least 11am due to train schedules). It was very frustrating, and I actually ended up leaving appointments before they even started a couple of times, because I just didn’t have time. But even those times where I left before I even got in the exam room, I was still polite when explaining my reasons for leaving. I find that yelling or being abusive usually causes more harm than good, because no one wants to help someone who’s being mean. One of those appointments I needed to reschedule was for a breast lump (ended up being nothing, but it was really scary and also disheartening to be left waiting for so long without even being acknowledged). I still was polite.

      8. Aquawoman*

        “Sweetness and light” vs. abusive is a false dichotomy.

        I have expressed negative emotions without yelling, cursing, threatening, etc. There’s a big difference between saying “Can you tell me when the doctor is going to be available? It’s been an hour and a half” in a voice that indicates your feelings (frustrated, eg) and saying “I’m going to get you fired” to someone who 99% of the time has no control over the situation.

      9. generic employee*

        There’s a difference between not being “sweetness and light” and spitting on, hitting, groping, standing directly over and screaming at the staff, or physically taking the office phone from a staff member on a work call. I used to work in a medical office and I’ve just listed several incidents which I either experienced or witnessed. What could possibly justify such behavior?

    2. SnappinTerrapin*

      Working security in a hospital, I have seen the abuse run the other way, and it’s embarrassing to watch.

      For example, the triage nurse who called me to “straighten out” a patient who uttered a cuss word. The man was on a gurney, in tears, at the time. The ambulance attendant told me he was in liver failure.

      That nurse, on that occasion, was on a high horse about the “respect” she was entitled to.

      I saw several nurses deliberately provoke ER patients they didn’t like, trying to get them to leave against medical advice, and have been in a couple of occasions where nurses were provoking patients while security was actively working our de-escalation protocols.

      There are good and bad people in every category, and good people have bad days.

      But if everyone was impeccably respectful of everyone else, I’d have to go back to sales to earn a living.

  11. John Smith*

    #2 you have my sympathy. If she carries on, can you tell a manager that this is causing you such disruption? How on earth did she get the job if she is so inept?!? There is one person in my office who has to be told repeatedly to try and work things out herself rather than ask someone first. Annoyingly, when she does ask a (factual) question, she will ask it of several people. It got to a point where I told her I’m not answering as she will only ask another person which is not only a waste of everyone’s time, but disrespectful.

    1. Narise*

      We had an employee who was utilizing too many people to do her job and mostly taking up the time of the lead. Supervisor finally told her she couldn’t ask for help or questions for any one else but her and she had to come to the table with ‘I think I should do this.’ Took both me and my supervisor meeting with her and explaining that this was not going to work out if she couldn’t do the job on her own. She said that she wanted to be sure so she was always going to ask. We went around and around a few times and finally I asked her who she calls when she drives her car. She said no one. I said why not don’t you want to be sure you do it right. She said I know how to drive. I said OK now you need to know how to do these tasks as well. It has helped a lot. She won’t ever be a rock star but she has improved enough for now.

  12. Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii*

    “For example, patients who interrupt staff members and threaten to “talk to the owners” and “get them fired” over a minor communication issue.”
    Explicitly explain to employees that you won’t fall for this so its an empty threat.

    1. Decidedly Me*

      This! My team isn’t worried when customers say this to them because the know I always review the whole situation when there is a complaint against a team member. They have no issues bringing the situation to my attention. No one has ever been fired over a customer asking for it – a few times it’s a good learning opportunity for the team member and many more times it’s just an unreasonable customer.

    2. Daisy-dog*

      I would say these threats are probably the most minor issues. When I consider the times that I have cried at work (all in customer service type roles), it was usually relating to feeling overwhelmed. It was never just one person who pushed me over the edge – it was the whole situation. I quit all of those jobs (eventually – not from one event) because I never felt in control of my day.

    3. generic employee*

      +1 Yes this. When I worked in a medical office the place qs so toxic that I was reasonably certain that if a patient or family member had demanded I be fired that I would have been regardless of my work history.

    4. John Smith*

      There’s a mini video of a plane passenger (a white male) asking to be moved seats because he objected to who he was sat next to (a black male). Stewardess returns and agrees it is intolerable that someone should have to sit next to such a horrible person and so the black guy gets upgraded to a first class seat to remove him from the person the stewardess was actually referring to. I love that video and it’s how I imagine managers should operate when faced with abusive customers/patients.

  13. Raida*

    #2 If I have to show anyone a process twice, then the second time I tell them since it’s needed more than just a one-off I’ll train them in it.
    Training: You will take notes. You will tell me if you need me to slow down. You will ask questions if you don’t understand. You will repeat your notes back to me if you want me to clarify something. You will only have access to your notes, and not to me, to do this task next time so it’s up to you to make good notes on the process. Do you understand? Good, let’s begin.

    Admittedly it can be a little scary for some people, but boy oh boy does it clearly get across the core concept: I will not help you if you don’t put in the effort. I will help you now, and I will do it in a way that you are not reliant on me in the future. It is not my job to train you, but I’ll do it once, not more than that.

    You need to manage this particular situation that’s gone on too long, but I suggest in the future that you use those moments of “how do I…” to put the onus of the student to be able to do it themself, and make it clear that you like helping but it comes after all other tasks on the priority list so there’s no guarantee they’d get help quickly in the future…

    1. JSPA*

      Or, go to your boss, and say that you spend an inordinate amount of time helping a handful of people, repeatedly, with the same job, and suggest that you record a small, in-house demonstration of the relevant tasks, using spread sheets that look like your actual spread sheets, with column headings that look like your actual column headings.

      I’ve noticed that people who can’t hold onto “how to use the sort function” level of information also are commonly badly thrown by YouTube “how to excel” videos, because “those spreadsheets are not like ours!” (the column widths, labels, sizes and colors are different).

      If you can’t do that, guide, don’t tell.

      “If you need to find all the people in this spreadsheet who live in Dinkytown, and all the people who live in Plinkerton, and all the people who live in Greater Tinking, tell me all the ways you can think of, to do that.” (Read through the document? search the column? sort, then skim? sort, then search? and for all you know, someone showed her conditional formatting once upon a time, and she’s been hoping since then, to see that, or someone once gave her a macro that let her grab the matching info and paste it into a new page.) If you make her say what she hopes to see, you both find out what she’s intuitively looking for.

      “And, what do we call it, when we have excel [rearrange a spreadsheet like that / copy lines that match a certain pattern / make matching cells turn colors]?

      “we need the whole spreadsheet to be affected. Where can you click, to say, “the whole spreadsheet”? “Look at the symbol; why do you think they picked it? Does it make you think of anything else, that will remind you?” “What are some other ways you can select everything, or select the parts you want?” (Click-hold-scroll, click-drag, menu commands). Maybe she actually has a default, and it’s not your default, but it’s also fine…but the sense of “I’d do it differently” is blocking her.

      “OK, Excel know knows we want to do something to all of the data. What’s that thing called?”

      “what are some ways to tell Excel you want to do a ‘sort’–or if you don’t remember, how do you ask excel to tell you?”

      This has three purposes.

      1. it’s a granular training that puts her brain and her fingers–for better or worse–in the driver’s seat, and forces her to notice and store the information in ways that help with recall.

      2. if she’s asking you not because she can’t do it, but because she can’t be assed to do it, it’s enough of a PITA that she’ll soon say, “that’s OK, I can figure it out.”

      3. it helps suss out how solvable her problem is. You don’t want to offer to officially train her if it’s not something her brain is set up to grasp, or if she’s so scared of the program that she can’t get unblocked.

      1. Sharing a Cube*

        OP here-I’ve been trying something similar to this, but after trying to get her to notice how the mouse changes shape, and what each shape means, and that it has to be a certain shape for each task, I gave up an wrote to Alison! I just don’t think my coworker is trainable, or at least she doesn’t want to be.

        1. Ms. Anon*

          Yeah, that’s my sense. Flashbacks to the guy who “couldn’t remember” how to cut and paste. (He liked standing over women doing it for him.)

          Does your company offer any kind of basic training? Mine does, and I took to referring the pests to that. They offer everything from specialized processes that are unique to our company (how WE do contracts, not how anyone would) to basic Excel workshops. We also have access to LinkedIn video modules. Dump her off to those and ignore the whining.

        2. JSPA*

          The secret is not offering the answer. (Including, not saying “yes!” when she randomly hovers over the right button.) And also, not making the questions more leading.

          In essence, force her to teach you. If it’s a “won’t,” that’ll work. If it’s a “can’t,” it won’t.

          At which point, you have two very different conversations, for two very different scenarios.

          FWIW, until 30 seconds ago, I had not ever noticed that the mouse icon changed shape to a diagonal arrow over the upper left corner diamond button. Nor that it made a down arrow over the column headers, and a side arrow over the row headers. And I’ve been using excel for as long as it’s existed.

          I think of the corner diamond as a combined “up and down arrows and side to side arrows,” while my spouse thinks of it as, “the shape of the sheet underlying all of the data.” And a friend will only ever click the top left box, then scroll to the bottom right, hold the “shift,” then click, to select the “filled region only,” as one might do, in selecting the print area.

          That’s why I’m suggesting that it may help to elicit her associations, instead of trying to transplant yours. (Or, well, it may not! Her only association may be, “spreadsheets are unknowable, and they do random things when i press buttons!”)

          1. Willis*

            I don’t think the problem here is that the OP hasn’t been employing the right training techniques!! She’s not a trainer and it doesn’t sound like anyone has said, “yeah, please spend X amount of your day to help Mindy learn how to use a computer.” It’s nice to give co-workers hints or tips, but this is soooo beyond that. I agree with NotAnotherManager! below that it’s time to pass this problem up to the OP’s manager and to stop taking on the task of training/doing coworkers work.

        3. NotAnotherManager!*

          This sounds like it’s hit management level – you’ve been a team player and tried to be helpful, but it’s impacting your work and you’re finding yourself repeating concepts over and over. Can Manager arrange training in Excel (etc.) for Incompetent Coworker to get her up to speed and make sure she’s got the skills to effectively do her work?

          I feel you – I’m the person people come to in my office for certain types of help, including a lot of Excel stuff, and I do enjoy helping. But I’ve also dealt with the people who didn’t have the skills to do their job or, worst case, the ones who tried to foist their jobs onto me by asking for help literally every single day with the same task.

  14. Anono-me*

    Op1. Have you considered including some sort of code of conduct in your patient forms?

    A friend of mine (Who is a lawyer in a very stressful for the client type of law.) has some language about client behavior in the new client paperwork. The paperwork spells out mutual expectations; including that abusive or threatening behavior toward staff or other clients will be grounds for dismissal as a client. The new client is asked to sign the form and initial by the abusive comment during check in.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      You also could include this in the forms that existing patients have to sign on their next visit so that eventually all patients will have signed it. Most patients are used to filling in new forms whenever they visit a clinic.

    2. EPLawyer*

      I totally have this in my fee agreements. I’ve gotten a few laughs from people. Those I know won’t be a problem. Some have seemed shocked I have to put that in there. They would never dream of being abusive to the person who is helping them. Others are not so surprised because they know how some people can be. I added it after someone threatened me. Never had to fire someone for it. Had to remind a few people that it is in there and if the behavior continued I would withdraw. It pretty much stopped.

      1. Bagpuss*

        Yes, we have it in our standard terms of business – it’s in the section about when we can terminate our retainer – if you don’t pay us, if you ask us to do anything unethical or illegal, if you are aggressive or abusive to our staff, if a conflict of interest arises, if there is a breakdown of trust between us .

        I’ve never had anyone query it or take it personally .

        I have had a small number of clients where i have had to remind them of it and warn them they are on thin ice.

    3. Cat Tree*

      I get where you’re coming from, but honestly very few people actually read those forms. It’s like when you check the box that says “I have read the terms and services” without even opening it. Patients already sign a bunch of forms, and making them sign one more won’t make them any more likely to actually read any of them.

      Those forms are for legal liability. But that’s not really necessary here since it’s already perfectly legal to fire a patient even if they haven’t specifically signed a for agreeing to not be abusive.

  15. David*

    OP4: considering how your company treated you when you got sick, I think the most appropriate way to give notice is with an arrangement of raw fish.

    1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      LOLOLOL! I hadn’t thought about that truly epic letter in a long time– thanks for the reminder. 8-D

      1. Delta Delta*

        I think about I QUIT in fish at least once a week and it always makes me giggle.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Excellent idea, in fact, I’d let the fish sit out for a day or two before giving the notice.

      I cannot believe the gall of these people. They got OP sick, got her family sick, got her child’s whole daycare to shut down for quarantine. And then they turned around and complained about her lack of productivity! I’d be tempted to come in just to slap them with the fish.

      1. EPLawyer*

        I know. Oh you have this deadly disease, well we still expect the TPS reports done on time and correctly even while being sick. No excuses now. Fergus came in WHILE his appendix was bursting to finish his reports, then as soon as he was out of anesthesia after surgery immediately started on the quartely sales report. Phylis skipped her own funeral to make sure the annual report was spellchecked and printed on time. You don’t want to be a slacker do you?

        OP give your notice over the phone and NEVER LOOK BACK.

  16. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

    OP1: Forget about the sign. I mean, it can’t hurt to put one up, but don’t expect it to have much effect. Aside from what Alison already said, typical healthcare settings are jam-packed with signs and new ones just get lost in the visual noise. And besides, waiting patients are looking at their phones or the TV anyway, not reading the signs and brochures. So it’s not worth a lot of effort.

    What would be worth a lot of effort if you want to show you’re serious about supporting your staff, would be to establish a company policy for dealing with unacceptable behaviour from the public. Then empower your staff to enforce the policy, prepare them with scripts, encourage them to step in and back each other up when a patient is abusive, allow time for training where they can role-play deescalation strategies and/or the practicalities of getting an abusive patient to leave the premises. Have you also thought about a hidden call button that they can use that will call the senior person on shift (or security) to assist?

    Then put the policy on your website and proactively communicate it via social media/in the appointment confirmations/whatever external channels you have. This is a time of extraordinary collective goodwill towards our healthcare workers. You can totally leverage that by leaning hard into a zero tolerance policy on threatening and abusive behaviour and you will get overwhelming community support for it.

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      This. I said something similar below b4 I read this.
      A clear policy, scripts, and how to protect themselves are key to making staff believe you are serious.

  17. WeAreTheJunimos*

    OP 1- I work in a very busy emergency room. You betcha we have signs all over the place that say “abuse towards staff will not be tolerated” all the way up to saying “we encourage staff to press charges as appropriate.” No one has ever ever complained about the sign.

    1. JSPA*

      I feel better, as a client, when I see “abuse or threats towards staff will not be tolerated.” If management has their back, the employees and management also have my back, if some third party is being more generally abusive.

      I’ve seen them prominently displayed in many places where some subset of the client base is likely to be in distress and possibly not dealing well with that stress. And frankly, that could, by now, be any sort of workplace.

      1. virago*

        This. Someone who is directing verbal abuse toward health care workers would be capable of directing their ire toward others in the vicinity if they’re not getting their needs met. That doesn’t make me feel safe as a patient.

  18. Phil*

    #2 In my previous role, I was a senior operator in a team that had a very complex workflow. Any new employee would be given a notebook and asked to take notes during training (the processes were ever changing, and documenting for reference was next to impossible).

    I suggest you get your coworker to do something similar. Next time she asks how to do something you’ve shown her, ask her to take notes this time. If she asks again, you can ask her to refer to her notes. Repeat for every repeat question (and even new questions).

    If you’re feeling sassy, you could use the “let me Google that for you” site, but that might just get you into trouble.

  19. Raven*

    OP1, do you live in the same general area/neighborhood as your office? Because something I find very helpful (just from observation) is if you post something on the NextDoor page for your area that says, “stop abusing your healthcare workers.“ And then you go on to explain that you work for a local medical office (but don’t say which one) and it’s been happening so much in the last year especially that people will say XYZ things to the staff. I three hundred percent guarantee, you will get plenty of responses from people who will be like, “That’s so awful! Can’t believe people would be treating you all like this! We respect our healthcare heroes,“ etc. And if nothing else, the putting it out there will be a good reminder to the good patients to keep not abusing you, and hopefully the sense of public shaming will make its way to the bad patients. Good luck!

    1. Paperdill*

      That can be a bit of a conflict of interest when working for a health care organisation, then posting about it on social media. Even such a benign and trying-to-help message could warrant an talk with HR/manager and possibly be perceived as bad PR for the organisation.
      I work for a massive public health care organisation and our HR’s advice is “just to be in the safe side, don’t talk about work on social media”.
      OP, I really wouldn’t advise doing this.

    2. ThatGirl*

      Eh, this would strike me as performative and probably wouldn’t get to the intended audience. And as others have said, the people being abusive rarely recognize themselves anyway.

  20. WS*

    Put the sign up, yes, but you need a policy to back it up. I work in healthcare and we’ve banned three patients this year, which is a big deal in a usually very polite and laid back rural town – before this we had banned 2 in 10 years. The other reason we’re reluctant to ban people in general is that it’s a long, long way to the next town – 50km from where we are, up to 90km for some patients depending which direction they’re coming from. But eventually some people deserve it, and nobody in our very gossipy town has had a problem with these particular people being banned.

    (One elderly man sexually harassed staff, then offered to apologise but his apology was a rant about how “young girls can’t take a joke” so that’s when he got banned.)

    1. virago*

      “… a rant about how ‘young girls can’t take a joke’ ”

      Ah, yes, the “too bad you’re so sensitive” non-apology!

      As a journalist, I know it well. That’s the response we expect from state legislators when they say something creepy online!

  21. Tara*

    Virtually everywhere in the UK (public transport, doctors surgeries, shops, whatever) there are signs saying something along the lines of “Rude or offensive behaviour against our staff will not be tolerated under any conditions, and will have you removed and banned”. It hadn’t necessarily occurred to me that this would be due to that treatment actually happening, I thought it was just basic practice. I would get the policy in place and stick a sign up by reception or in the window, good people will not take an issue with it, and if they do, you can explain the issues your practice has faced.

    1. munnchy*

      ^This! Do a google image search for “NHS zero tolerance” or similar. As above, in the UK these signs are in all doctors offices and hospitals. It is a national campaign (although seems to be a universal problem facing healthare staff).

  22. Admiral Thrown Rocks the Blue*

    #3. When the church fired me, the only thing the new senior pastor would say is, your services are no longer required. Every question I asked got the same stupid, cowardly answer. I knew why – he knew I would know his answers were lies. His ego just wanted me gone. Among other things, he despised women and deeply begrudged my salary. He thought he could replace me entirely with volunteers. Didn’t quite go as planned.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      That’s shitty.

      I do wonder though if the intent is to make it a layoff instead of firing. “You services are no longer needed” on face value (rather than the white lie) is about the company’s need for less manpower now that the busy season is over and does not imply the person did anything wrong at work to get themselves fired.

      1. ecnaseener*

        “We can’t afford you so we’re replacing your position with volunteers” is also a layoff though.

        1. Person from the Resume*

          Where do volunteers come into this question?

          It’s some sort of seasonal business that has a busy season and can’t maintain those numbers throughout the entire year. It does not appear that there is a need for any volunteers.

          1. Mental Lentil*

            ecnaseener is responding to Admiral’s experience, where she was fired from a church and replaced with volunteers.

            1. ecnaseener*

              Yeah, Person from the Resume I thought you were responding to Admiral as well LOL

              1. Joan Rivers*

                Churches are not the repository of virtue that one would hope they are.
                Neither are non-profits.
                From experience.
                BUT, when applicants were put on the spot about whether they’d want to stay on, I assume some said yes just to look good to you. So some may not be so upset to leave.
                It’s not like they can say, “Nah, I just want this for a while and then I’ll be happy to go.” They’re forced to say they want to stay.
                So if you say it’s just about the numbers, not their work, that’s a comfort.
                And I’d be curious to tell them we have to cut staff and see how many would ask to stay.

  23. Abcde*

    LW1, “We have lost two wonderful employees in the past few months because they can’t deal with the rude patients! In these cases a manager or the physician contact the patient directly and dismiss them from the practice, but I don’t feel that is enough to show are staff that we support them.”

    Do you mean that two employees resigned and then you fired the two straws that broke the camel’s back – or do you mean you fire abusive patients but two employees resigned anyway?

    Because ‘firing patients that make our staff quit’ is not actually supporting your staff.

    1. Molly*

      Op1 reply
      Thanks for the opportunity to clarify. We dismiss patients who are abusive to our staff—we don’t dismiss patients only if staff quit!

      1. Pennyworth*

        I’m assuming that abuse would have to be extreme or frequent (or both) for good staff to quit. Do you provide counseling or similar support for abused staff, let them take mental health days etc? That might help, as well as firing the abusers of course.

  24. Jyn’Leeviyah the Red*

    OP #1 — I wanted to thank you for writing in and asking this question. It’s wonderful to know that there are managers like you who truly care about the well-being of their staff. I wish I had specific advice for you, but I have a lot of faith that you’ll find some useful nuggets of wisdom here, and I hope you are able to implement something that helps!

  25. Bookworm*

    #4: Good luck! I am not in the same spot (…yet…) but luckily I’m really glad that my office is still remote because I absolutely do not want to see my current organization’s management ever again. Aside from the tenure of employment, I also think you have a legit case (You got COVID!!! Very likely from your co-workers!) to not go in-person.

    I’m sorry that happened. Good luck when you have that convo. >_<

  26. Anon for this one*

    OP1, I can’t tell from your letter what kind of patients your office serves, but I want to flag a potential bias issue for you. In hospitals and healthcare settings that serve a diverse mix of patients, terms like “aggressive,” “abusive,” and “threatening” are often used against Black and poor patients and their families, whose concerns in those settings are statistically much more likely to be ignored/downplayed and whose efforts to advocate for themselves are not well-taken by mostly White staff. I absolutely agree that people shouldn’t have to take abuse at work, but have also seen too many White healthcare workers respond to Black patients’ disagreeing or raising their voices by calling security rather than attempting to address the underlying concern. If you think that might be an issue in your office, some cultural competency and de-escalation training in addition to solid protocols for handling genuinely abusive patients could be helpful for both your staff and patients.

    1. littledoctor*

      I agree–in Canada, white patients tend to get a lot more leeway than visibly Indigenous patients. Often white doctors and nurses will threaten to call the police on Indigenous patients just for advocating for themselves politely.

    2. Jennifer*

      This is a good point. I hope that this isn’t the issue because that there has been a big rise in rudeness to all front line workers over the past year. But it is something for the OP to keep in mind. There is a difference between someone that is simply rude and someone who is frustrated because their pleas for help have been repeatedly ignored.

    3. You bet I'm anon for this*

      I agree with you wholeheartedly. I live in an area where a lot of people pay with Medicaid, and I’ve heard some condescending and privacy-violating comments from front-desk staff in response to questions from poor patients.

      Health care systems and hospitals need to make clear that this will not be tolerated.

      They also need to make clear that white patients’ racism toward health care staff will not be tolerated.

      Because of several decades of refugee resettlement in my part of the state, the health care workforce includes many, many more people of color than in previous years, with not only refugees but now also their grown children getting degrees and jobs here.

      I can easily see white patients threatening to escalate spurious complaints regarding Black health care workers. There has to be a zero tolerance policy for this approach, and both patients and staff should be aware of it.

    4. Archaeopteryx*

      This is definitely a very real issue and this kind of training is a good idea. The only thing I would point out is that raising your voice at the front desk staff is never appropriate, no matter who is doing it. Patients can make their point through word choice, and through escalation of who they’re speaking to, not through volume.

      However, this should be dealt with by calling a manager or someone, not by heading straight to security unless someone is actually threatening. And absolutely everyone should be making sure that the same type and level of abuse is dealt with the same way for all patients, not dealt more leniently for some and punitively for others.

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        In the same way as Alison points out that managers who yell aren’t making use of all the appropriate tools they have (pip, firing, etc), people who yell at service workers a) aren’t making use of precision language, escalating concerns to management, and realizing that the person still has to help them even if they raise these concerns at an appropriate volume, and b) muddy the waters of what may be a very legitimate complaint by making the encounter about their own inappropriate response.

      2. Jennifer*

        I disagree. If someone has asked for pain relief repeatedly, for themselves or a relative, and not received it, or they feel other legitimate concerns have been repeatedly ignored, sometimes they are going to have a more passionate response. People have died because of medical racism. I don’t know many people who could keep their cool while they are in horrible discomfort, in extreme mental distress, or while watching a loved one needlessly suffer.

        It is better generally to try to be as polite as you can in all situations but I think we can make common sense exceptions depending on context.

        1. generic employee*

          The thing is, anyone* who voluntarily took a job in medicine knows that being in fear and pain rattles people’s composure and seeing one’s loved one in fear and pain rattles people’s composure so much worse. I don’t think people here are saying to fire any patient who ever raises their voice or swears, and I think this thread started with a very useful reminder that Black and Indigenous people are often maltreated by the medical establishment and also seen as exaggeratedly aggressive for actions that White people wouldn’t be.

          *: there’s probably an exception somewhere..

          But I’ve worked in medical offices and I have two observations.

          1) Racism is also wrong when patients and family members inflict it on staff. Pain and fear do not justify it. If I never hear “call the doctor you lazy [slur]” again it will be too soon.

          2) Threatening to punch the receptionist, or punching the receptionist, will not induce the nurse to bring the pain meds faster. Either the nurse is unavoidably delayed (for example, another patient “coded”) or, obviously much less liekly, the nurse doesn’t care and won’t care if the receptionist is hurt either. I mention the specific examples here of using slurs and punching people because I think this discussion could use a lot more specifics as to what people mean when we describe abusive behavior from patients, and those are two specific examples from my experience.

      3. Artemesia*

        There are many cases on record of black patients and women being dismissed when they raise concerns including in hospitals that result in death or horrifying outcomes — like the toddler who ended up with limbs amputated, because the parents pleas were ignored until a rapidly evolving situation had caused irreversible damage. If the child had been assessed and treated quickly it could have been averted. Being polite crippled their daughter for life. In other cases assertive people were treated like the problem while their relative died of neglect. I have read about several back women who died or suffered damage after childbirth when concerns were ignored for hours and patients who literally bled to death after surgery when relatives pleas to attend to the patient were ignored. Assertiveness gets defined as aggression for people already often discriminated against.

        And yes, cursing and violence are. not acceptable — but I am concerned that too much emphasis on obsequious and compliant and pleasant patients and punishing them for not being that will reinforce these real risks in medical settings for women and minorities.

    5. Piper*

      I’m assuming staff aren’t quitting because a POC once raised their voice slightly. It seems like you are trying to turn this around on the LW to make it their office’s fault instead of taking at face value that some patients (of any color) can be abusive.

      1. Jennifer*

        They are not saying that some patients are abusive. Due to bias, sometimes the perception is that people of color are ruder than they actually are. It’s a good idea just to make sure there isn’t any bias involved in any of these situations.

        And yes, if people have actually called the police on POC for just living their lives, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that someone would quit because of a raised voice. Not saying that’s what’s happening, but it’s important to at least consider it before resorting to throwing someone out or firing them as a patient.

          1. Joan Rivers*

            There are actual stats, like about Black women dying in childbirth more than white women, that support the comment about racism.

            1. Jennifer*

              Yes, definitely. I agree that we should strive for politeness as much as possible, but it’s also short-sighted to think someone that is literally dying and being ignored by hospital staff at every turn is going to have the Queen’s manners.

              Also, Dr. Susan Moore who died of Covid after being mistreated by the staff. They called her rude when she was actually just trying to advocate for herself while she was dying.

  27. Chilipepper Attitude*

    Re #1 and abusive patients.
    I think what Alison said is great but if you don’t already have it, I’d go so far as to offer scripts to say to abusive patients that include how to ask them to leave or that spell out calling a manager or whatever you want staff to do. Where I work, management has been very clear that they do not expect us to take abuse and what to do, #1, say excuse me a moment and walk away.

    And we have access to customer service training with Ryan Dowd that has been helpful. When I say customer service training, I mean, how to handle when people (men) “hit on” staff and how to do well with homeless patrons.

    I feel very supported about this area of things (not so much in other areas).

  28. Richard Hershberger*

    LW3: This is a classic situation where it is better to ask forgiveness than permission. Assume that of course the “services no longer required” language is a paraphrase and go ahead and talk like a normal person. If called out on it (which I doubt will happen) play the innocent naif card.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Yes, this. Just assume that the language you were given is the meaning you need to convey, rather than a script. Alison’s version is better and makes the same point without making you sound like heartless robot.

    2. ecnaseener*

      Or if you’re worried about getting “caught” (which really seems unlikely) you could say Alison’s script to the laid off workers and then add “I actually wasn’t even supposed to tell you that much — the official message Grandboss wants me to give you is that we no longer require your services.”

      1. HR Exec Popping In*

        Do not say that you where not supposed to say something and that the grand boss is making you do it. That is deflecting and implies you had no say in any of this. Which might be true, but is not appropriate. As a manager you have a responsibility to own the message you are delivering. The Op can say Alison’s script and them summarize at the end by saying, “So therefore your services are no longer needed.”

        1. ecnaseener*

          I would agree with that in any situation other than termination — it’s the end of the business relationship, you don’t need this person to respect you or your organization anymore. (Unless the decision you’re being asked to communicate is something egregious enough to draw public ire or something, but a simple layoff is not that.)

    3. whistle*

      I don’t even find the “services no longer required” phrasing that bad and long as it’s sandwiched between something more personal. I do find “these services” better than “your services”. “I know you were looking for a permanent role, but unfortunately these services are no longer required by the company to the extent that they have been. We are going to have to let you go, but this is in no way related to your performance. I would be happy to provide a reference for you going forward.”

    4. HR Exec Popping In*

      I fully agree. Often HR provides managers with “canned language” or talking points to help the manager with the conversation but it isn’t intended to be a script. Just don’t go off and say something like “if I could I would keep you on, but senior leadership won’t let me”. Also don’t make the message about you by saying, “I am so sorry and am very upset that I have to let you go.” This is about being honest, kind and direct. Alison’s script is perfect.

  29. Paperdill*

    OP1: I work for a massive public health service (so, granted, we have a lot of resources) and from my experience this issue needs to be addressed from a few angles.
    – Sure, put a sign up. It’s not going to help “in the moment” but it will lay down the expectations to patients.
    – organisational policy on dealing with aggressive patients so staff can feel backed up by organisational policy and procedure as to how these incidents will be dealt with. (My organisation has a “zero tolerance” policy which is kinda bs because we tolerate a lot BUT management has our back and will intervene, and plan for the future to reduce and minimise incidents).
    – lay down the expectations when patients are initially admitted to the service. We have a whole (boring) brochure, but all that needs to be be said and agreed upon is, essentially, “We’ll give you good health care, confidentiality, etc….you don’t abuse out staff cos if you do, we can’t provide you this service”.
    – Training for staff that details the company policy, identifying early warning signs of possible aggression and de-escalation strategies. This will support and empower your staff and hopefully minimise these incidents or minimise the need for intervention by management.
    – Incident reporting system as a means of identifying what lead to the incident and what could be done to minimise or eliminate the possibility of it happening again.
    – Patient feedback mechanisms so you can find out what isn’t working for patients and improve the services.

    (That’s all I can think of, now, I just did my yearly “OHS” and “Managing Agression” training a couple of weeks ago, so I am feeling like I am on a role, here. All the best, OP!)

    1. CT*

      “– Patient feedback mechanisms so you can find out what isn’t working for patients and improve the services.”

      This is important. I wonder if it would be helpful to have a clear and visible path for patient complaints. I mean, if there is a clear way to make complaints about service in a non-abusive way (and patients know about it), it becomes that much harder to justify snapping in the moment. Maybe if one is updating policy and asking patients to sign off, it would be helpful to give a pamphlet or something at the same time that clarifies the correct way to lodge a complaint.

      I am sympathetic to the concern that patients may be grouchy because of distress or pain, or an increased wait time. I am sure that taking care of literally hundreds of such patients a week comes with a great deal of stress, physical pain, and distress as well — and that also counts. It’s been enough in this case to cause two people to quit their jobs. That pain and distress counts, too.

  30. LifeBeforeCorona*

    Most health care providers like hospitals and medical offices have signage stating that abusive behaviour and language towards staff and other patients will not be tolerated. Sadly, there is nothing remarkable about your office posting similar signs. Many of these signs pre-dated the pandemic.

  31. Ames*

    1: In England hospital have signs ‘we will not tolerate any form of abuse against our staff and you will be asked to leave’. To be honest I’m surprised you don’t

    2. I have a rule when it comes to students: if the answer is available via Google/youtube video then you can look it up. If it requires work beyond Google (research and statistics) I guide them through it. If I were you I would drastically scale back and tell her to ask her manager for training. Meanwhile, I would advise her to take notes as you can’t keep explaining stuff (fonts ffs)! a 10 year old can manage. We always have (degree level) students thinking they can rattle off an email instead of using Google. When they say ‘I don’t know anything at all’ we respond go through the material and ask us specific questions.

  32. Nishipip*

    OP#1 – I just wanted to add that you’re not alone. I work in health care as well and the last few months have been horrible. People have been getting FURIOUS that we’re not letting them in without an appointment, and people keep screaming at my admin for not letting them in to see me while I’m in an appointment with another patient. It’s been brutal.

    I think all we can do is ban the patient from returning, and make sure that they know that they will NOT get in trouble for these horrible people, even if your staff do lose their cool with them a little bit.

  33. agnes*

    It seems that rude behavior is on the rise just about everywhere. I guess when people have been barking orders at Alexa for the past year, they have forgotten that real people need a different type of interaction.

    We posted signs highlighting the superior customer service our employees provided and having a few stats about the people we helped during covid. Some of our signs had quotes from our staff. We have a large facility and so we had room to post this kind of information for customers to read while they were waiting. It has seemed to set a positive tone and anecdotally we think it’s reduced rudeness.

    1. Cat Tree*

      I really don’t think it was ever better than it was now. There have always been rude people. I used to work in collections about 20 years ago and I can assure this behavior isn’t new.

      1. KittyCardigans*

        Idk. There have certainly always been rude people, but I do think it’s gotten worse. I work in education and this year has had the most incidences of rude behavior from students and parents in my career. The nicest people are nicer than usual, but the people with a slight propensity for rudeness have really leaned into that.

        1. Artemesia*

          We have had a constant stream of role modeling by our leaders and people showcased constantly in the news of rude, aggressive, abusive behavior — it isn’t surprising that people imitate that in their personal life.

  34. Jennifer*

    #1 Signs don’t help in these kinds of situations. Alison has the right idea. Empower the employees. Let them know that they can refuse to help someone who is abusive and ask them to leave. In general, I think we need to stop normalizing that part of any job that deals with the public is having to put up with abuse. When these people start to suffer real consequences for their actions instead of being rewarded, I think we will see real change.

  35. Dust Bunny*

    OP: Do not underestimate the value of firing bad patients! “The customer is always right” has become so ingrained that I think a lot of business owners are using it as an excuse to do nothing when somebody abuses their workers.

    I worked for two different business in the same line of work (one after the other). One of them would fire bad clients. The other didn’t. The guy who ran the first place was, as an individual, difficult on a good day but his unwillingness to let us be abused (and his commitment to hiring and training good staff) kept people working for him for years. I left 16 years ago and there are still people working there that I knew.

    The second place was “nicer” but their wimpiness and unwillingness to back staff up against unreasonable clients ran me out in less than a year.

  36. Jenny D*

    OP1: Other people have already mentioned setting up protocols so the employees will have a clear path to take when patients are being abusive. I’d like to add to that: Hire a bouncer!

    By that, I mean have someone who can be called immediately (so not a doctor or nurse who may be busy with a patient) and physically step in and take over from the person being abused. This person’s job is to make the staff safe, not to manage patients or bills or cleaning or whatever. Just to be there to back them up or step in as needed. It doesn’t have to be a big strong-looking man, like a bouncer at a club, just someone who can handle confrontations without feeling awful about it, and who is good as deescalation as well as knowing when to deescalate and when to kick someone out.

      1. Jenny D*

        I’m working in IT-sec, not a practice, so no.

        But I *have* been in places open to people from the general public as clients. In some of them, there were uniformed security guards – which is not what I’m recommending here, because that gives an entirely different vibe to the patients. What I’m recommending is simply having one employee whose job it is to get between the rest of the staff and the angry person. I’ve *been* that person, though at that place and time, it was a rotating duty. Simply having another person step in and take over can in itself defuse the situation.

          1. Jenny D*

            I have seen a person not dressed in scrubs come running to step in between an abusiive person and a nurse, yes. I don’t know if they were specifically hired for that; I was called in for my own appointment and was in too much pain to focus on the rest of the world.

            I have also heard from a friend working in a large practice that they had a couple of managers who would take turns being that person, and I have seen actual uniformed security staff at larger hospitals. But the uniforms make for a more confrontational situation whereas a person looking like they could be a manager is more likely to defuse the situation.

  37. Blisskrieg*

    “Your services are no longer needed” sounds very much like something from the 1800s dismissing servants. Not a fan–

  38. Bennie*

    OP 5 – @Alison Why would they revise their cover letter beyond just a slight update to include the note you suggested? If it was strong enough to get an interview the first time, shouldn’t it be good enough still? Or is it that cover letters should always sound more recent achievements?

      1. Mental Lentil*

        I think it’s mostly because if they pull up your application file from last time (which some companies do keep) it would look lazy (or maybe presumptuous on your part?) if you just copied the same letter you used last time.

        With electronic records, I would not be surprised if this is the case.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yep — if you’re reapplying, you don’t use an identical letter. It makes it look like a form letter. Plus after several interviews last year, you know way more about the job than you did when you wrote the first letter; reference that knowledge in what you write.

    1. Colette*

      I’m pretty good at recognizing stuff I’ve ready before, and there’s a decent chance I’d recognize that I’d read it before. It wouldn’t be disqualifying, but I might put some time into figuring out where I’d read it before. (Was it the same person, or did they copy it off the internet?)

      1. Artemesia*

        This. I remember years ago reading 160 students essays from high school classes — I had at that time, 5 sections of the same subject and two other subjects. At about 70 I felt like I had seen it before (this was before the internet). — sure enough someone in class 2 had copied the essay of someone in class 5 and figured I would never notice. Uh huh. I sorted it out by grading the paper and then splitting the points between the two of them which got them sheepishly to come by and fess up and ask for the author to get the points.

  39. foolofgrace*

    #2 Incompetent coworker:

    Can you make her write down afterwards whatever lesson it was that you went through with her? After she’s (and you’ve) completed her task, she could jot down some bullet points about what she’s learned. If that’s not possible, you could do it yourself and give it to her in a notebook of sorts for this type of info. She’ll either learn what to do, or perhaps just stop asking you if she knows what has to happen afterwards.

    1. Ms. Anon*

      That’s more work for the LW though. She’s not this person’s manager nor her trainer.

  40. Sally*

    Obviously not the same type of business, but I was at an amusement park the other day (one known for it’s Southern hospitality), and noticed they had signs throughout that said something like: [in big letters] “Thank you for being kind to our staff!” [then in smaller letters] “Guests who cannot be respectful to our staff members will be asked to leave, in order to allow everyone to enjoy the park, etc. etc.” I don’t remember the exact wording, but that was the gist.

    I don’t have any idea whether it works, but it seemed like a nice and positive way to get the message out.

  41. foolofgrace*

    #2 Incompetent coworker:

    [sorry for possible duplicate post — the first one didn’t go through but the system thought it did.]

    Can you make her write down afterwards whatever lesson it was that you went through with her? After she’s (and you’ve) completed her task, she could jot down some bullet points about what she’s learned. If that’s not possible, you could do it yourself and give it to her in a notebook of sorts for this type of info. She’ll either learn what to do, or perhaps just stop asking you if she knows what has to happen afterwards.

  42. Dwight Schrute*

    Can I just thank OP1 for wanting to help their staff and for dismissing awful patients? As someone who’s worked in a doctors office with horribly abusive patients, the thing that would have been most helpful was having a protocol that allowed me to shut them down and then know that I would have the backup of my manager, etc. In my case, we would often tell patients no and they would become abusive and the doctor would come out and make accommodations for them even if it was protocol not to. It sucked big time to be in that spot

  43. Jennifer*

    #2 The solution is just to stop helping her. Then she’ll have to go to her bosses and they will realize that she doesn’t know what she’s doing, which is something they really should know.

    Just tell her you are swamped with a new project and can’t help, but she should check out some excel tutorials on youtube. If she persists, you may need to tell her that helping her so much has caused you to fall behind on your own work and you need to take a step back.

    We had a situation like this recently with a contractor and she ended up being let go. Sometimes testing on some basic computer literacy for these kinds of roles during the hiring process is a good idea. A lot of people think they are proficient with Excel because they’ve seen it once or twice.

    1. pleaset cheap rolls*

      “The solution is just to stop helping her. ”

      This. It’s not that complicated.

  44. Trek*

    OP2 What does your coworker do when you are in meetings or have PTO? Does she have someone else she asks or does she just sit there not working? The company has a head count for her role and for yours. If you are doing 50% or more of her role than they are paying for a full time person when a part time person would work. Go to your boss and explain that while you are fine supporting coworker you now realize she is not equipped for the job and you are not sure how much time and energy they want to spend training someone on basic computer skills, emphasis basic. Provide clear examples of what you are training her on, what she is not learning, and how much time you are spending. Coworker must have one person that approves her time off and raises and reviews etc. That person should be notified as well but it may need to come from your boss.
    It’s really important you don’t cover for this person too long or it can reflect badly on you later.

  45. staceyizme*

    People are wound up much more tightly (generally speaking) due to the impacts of Covid-19 and those who use the excuse to lash out won’t be stopped by a sign. Staff are also going to feel the impacts and may not have the bandwidth to compensate for the craziness that erupts at times. Rather than a sign that says “hey, behave”, you’d be better off with some policies that serve both sides. Take a look at these communication lapses, for example- is there an automated way of addressing them? (Auto-emails or texts reminding of appointments, for instance, or better communication software for pharmacies or billing or whatever?). Then, are you giving your staff the appropriate support for their roles? Raises, time off and benefits (some version of hero’s pay and recognition) will help them to feel heard. Also, is the waiting room a soothing, clean, quiet space? And are staff reachable if someone has a question? (IF you’re understaffed and not picking up the phone or if the window is always shut until the patient is called to be seen, you’re going to have more people who are frustrated.) When you have a systems problem, you need a systems solution. Not a sign.

  46. Jen*

    Some folks have mentioned feedback for the person with abusive patients. I’d like to second that, and also suggest that POSITIVE feedback be encouraged and made a big deal of. I’m a teacher, and kids and parents can be pretty awful sometimes, especially in this COVID year. Having someone I serve say “thanks so much!” means a lot. The more you can be a pathway and amplification system for happy patients’ thanks, the less the unhappy patients’ words will stick. (But don’t stop ‘firing’ truly awful patients!)

    1. Mental Lentil*

      Thank you for being there for our students and parents in these trying times. I know it’s been really rough for teachers. I hope you’re doing all right.

  47. Jennifer*

    #3 Did they literally mean you have to say those exact words? I don’t think they meant you just to repeat that verbatim like a robot. I think Alison’s script is perfect.

    1. Allypopx*

      Eh sometimes overly rigid HR departments give you exact approved language, it’s not unheard of.

      1. HR Exec Popping In*

        It is very common for HR to provide approved language but the intent is not for it to be a script. It is an example and to be used to help the manager. Not to remove empathy or compassion.

        1. Allypopx*

          I have absolutely been told “these are the only words you’re legally allowed to use”

          1. HR Exec Popping In*

            Then, respectfully, your HR people are not very good. :)
            There are no words or phrases you have to legally say. Maybe they mean the script was approved by their legal department. But limiting what a manager can say to a script when they are having a serious and very personal conversation with an employee who is losing their job is overly rigid and inhuman in my personal opinion.

      2. Jennifer*

        But to have to repeat it word for word like that? That’s extremely odd. I mean why even have a human deliver the message at all if that’s the case? Just send out a mass email and a $5 Amazon e-gift card. I’m joking, but I’d find out very odd if the OP was told they couldn’t deviate from those exact words.

    2. LW #3*

      Oh the direction I got was “say those exact words.” But I’m going to treat it more like a “spirit of the law” thing anyway because I cannot bring myself to say that phrase to people.

  48. Delta Delta*

    #2 – I’d be direct with the co-worker, and say something like, you’ve asked me about this a lot and I can’t keep leaving my work to do yours. Take a word/excel/database class because I can’t keep doing your job and mine.

    #3 – Not clear why the organization can’t just be honest and say something like, we’re going into the slow season, so we can only keep some folks. Thanks for your work, but your time here is up on July 1.

    It’s Clear And Direct Communication Day at Chez Delta, apparently.

  49. CM*

    OP #3, I would refrain from asking management about this, because you might get an even worse answer. Instead, I’d tell people, “I’m sorry, we won’t be able to keep you on. The official message from the organization is ‘your services are no longer required’ but I want you to know I value your work and unfortunately, we’re not able to retain everyone now that the busy season is ending.”

    1. Reba*

      This is what I was thinking! It’s a conversation. I can imagine TPTB saying that this is the only reason that can be given, but hopefully they don’t mean those are literally the only words you can say.

  50. Jennifer Strange*

    OP2 – I had a similar situation with a former co-worker of mine where she would ask me to help on every little thing she was doing (in part because I’m the Excel/Word/database whiz on my team and in part because my desk was closest to her). I didn’t mind so much in the first few months (she was new, after all, both to this organization and this line of work). When it got beyond that, though, I definitely started just pushing her in the right direction (“Oh, you can see an example of the language we usually use in the documents saved here and build off that”), then making myself unavailable (“Sorry, I can’t right now, but the documentation on the website is really helpful”).

    I did finally have a word with our shared supervisor about how it was getting difficult for me to get through my work as it felt like I was always being pulled out of it to have to guide her on things she should be able to do herself by this point. Our supervisor must have talked with her because the questions lessened (didn’t stop, but lessened). Granted, after she left I found quite a few things that had been done incorrectly by her which I then had to fix. *sigh*

  51. JSPA*

    #3, I rarely say Alison is missing the point, but she may be missing the point.

    Depending on country, state or local regs, this could have to do with whether or not this falls under firing, furlough, layoff, or what sort of “dismissal” it is. They want this to be a layoff, sounds like. In the UK, there is “fair dismissal” vs unfair dismissal, and “redundancy” is the no-fault category of fair dismissal.

    Do NOT muddy the waters–causing harm to either the company or the employee–by prioritizing “feelings” over what may be a legally-constrained, carefully-designed message.

    Yes, those messages suck, measured against an everyday, plain-english yardstick.

    But what sucks worse is if an employee doesn’t understand what sort of unemployment they qualify for…or if you’re fired because your creativity has put your employer on the hook for paying benefits or severance that they’re not willing to pay (and you blunder into that by accident, rather than by taking a principled stand).

    I don’t think there’s any sort of Noh drama or mime or mixture of smile and grimace that can signal something other than what the words themselves say, without being weirder and worse than just the words; and if they did manage to subvert the meaning of the words, the company might again be on the hook.

    If it were one person, you could mutter to yourself, “I hate having legal tell me what to say,” before launching into it. But you can’t probably pull that off, for person after person.

    You’ll think, “can I tell them how excellent they are, the day before?” or, “what about sending them a card, after?” But in each case, with some people staying, and some going, it’s a real mine-field.

    If your company lets you write substantive references, perhaps there’s some way to let people know that you are available to give references. Or to clue them in, that the firing process is very choreographed and legally-constrained, “to protect your rights and those of the company,” so they don’t take it personally. But you can’t do that at the firing.

    1. Allypopx*

      You spell organization as “organisation” in the UK, right? That’s the only clue I can think of to determine the OPs location. Sometimes that context is really important. In the US with “at-will” employment these things are less necessary. Sometimes HR will determine very strict legal language just to avoid issues but it’s rarely actually necessary.

      1. Grace*

        I think Alison has said she standardises spelling to be the US variation in a lot of cases, so that isn’t necessarily an indication of where an OP is located

    2. Allypopx*

      You spell organization as “organisation” in the UK, right? That’s the only clue I can think of to determine the OPs location. Sometimes that context is really important. In the US with “at-will” employment these things are less important. Sometimes HR will determine very strict legal language just to avoid issues but it’s rarely actually necessary.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Even if they want them to use a script, there are better scripts. The one they offered is bad. They can offer a better one. You don’t end people’s employment while talking like an unconcerned robot. The script I offered will not change anything legally.

      (And of course, I make no claims to offer advice for other countries; I can only offer what will work in the U.S.)

      1. Clisby*

        I agree, but the letter refers to these as temporary employees, and seasonal hiring. Are they really temporary? I worked a bunch of temp jobs to help pay for graduate school, and I would never have been surprised if one was terminated earlier than I expected. Currently, my 19-year-old son is working a seasonal part-time job in one of the places in Charleston, SC, that caters heavily to tourists. They make no secret of the fact that they beef up their hiring in May, and they have fewer workers after September. Some of this will take care of itself, since some of their employees are high school and college students whose availability is much more restricted during the school year; but it’s not like they ever pretended they’d maintain staff at the level they have now.

    4. londonedit*

      I was thinking this…in a previous job we all went through a round of redundancies, and the whole thing was so carefully managed by the company from a legal perspective. There are all sorts of hoops that you have to jump through to do it all legally. Unfortunately for the company, in this case one of the employees who had been made redundant decided they wanted to challenge the decision, and in the ensuing discussions someone from HR let slip a bit of information that the employee was then able to use as the basis to threaten to start a claim for unfair dismissal. They ended up with a much bigger pay-out than they would have ordinarily received and the whole thing was a nightmare for the company involved.

    5. fhqwhgads*

      I don’t think the language the OP has been supplied eliminates any ambiguity about what type of dismissal it is. It’s both robotic and unclear. If they were genuinely concerned about confusion, they’d use the specific term in the sentence they asked the manager to use.

      Still, it sounds like these were actually overhire who went into the role knowing it was not permanent, and that some may be asked to stay on, but not all would. So contextually, regardless of the wording used to dismiss them, it seems like the possible outcomes were binary: we’d like to offer you one of the open permanent roles vs you’re done now, as was originally anticipated at the time of hire.

      Which is to say, the wording is bad in either case. If the staff might not know if they’re being laid off vs fired, the language doesn’t help. If they knew that had no guarantee of employment past the end of “the busy season”, then they already know it’s a layoff (or really the job is simply over), and the wording is callous.

  52. Machiamellie*

    My public library grants free access to Lynda dot com (I think now it’s LinkedIn Learning) if you have a library card. They have basic Excel and Word courses. LW#2 could maybe suggest that to her incompetent coworker if it’s true in her area as well. You know, offer a hand up and all that. She’s been more than kind so far.

  53. KTV123*

    I work for a large Health system and when I worked in one of our practices (pre Covid) we had a sign out stating abusive or threatening behavior would not be tolerated. Unfortunately, it is pretty standard. As long as you practice what you preach, it helps the staff feel supported.

  54. Rita*

    OP#2, I don’t have any advice but empathy as I’m dealing with a similar issue with my peer. She asks me how to do many things and asks me clarifying questions instead of our shared boss (he/him). But every time I tell her to go to our boss, she won’t. It is so bizarre. And I can count 5 times where I’ve told her something and she straight up didn’t listen. This woman also LOVES speaking during meetings. My hypothesis is that she’s going to me instead of our boss so he, along with the stakeholders, thinks she’s knowledgeable and knows what she’s doing. This woman also started 8 months and in the first training session I had with her, she bragged about how she has so much experience and how all our marketing programs were set up and run terribly.

    Is there anyway you could not share a cube with her? Especially during COVID, that’s a valid reason to not share a cube. You could also clarify with your boss on your training responsibilities with her. Ex. “I’m noticing Ashley is coming to me with repeated questions around the Llama grooming process. Can I set up a set training time with her to go over that or is that training you want to do”?

    Your boss should be in the loop with how reliant she is on you. And I wouldn’t call her nice, she’s being polite and taking advantage of you.

    1. Sharing a Cube*

      OP here–oh, how I wish I had my own space! One of the benefits of the pandemic was that I did, because she was mainly working from home. But now we’re all required to come in.

      Now that i think about it, I’m not sure what exactly she did from home. I suspect she got help from her husband, or maybe even her kids. She could be panicked that her managers are going to figure out how much she can’t do.

      1. Rita*

        Hi! She probably didn’t even do her tasks when she worked from home lol. That sucks you all have to come in and share a cube. Is there no extra space in the office? I think you should talk to your boss about it, frame it more like you are asking your boss for advice. “Ashley is coming to me repeatedly for X,Y,Z and it’s taking up my time, how do you want me to handle it going forward?”

  55. Spicy Tuna*

    LW #2, Google is this person’s friend. There are so many excellent tutorials on all things Excel and Power Point. If you want to be passive aggressive, you could find links to her commonly-asked questions and just send them to her when she asks you for help. Or you could just tell her to Google it.

    1. Cari*

      I agree. But… I’d suggest walking them through googling for the necessary info while *they* type everything. Once (okay, maybe twice). I’m going to yell just so it’s visible (sorry!): PEOPLE OFTEN NEED TO BE TAUGHT TO GOOGLE EFFECTIVELY! (Head-desk)

      Because of one caveat: I am frequently surprised at how weak many people’s Google skills are, no matter their education, level or seniority. And how (consciously or not) intimidated they can be by it.

      Nothing is coming up! it’s a lot of info, how am I they supposed to know?!? And what if it’s wrong?! And wait, there’s more than one page? Oooooh! (Truly, sincerely, I’ve had colleagues who didn’t realize there was more.)

      Couple that with an ingrained fear of breaking something on the computer, in the program, etc., and you have a lot of underlying cause. I very frequently get asked how I figured out to make Excel/Word/PPT do X, and then the asker is shocked and astounded that I just kept kicking it until it worked (“but won’t you break something????” “Save a copy first! Ask me how I know.”)

      Plus, many of us who are good (or very good) at using Google/search engines don’t realize how much others struggle with filtering results and even crafting search strings. Truly, it’s HUGE. A quick intro to google and some of its foibles often helps, especially if it can be framed as “making google give up its secrets” and *not* “showing you this thing you use every day duh”.

      This is a big enough thing to codify into onboarding or initial training. At the scientific and technical consultancy I work for, we now include some training around using google and search engines for most people on the non-technical side, and all the interns and junior hires do a project with me early on that involves searching the literature and Googling for technical information (bonus on assessing a site for being robust enough to cite).

      1. Willis*

        But c’mon. The OP has been teaching this woman to make the font larger in Word and now she’s got to train her on how to Google too? If the admin is afraid of using the internet, doesn’t know how to work a computer, can’t use Office programs, etc. she shouldn’t be an admin!! The OP’s role is not doing onboarding or training seminars or the like. She’s literally just sitting next to someone whiny who doesn’t know how to do basic job stuff. The OP should be shutting down the constant pipeline of help, not expanding her lessons plans!

        1. Cari*

          Yes, that’s true – this is an impressive level of inability being displayed.

          I’m not suggesting that the LW “expand her lesson plans,” I’m sharing my experience of similar issues and an unexpected underlying issue that matters when a bunch of suggestions are “tell her to google it”. I’m suggesting that telling the colleague to google something may not help if she (the colleague) is one of the many, many people who actually don’t know how to google effectively, based on my extensive experience of those people at all levels.

          My comment about training was to indicate how common and wide the gap actually is. It’s a big enough deal that we’ve had to codify an approach to it.

          The links that somebody upthread provided for two Office resources (ms and officemvp, I think) are probably a better solution than “google it” if the colleague shares the widespread and often invisible failing.

          1. Willis*

            Sure, the suggestion to google it may not be helpful if the person is not good at using google (which I believe could be the case, as you’ve suggested). And she may not be able to use other tutorials even when provided a good link. I just don’t think the logical next step is for OP to walk her through googling. The OP needs to say no to the whiny requests for help!

  56. Sara without an H*

    OP#2, the problem is continuing because you are letting it continue. It’s past time that you had the big picture talk Alison describes in her response to your post. After you’ve done that, be firm about pointing her to whatever resources you have available. If she doesn’t understand her assignment, send her kindly but firmly back to her own manager. Do not let the whining get to you or weaken your resolve.

    Your description also makes her sound grossly undersupervised, and I think it’s high time you gave your own manager a heads-up about what’s going on. “Sally keeps coming to me for help on word processing and spreadsheet formatting and, unfortunately, I don’t always have time to work with her. It’s starting to interfere with my work on Project Snickersnee. How would you like me to handle her requests?”

  57. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP#4 — I can understand why you are eager to leave this place. Unless you’re writing from a country where this is a thing, or you have an employment contract that requires it, I really don’t see why being with Cesspool & Sons for less than two years would make any difference in how you resign. I think it would be fine to resign by phone, since you’re working remotely, anyway. You could follow up by email, with a resignation letter attached, if they want something in writing for their files. (Some places do, others don’t care.)

    So call them, give them two weeks notice, or whatever is standard in your field. Then document your work and politely, cheerfully, and firmly refuse to be baited into any discussion about why you’re leaving. If you have to go back to the office, try to limit it to a single visit to return a laptop or other equipment.

    Congratulations and best of luck in your new job.

  58. eons*

    When I call my Doctor’s office, the message says “You have reached X. Please note that we have a zero tolerance policy for profanity, aggression, or any intimidation towards any staff member” – that makes me, the 95%, even more friendly and patient and I would think it puts the 5% on notice that they will not be dealing with you if you act in that way.

  59. MsClaw*

    “your services are no longer needed’ — Oh boy. I’ve been through this one from the management side. I cannot speak for everyone, but I can tell you that in my team’s case this was an absolute *nightmare* way to go about things. We had a project that was winding down and reducing funding going forward. At the time we did not have alternate work for many of the project members once that funding ran out.

    Corporate HR sent a bunch of people form letter emails about how their services were no longer needed — and pandemonium ensued. People were incredibly angry and insulted. In the case of my team, wording more along the lines of ‘as you know, we no longer have the funding to maintain the current staff. I am sorry to inform you, we have to let you go’ turned out to be much more acceptible.

      1. MsClaw*

        To be fair, the people involved were expecting the notices, but they really really did not care for that wording of ‘your services are no longer needed’. It went over like a lead balloon. I ended up calling the HR people and explaining to them that these were people who understood financial realities and that ‘we can no longer afford you’ was much kinder than ‘we don’t need you’.

  60. Strong Independent Acid Snake*

    #2 – you could suggest she Googles/Bings/Yahoo’s her questions? I have had to take on a big formatting project at work which has involved me using Word functions I’m not familiar with. I’ve found I can solve 99% of any problems I run into by Googling “Do XYZ in Word?”- I’ve also written down the keyboard shortcuts (also available online) for a lot of functions so I don’t have to remember them.

  61. JelloStapler*

    LW2- I wonder how the heck she got through the hiring process with such a lack of Excel skills- did she blatantly lie?

    1. Mental Lentil*

      Some people are really bad at interviewing for that kind of thing.

      Interviewer: “How are your Excel skills?”

      Applicant (who has used Excel exactly once and accomplished what they needed to accomplish): “Oh, excellent!”

      Interviewer: “Okay, let’s move on…”

    2. Purple Cat*

      We’ve debated giving people Excel skills for my finance department.
      In the absence of that, I either ask people their favorite Excel formula or the latest trick/skill they learned in Excel.

    3. Sharing a Cube*

      OP again–Knowing the managers that hired her, they wouldn’t be able to assess her skills. They’re the ones who like to print out spreadsheets and compare them manually. They expect her to take a couple of days on a task that I could complete in a few minutes with a simple vlookup or pivot table.

  62. ndawn90*

    OP #1 – I’ve been working in healthcare for over a decade, and the things that have helped me the most when dealing with abusive patients (as far as providers and management go) have been:

    1) Having them step in if possible. I had a provider who came out of his office (which was clear on the other end of a hallway) and into an exam room while a patient was screaming at me, and he told her to never speak to his staff that way, tore up her prescription (which was *chefskiss*, so satisfying!) and dismissed her from the clinic. Having the doctor himself, or even the office manager themselves, intervene in the moment and say, “Don’t treat people like this,” was huge, and it sends a powerful message.

    2) Training on the proper way to handle it. Even just letting your staff know, if someone is screaming and/or swearing at you, you can absolutely say, “This conversation is over,” and either hang up the phone or leave the room. A lot of people feel like they can’t disengage, otherwise their boss will get mad at them, so giving them permission to shut that down sooner is going to be great for them.

    3) Keep doing what you’re doing and dismissing patients. So many times, it feels like management or the providers are happy to throw their staff under the bus to keep a patient who is cruel to them, so the fact that you are dismissing those patients is going to go a long way for your staff.

    4) Give the staff acknowledgement. Maybe write a note in their review about how they stayed calm while being verbally attacked, or tell them in person you appreciate their professionalism. And, of course, anything you can do to reward your entire staff (gift cards, lunches, bonuses, etc) is going to help.

    4) Know that, no matter what you do, some people are just never going to be ok with dealing with an upset patient. I’ve seen many a new person enter healthcare because they love medical science and can deal with the happy patients, but nothing in the world is going to make it so they can actually deal with the angry ones. It’s unfortunately a part of patient care, and not everyone is cut out for patient care, as much as they love healthcare as a whole. You can do everything right, and still lose nice people because unless you can wave a magic wand and make all of the Karens disappear, they were going to leave anyway.

    Good luck, and I think you are *AMAZING* for caring for your staff this much!! I’d bet the farm that they recognize how much you care and how much you want to protect them, so just keep going!!

  63. LW #3*

    LW #3 here! The direction I received from my boss was that it was the exact phrase to be used, I could answer any questions by saying “the organization’s rules prohibit me from sharing any details about the decision,” and could then pivot to thanking people for their good work and highlight specific accomplishments. This is a public sector agency in the US and I have no standing to push back on this at all.

    For context, these are folks who know the job is temporary and could lead to a permanent position. The “decision” in question is whether to keep them on or let them go as expected.

    Knowing the conversations are one-on-one, I am leaning toward saying “we won’t be keeping you past [date],” which seems close enough to the spirit of the directive without getting me in trouble for going off-script. I’m willing to take the heat from my supervisor if discovered. Is this a terrible idea?

    1. HR Exec Popping In*

      Oh, and instead of saying “the organization’s rules prohibit me from sharing any details about the decision,” if asked how placement decisions where made, try something like, “I am sorry, but I can not share any details on placement decisions, but as you know this was a temporary position with no guarantee of permanent placement.”

  64. Mockingdragon*

    #2 – Flashing back to the time I was supposed to train a new coworker at a call center. We were working in Microsoft Word. I minimized a window to switch to some other program and my new coworker couldn’t find it again. That was the most egregious but not the only issue.

    My manager worked at the cubicle next to mine and took me off training the moment she could. She said, “I don’t have time for you to train her on how to use a computer.”

  65. irene adler*

    OP #1:
    After COVID started, I visited my auto mechanic. This is a very small shop with a single service writer. She’s a lovely person who has created a friendly and welcoming environment for the customers. She’s also done things that are above and beyond to delight the customers. Can’t say enough about how she does this. Love her to pieces!

    So, I arrive and see her desk is barricaded. And plastic protective barriers hanging from the ceiling. AND, a video camera aimed right where customer stands to conduct business with her. Signs posted explaining the legal stuff regarding auto repairs, what they can charge and smog testing laws. And where to file complaints.

    Seemed a bit much for COVID , I thought.

    Then she explained. A customer got irate and took his anger out on her (she did not go into details and I didn’t ask. He may have gotten physical.). Boss said never again. Physical barriers went up. He watches via the video camera and can be in the office in seconds in case anyone gets ugly. She’s the type to want to please everyone, but she’s been told, turn away those who don’t behave properly towards her (get the cops if needed). Don’t give it a second thought. Boss has her back.
    I’m just sick that anyone would mistreat this wonderful and kind person. But I understand. And am glad they are protecting her like this.
    Interestingly enough, I find I watch the interactions with the customers more closely now. No one’s been the least bit rude. But I’m ready to step in should I observe this occurring. I do not want her harmed or thinking about quitting.

    My vet also had to lock the customers out of the office because of an irate customer. Business is conducted in the parking lot for the protection of the vet techs. While a bit awkward, I totally understand and strive to be cooperative. I’m equally disturbed that folks have been ugly to the vet and the techs. They are fantastic, hard-working people.

  66. boop the first*

    #1. I haven’t seen anyone mention this yet, but if you must put a sign up, it might work better if it rewarded the behaviour you’re actually looking for. Like how people tend to be nicer to employees with “it’s my first day” on their nametag.

    Negative, threatening signs sometimes just put the idea out there as an option. It puts your polite guests into a defensive mood, raises the hackles of staff who are reminded constantly of the risk, and tells the rude guests that this behaviour is so common that they wouldn’t stand out if they just once lashed out while they were in pain.

    You could try something like “Thank you for your kindness during this time” or something else that brags about how sweet and wonderful your visitors are. It might make your favourite guests feel proud to read it, and subconsciously encourage your rude guests to “fit in” with the crowd, knowing they won’t have a cheering audience to back them up.

    But then, it seems like most people (who are able) don’t read signage anyway even if it’s super important, even if it’s right in their face, and the ones who do are usually the nice ones already.

  67. Denver Gutierrez*

    1) As someone who is part of the 95%, a sign like that would not offend me. I work with the public in my job too and know exactly how people can be. I agree the 5% probably won’t change by seeing that sign though. In my experience people like that often lack self-awareness and won’t recognize that they are part of the problem. If anything, they will probably snort and make a comment about how “some people are just so rude! Shame you need a sign.”

    2) Stop dropping everything to help her and do your best to ignore the whining. I know it feels good to be helpful, but there is helpful and there is setting yourself on fire to keep others warm. All you are doing is stressing yourself out and putting your own work at risk of suffering, and for what? Sounds like this person isn’t even learning anything!

    Every time you do her work for her, you are letting her become more dependent on you, plus covering up her incompetence. Management needs to see just how bad she is at her job, so they can take the steps to correct the problem (more training, etc) or replace her with someone who will be an asset, not a liability. She will likely be mad at you, but that is her problem. There are plenty of resources out there she can use to better herself other than you.

  68. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    I have seen signs in waiting rooms with a message that, “if you are abusive to the staff you will not be seen,” and it was one of the nicest waiting rooms I’ve ever been in. Quietest too…

  69. CommanderBanana*

    LW #1, does your clinic have a patient code of conduct? That could always be part of new patient intake/current patient paperwork.

  70. AnnaBeaverhausen*

    Where I live there have been signs in all medical facilities for years saying something to the effect of

    ‘We will treat our patients with respect and courtesy and appreciate the same in return.

    Abuse will not be tolerated.’

    I think it’s good

  71. PlainJane*

    OP2: This may sound weird, but is it possible your co-worker isn’t actually incompetent, just insecure in the work or even looking for something to talk about and that seems handy? It doesn’t ultimately make a difference in how you should respond, but the behavior is so odd (asking the same thing every day) that I’m wondering if it’s masking something else, like just wanting some human contact with a nearby co-worker. (It’s an off-putting way to do it, but as someone who is socially hopeless and awkward, I could see it. Just opening your mouth and talking about *anything* sometimes feels like a win, even if the other person is visibly frustrated.) It may be out there, but try increasing things like saying hello, asking after something non-work-related, etc, and see if the questions about Word and Excel start to diminish after a while.

    Otherwise, yeah… pretty much, you’re stuck with letting her rely too much. Maybe try a kindly stated suggestion that the answers to most questions about those programs are easily available online through tutorials, or, your local library subscribes to something like LinkedIn Learning, that it would be useful to take one of the video classes there. Her supervisor might even allow her to do it on work time as professional development.

  72. Mother of Cats*

    Last year my hometown’s health clinic published a Facebook post asking patients not to abuse its Asian staff. I grew up in a conservative town, but it’s very diverse and growing so I was surprised to see that the Asian workers were being mistreated by patients! I hope they went on to fire these racist patients.

  73. Imaginary Number*

    OP #2: I’m frequently in a similar situation because I’m an expert in several different types of complex analysis, but folks will come to me about really basic troubleshooting or setup guidance they could ask any number of people. And I’m usually happy to help the first time, even if it’s pretty basic. What drives me nuts is when the same person asks me for troubleshooting help three or four times, and the issue is the same basic mistake each time.

    What I started doing is pointing them to a resource where they could look it up themselves. If it was a simple answer and it was the first time they asked it, I’d give them the answer, the second time I’d point them to the resource. If the answer wasn’t readily available, like the troubleshooting steps I usually take first, I made a powerpoint that I could distribute myself.

  74. Mayflower*

    OP #1 “Putting up a sign about abusive patients”:

    I own a few rental properties and I get my share of verbally abusive tenants. Your office is ultimately doing the right thing but there is too much distance between the problem (patient is being verbally abusive to staff) and the solution (doctor has fired the patient). The sign idea is good in theory but I am afraid people don’t read signs unless they scream “90% OFF EVERYTHING!!!” in bold orange.

    Just like your staff, I’ve been reduced to tears by rude, emotionally unstable callers. I’ve realized my tears were the result of feeling powerless. Giving myself permission to say “I am here to help – but only if you treat me with respect” put me back in control and greatly reduced my stress levels.

    Your office needs to empower the staff to say to the patient, right in that moment: “I do not appreciate being berated. Our policy is that we do not have to tolerate patients being verbally abusive to staff. I am going to step away to help another patient – when I come back/call you back/you call us back, hopefully we’ve both had a chance to compose ourselves and then I can help you. Thank you for understanding.” And then step away/hang up before they have time to respond (with more abuse, no doubt).

    For me, it works about 50% of the time. The other half call back and immediately escalate again. With those, I just repeat my spiel and hang up again. If you stay firm, eventually even the worst offenders get it.

  75. Lana Kane*

    I’m a supervisor of frontline healthcare staff . We’ve always had rude patients, although since COVID it’s been exponentially worse. I don’t think it’s at all rude to put up a sign – we send out a letter to all new patients detailing behavioral expectations, because it’s that bad.

    But that’s just the tip of the iceberhg. I empower staff to bring me into the situation as soon as they feel they can no longer handle it. Or if it’s a phone call, to end the call and let me know immediately. The most importa nt thing you can do is have protocols for this kind of situation.

    Patients have:
    Threatened to sue staff
    Threatened to kill themselves if they can’t get an appointment right then and there
    Accused staff of killing them by not caving to demands
    Called them horrible names
    Called staff useless and incompenent
    Called me disgusting
    Told me my staff is stupid
    And more

    When these patients get escalated to me, knowing I’m the supervisor, sometimes they sudenly become very polite – as if I wouldn’t know the abuse they had just unleashed on the person who was trying to help them.

    Always, always make yourself available to step in, and to empower staff to end the interactions. Name the action that the person is doing, and tell them that the conversation will end if it doesn’t stop. If they’re in person, have protocols for escalating to a supervisor, security, etc. I witnessed one particular patioent (in a different area) be so continually abusive that staff threatened to quit if the patient wasn’t dismissed permanently from the clinic – and it should NOT have gotten to that point. I’m going to harp on the word “empower” because that’s what has helped me the most with retaining staff during these times. I value their wellbeinbg a lot more than trying to placate someone unreasonable.

    1. Lana Kane*

      I also want to add, that in this environment it’s really important to maintain close lines of communication with staff. They do work that will regularly put them in situations where they have to absorb people’s pain, anger, frustration, confusion, anxiety, etc. I notice when someone is calling out sick a lot more often than ususal. I approach them to say I’ve noticed and I want to make sure they know about FMLA, EAPs, and that if they need to schedule time off, to talk to me. I mentioned this once in another thread here on AAM, saying that frequent absences “ping my radar”, and got skewered by someone, telling me these things are personal (maybe that was the wrong term to use, but yeah). I will never apologize for being aware that this job will wear you down, and showing pre-emptive support to people who may not realize that they have resources they can use. It’s made all the difference.

  76. Molly*

    OP #1 here….
    Our operations manager and I have been pouring over the responses to my letter all day today. I want to thank everyone for the comments and suggestions. We have quite a list of changes to make!
    We are especially going to concentrate on empowering the front line staff to address the “challenging” behavior directly themselves (when they are comfortable) and develop clear procedures for getting a Manager or Physician to take over (when they are not). There will be lots of role-playing in our future!

    A number of my new friends mentioned that we need to make sure the staff understand that we have their back. We think that we have always demonstrated this with our actions but this reminded us that we need to reinforce this directly with each staff person on an ongoing basis. In the past we spent lots of time and money on customer service training, but clearly not enough on how to deal with the patients who are more difficult to work with. Someone mentioned a course on Managing Aggression–I never thought I would see a day where that sounded like it should be mandatory training for our team!

    Again, many thanks to Alison and the AAM hive for all your thoughtful and insightful comments and suggestions.

    1. Lana Kane*

      Totally agree on having staff take course regarding conflict resolution, etc. But also, important to make sure that it’s not meant to imply that they are now responsible for managing stuff on their own.

      I say that because I’ve learned that no matter how many times I say that I’m here for escalations, there are people who will interpret “here’s a resource for you” to mean “now it’s on you”. Just be very explicit about that!

      And if you are able to, I’d love an update!

  77. Cakeroll*

    For OP #3, I wonder if the language is an attempt to stay within the lines of contractor/temporary worker classification rules? That firing or termination language might support an employee classification, when the organization is trying to be careful to maintain them in a temporary worker classification, even retrospectively?

    The language is still clunky and inhuman, and employee classification rules are a spectrum of attributes that no one set of “magic words” can override. But that understanding might give you a broader set of words to use that don’t inadvertently set an employee classification for temporary workers.

  78. Office Gumby*

    OP1: In Australia, one can find this kind of sign everywhere:

    “Abuse of staff will not be tolerated.”

    …and other similar variants, like “abuse of staff and other customers,” etc, sometimes listing the consequences, “people who do not comply with this policy will be asked to leave.” There’s no sugarcoating, no, “please be patient,” etc. They’re direct and right to the point. You WILL behave yourself in public in Australia or you will be turfed out.

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