Managing Ugliness in the Workplace; A Real Science!

Of course, our writings typically center on the business of care.  This generally includes adult day care, group home management, other assisted living models, outpatient rehabilitation and home health care.  However, discussions about ugliness in the workplace can apply across all industries.

The reality is that it happens.  Much of it is caused by those who feel:

  1. They are marginalized
  2. They are not subject to oversight or supervision
  3. They are not committed to thoroughly and responsibly getting the job done
  4. And in the even darker corner, ugliness is perpetrated by those who are blatantly dishonest and whose life centers around them and only them.

This ugliness may manifest itself in a variety of ways such as:

  1. Disrespect of co-workers
  2. Refusing to submit to supervision
  3. Making blatantly false, “bogus” complaints to regulators such as licensing departments, Adult Protective Services or Recipient Rights divisions. 

What makes this a sadder conundrum is that some believe their own lies.  They create a false narrative because they view life through a different lens.  That lens is clouded with a detachment from reality and it clouds how they see everything, including in the workplace. This lens may be clouded due to previous, negative work-related or life experiences.

Others simply cannot be attached to any situation for lengthy periods, including work, so they create a basis for separation to satisfy their own internal conflicts.  This can include creating deficiencies in services that really only exists in their minds.  Examples: (1) “The residents don’t like the food“. Translation: “I’m too lazy or ill-equipped to cook.”  (2) “We don’t have the kind of cleaning supplies I like to use.”  Translation:  I’m too lazy or unconcerned to maintain a clean environment for my employer.  For this crowd, document what you can and demonstrate best practices, but they are probably on their way out of the door anyway.  We have to acknowledge that some people are simply going to be what they are going to be and there is nothing we can do but get rid of them.

For all others:  Perhaps we can do some things to minimize the occurrence of this “ugliness problem” or to what extent it affects our business.

Therefore, here are a few tips that might help minimize the affects of this horrible behavior:

Document Everything:

Do not take a “mom and pop” approach to inappropriate behavior.  Use a legally acceptable Employee Infraction Form to document inappropriate behavior, including speech that is deemed divisive or otherwise crosses established company policy.  If it extends even to the potential of harming others, this may constitute a justifiable Incident Report.  In many jurisdictions, these reports are made available to your licensing rep and can serve as an important background when false complaints are made by this same person.

Acknowledge the Positive Systematically:

We are big believers in that surprise letter in a paycheck.  Thank this employee who works in your group home or for your home care company for their reliability, for their honesty or maybe they are really committed to sanitation.  Thank them for that.  Feel free to enclose a $50.00 bill and address the letter to them, not in memo form.

Be Quick to Validate Everyone:

Examine and identify areas of special attention for each employee.  Identify their strong points and let them know these are noticed.  Everyone needs validation and it cements the team.

Build Loyalty with Open Dialogue:

Talk to people, not at people.  This will not matter for the professional complainer, but can be helpful with all others.  It also gives you a glimpse into how a person thinks.  When every conversation is about what was wrong with the previous employer, what they perceive to be wrong in their current assignment and these things dominate their conversation, this is a potential concern.  Even if the person is otherwise industrious, things could flip quickly if they live for the negative.  You will never know without regular conversation.

Be Judicious Employing Relatives and Friends:

It can be tough to recruit, develop and retain quality people in an economy that gives people tons of options.  Even so, there is a need to be cautious hiring relatives of employees and their close friends.  Why?

In the event discipline has to be administered, including but surely not limited to termination, there will always be wondering if the one remaining will retaliate against the company.  This occurs more often than some might think, even when it is obvious that the termination was legitimate.  The same can occur with close friends.

Bottom-line is this is an area for deep consideration.  At the end of the day we surely do not want to address ugliness, but we had better not pretend it does not exist and that its potential is not there.  Further, we must acknowledge that the potential for damage to the business is there and potentially damaging in a big way.

Some of our strategies will help improve the environment.  For some employees it may have no affect.  In this event, sentimentality must not override good judgment.  They need to be booted from the team.


Caution to Care Delivery Employers:  You may have a  degree of confidence as a result of your positive relationships with those agencies with whom you contract.  Perhaps they appreciate your overall business acumen.  However, if it comes across that you are dealing with a certain work-related ugliness with great regularity, they will call into question your people and work environment management prowess as well as your ability to design and maintain systems that serve the business and humans well.  It would be a mistake to conclude others do not take notice when ugliness is rampant.

Caution to Baseless Troublemakers: Be extremely cautious. Eventually those same regulators to whom you complain multiple times will question both your integrity and mental fitness. You might think you’re a hero, but solid thinkers will see imbalance in your reasonings, particularly when they investigate and find no foundation to your claims. Additionally, jobs will be harder and harder to get, once your name becomes associated with false, self-righteous complaints. Better to focus on your job, work within the rules and serve everyone well.


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Another Blog Post by Direct Care Training & Resource Center, Inc.  Photos used are to complement the written material.  They do not imply an endorsement by or affiliation with any organization nor individual.