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What Should We Do?: Co-worker too "chummy" with patients

by Dennis Ernst • October 05, 2018

Dear Center for Phlebotomy Education: 

I work with someone who thinks it's okay to call patients with whom she's familiar 'sweetie, honey, or even 'darlin.' She also asks them borderline-prying questions and share way too much of her own personal life. She has a loud voice, which carries down the hall. Other members of our professional team have commented that they do not want to hear such conversations and agree that they're unprofessionalI have asked my manager to address this, but she won't address it because she says she hasn't witnessed it herself.  What should we do?

Our response: 

We agree the banter you described is overly "cozy" and unprofessional. Your coworker is likely a very congenial person and thinks she's providing a compassionate, caring experience for her patients. Being congenial has its limits, though, especially in healthcare. It's likely that she's never been coached on what's considered appropriate customer service and what isn't. It should be an easy fix.

There's three likely reasons your supervisor isn't taking action: 1) she's non-confrontational and doesn't want to find out if your claims are true; 2) the staff complains to her so frequently about co-workers that she's turning a deaf ear to your concern; and 3) she doesn't share your view that the conversations are unprofessional.

If she's avoiding a potential conflict that requires her to correct an employee, that's a problem. Non-confrontational managers are begging staff to go over their heads to a higher authority to manage the problem, inviting friction above and below her position and creating the potential for even more conflict. It's an untenable proposition for which there's no easy answer, and one in which you cannot impact.

If she's turning a deaf ear because she's tired of hearing from a complaint-happy staff, she should be taking steps to curtail the steady stream of accusations and perpetual dissent among her subordinates. Supervisors are obligated to investigate all complaints from their staff whether they're credible or notIf she hears so many complaints from her staff that she considers petty, she needs to take steps to end it rather than bury her head in the sand.

If her view is that the banter is acceptable, the phlebotomist's style will perpetuate and everyone on staff would have to accept it as a difference of opinion. You are to be commended for wanting a more professional working environment, and it may be difficult for you to continue working without this facet that's important to you in the workplace. If that's the case, there are likely many other examples of a lack of professionalism that could require a change in employment for you. Eagles don't want to fly with turkeys, and thoroughbreds don't want to run with donkeys.

What should happen here is your supervisor investigates your claims. All she has to do is position herself within earshot of a few encounters to verify or refute your observations. If the phlebotomist's personal banter is as frequent as you suggest, she'll hear it and, if she agrees with your assessment, counsels the employee. End of problem.

Got a challenging phlebotomy situation or work-related question? Email us your submission at [email protected] and you just might see it as a future case study. (Names and identifiers will be removed to assure anonymity.)  


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