Should spouses work in the office or shouldn’t they?
Spousal-staff issues in the medical office are not unusual or new. I have seen many “teams” make it work successfully while others struggle miserably. I realize there can be added pressures associated with a doctor/spouse practice and true to form, for every frustrating comment I have heard from staff about working with the “difficult” spouse, I have heard another from the spouse about the “incompetent” staff. Unfortunately, doctors will often try not to get involved because being in the middle may mean having to choose sides and (in their minds) that rarely has a happy ending.
I would assert that in order to have a successful outcome, several things have to happen.
1. It is really no different if an outsider, a current staffer or a spouse becomes the new office “manager.” If the individual does not have bona fide management training, he or she will mismanage staff, set the stage for resentment and ultimately fail at this position.
2. Do not play the husband/wife card at work. Define professional roles and perimeters within the office, and make it clear to staff to whom they report and when. After determining these roles, do not confuse or spin staff around by contradicting each other.
3. Delegating management duties to a spouse does not remove the doctor from the responsibility associated with his or her leadership role. If a problem remains unresolved, part of being “the boss” means gathering the facts, interceding and managing it (without favoritism), despite the potential awkwardness of the situation.
4. Staff, if it is your intent to criticize a spouse just for doing his or her job(s), take a step back and ask yourself, “Would I feel this way if I were being reprimanded by any office manager or is it just because it is coming from the doctor’s spouse?”
5. Finally, look beyond the emotional barriers (greed, power, jealousy, territorialism, etc.) that prevent this work relationship from developing and see if new efforts to communicate can open the door to a more successful one. You will never know if you do not try.
If you have walked in the shoes of the doctor, spouse or staff and can contribute something helpful to this post, let us hear from you.