an employee added the F-word to a client form

A reader writes:

I manage an office of about 20 employees. We routinely give paperwork to clients, and somehow one of the forms was modified to include something very unprofessional. A form of the f-word was added to the first line, to read “you are scheduled for this fuken procedure.”

There is no way for me to know who made the change since at least five staff members have access to the workstation on a daily basis. The change wasn’t saved as far as I can tell, just printed, and copies were given out to an unknown number of clients. Besides implementing safeguards to ensure this doesn’t happen again, I have no idea how to address this with the staff. They obviously know not to give out documents with profanity. To be honest, I’m shocked that one of the employees would have done this–it’s so disrespectful and unscrupulous. Any advice?

Wow. This goes beyond joking around — it could actively offend clients and hurt your business (assuming people figure out that misspelling, which threw me for a minute).

I’d start by doing some serious reflection on your staff. Before this, what would you have said about each person’s work ethic, conscientiousness, professionalism, and respect for how you operate? Even if previously you thought that they were all shining examples of those characteristics, you know now that at least one person isn’t — and you have a heads-up that there’s either a serious culture misfit on your staff or the culture itself needs work.

From there, I’d talk to people as a group or one-on-one. Explain that you’re sickened (and I don’t think that’s too strong a word) to know that someone acted with such open disregard for your clients and your business, and that you take it extremely seriously. Walk them through how a client would perceive this, and what the impact could be on your organization. (Since the context was about scheduling people for a procedure, I’m thinking this might be a medical office, and if that’s the case, it’s even more outrageous, since cavalierly sticking profanity on a form that someone receiving a medical procedure will fill out is horribly unkind — not to mention something that will undermine the confidence they need to have in your office.) I’d tell people that it’s clear to you that at least one person on your staff has a fundamental misunderstanding of the expectations you have of them, and that you’re going to be working over the coming weeks to ensure that that those expectations are clearer.

And then, over the next few weeks, I’d pay a lot more attention to the people working for you. Are you seeing anything else that’s out of sync with the culture you want? If so, address it swiftly. At the same time, if you see specific behaviors that are notably in sync with the culture you want (for instance, someone being unusually kind or helpful to a client), be explicit about recognizing and reinforcing that.

But at least one person shouldn’t be there, and I bet that if you pay pretty close attention to people’s work habits in the next few weeks, you’ll figure out who that person (or people) is (or are).

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