Tired of Playing 20 Questions?
Give ’em the Answers
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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“But doctor, you said that I could take those two weeks off before Thanksgiving. It’s not my fault you promised Jackie she could take that time also.” “The office doesn’t open until 8 a.m., why do I have to be here earlier for a meeting?” “Are we paid overtime for this?” “Why can’t I wear flip-flops? They’re comfortable, and the patients don’t notice my feet.”
Questions come up every day in the dental practice, and too often the dentists position themselves as the go-to person for the answers to virtually every practice policy matter – the all knowing, Divine Maker and Enforcer of the Rules, if you will. They reason that most of the issues come down to plain, ‘ol common sense. Or perhaps they actually developed some loose policies along the way but don’t necessarily follow them or share them with the staff. They deal with the circumstances as they arise, and therein lies the biggest practice policy pitfall – inconsistency. Without established policies or documented procedures for even the most fundamental management issues, the doctor sets him/herself up for a multitude of unnecessary personnel headaches.
Oftentimes, when consistency is lacking, the staff perceive the doctor to be perpetually waffling. One person asks him/her what the policy is on this and he/she says one thing, the next time there’s a different answer. Or “special circumstances” will warrant an exception but nowhere is it spelled out what those “special circumstances” might be – employees are left to guess on how the doctor will respond.
Situations become extremely stressful and frustrating for both doctors and team members when there are few, if any, clearly established guidelines for handling day-to-day concerns such as time off, dress code, vacation policy, sick time, work hours, etc.
Moreover, most employees walk into a job wanting to be successful, seeking to understand the expectations so that they can effectively meet or exceed them. But without clear policies and established expectations, the employees can feel they are at the mercy of the doctor’s whims. Consequently, the practice becomes fertile ground for conflict. If the doctor appears to be making up the rules as he/she goes along, or if the doctor seems to repeatedly make exceptions for some employees and not others, morale plummets. Backbiting, bickering, and a culture of distrust and ineffectiveness permeates the office. This is not an environment in which many employees can succeed and few will stick around for long.
Staff need clear guidelines. They need to understand what policies and procedures are to be followed in the office. They need to understand plainly what the rules of the game are and how they are to go about following those rules. They need an employee handbook.
The purpose of the handbook is to clearly explain what the expectations are in the dental practice. Rather than serving as a laundry list of rigid rules and requirements, it sets up guidelines that reflect good business practice and builds strong employer/employee relationships. It can be used to articulate the doctor’s philosophy for the practice and general goals for the team as a whole. It’s an effective means of conveying a positive message of teamwork and encouragement.
But most importantly, the handbook enables employees to know what is expected. Thus, they don’t feel as if the ground is always shifting beneath them. They aren’t strategizing and mentally calculating when would be the best time to ask for the doctor’s ruling on this or that issue because the answers are already part of well-established practice policies. It’s not the doctor telling the employee that she cannot wear flip-flops to work because she’s already familiar with the standards for professional attire in the office. It is part of the practice policies that are established in the employee handbook.
But writing a handbook seems so overwhelming, where do you start?
Next week, handbook basics.
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