Before You Fire any ‘Warning’ Shots, Target your Personnel Policies Instead
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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You’ve reached the end of your rope. The problem employee isn’t just a problem anymore; she/he’s a full-blown, raging disaster who’s draining the life out of your team and your practice. You can’t ignore it any longer; it’s time to Google “progressive discipline plan” and start firing off those warning notices.
And that would be about the time that your problem employee hires an equally problematic attorney and starts laying the groundwork for one very long and expensive nightmare for you and your practice. Think it can’t happen to you? Talk to attorney Mike Moore, McKenzie Management’s new Human Resources Director and the author of the Employment Policy and Handbook. He knows all about suing employers. Prior to joining my team, he spent the better part of 18 years representing employees who felt they had been wrongfully terminated. Today he’s putting that experience to work for dentists, who tend to be ill prepared on human resources policies and procedures.
Mike notes that for the few practices that actually have employment policies, in most cases, they have been pulled from some other business’ manual and are typically very punitive in nature. Essentially, they put the employee on the defensive before an issue even arises. Equally troublesome is the fact that oftentimes employees don’t receive a complete policy handbook. They might get a list of do’s and don’ts but the actual policy book is kept under lock and key in the doctor’s private office. “Every employee needs to have every policy in hand. The policy handbook the employee is given needs to be identical to the one the doctor has.”
In addition, those policies should be affirmative rather than punitive. For example, most progressive discipline policies typically are a series of “warnings” that do far more to derail the employment relationship than foster improvement in the employee’s behavior. “Everything says warning, warning, warning and we are going to impose this on you if you don’t change. All these warnings do is make the employee angry and create hostility toward the employer. It never accomplishes any good.”
An affirmative approach, notes Mike, treats employees as human beings and gives them the opportunity to take responsibility for their behavior. And what warnings don’t accomplish, oftentimes a conversation will. “It can be as simple as comments made in the office to the employee about their behavior. It can be time you schedule with the employee to go over a concern, but you don’t raise it in terms of ‘We’re giving you a verbal warning.’ The primary goal of these ‘counseling sessions’ is to exchange information.”
He notes the communication aspect is particularly important in situations in which a good employee begins to slip. Virtually every employer has seen an outstanding team member start to lose their effectiveness. This is the time for dialogue not progressive discipline. “You’ve invested tens of thousands of dollars in this long-term employee. You want to know what’s going on and you need to approach it in a manner that will put them at ease. Take them out for coffee and have a conversation with them about what you’ve observed. But make it as non-threatening as you can.” While the conversation is noted in the employee’s file nothing is given to them in writing.
However, if the employee’s behavior is disruptive to the practice, Mike urges dentists to have a more formal meeting with the employee. “You will probably want something in writing at this point in which you are outlining the behaviors that need to be corrected and what needs to be done. Specifically state the behaviors and the actions the employee needs to take, but don’t refer to it as a warning.”
The key is preparation. Waiting until employee behaviors are so problematic that they are damaging the practice or dealing with issues such as tardiness, family leave, unprofessional conduct, dress code, etc. inconsistently make the dentist and practice highly vulnerable to litigation.
I recommend that instead of waiting until you reach the end of your rope, reach for The Employment Policy and Handbook instead. It’s customized for each practice and comes with step-by step forms for every policy. It’s like having a human resources expert with 30 plus years experience on staff round the clock.
Interested in having Mike Moore write your customized Employment Policy and Handbook? Go here. Interested in having Mike speak to your dental society or study club? Click Here.
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