New Office Policy: No One Gets Time Off

Just imagine, as an owner or office manager—wouldn’t it be great if you could write a new policy that absolutely no one is ever allowed to come to work late, leave early, get sick, take time off, or (for that matter) have a single unproductive moment when they are clocked in? I, for one, would be a big fan of this new policy. Unfortunately, there are a few problems with this, starting with the fact that no one would work for you very long once they saw the policy, and ending with the fact that it is both unenforceable and illegal.

The number one challenge when running a business is managing the work force.

Which includes dealing with issues around showing up on time, working productively, planning for schedule issues, and proactively finding ways to avoid the challenges that arise around all of these things. Our businesses are built on positions, but without the people in the positions, we could not do what we do with heart. The best thing we can do as office managers, dentists and leaders is to recognize this and help our employees with rules, boundaries, communication, training, planning and accountability. Every team needs to have rules to know how to play the game and perform their individual roles well.

It is the responsibility of the team leader to ensure written rules are not only available to employees but also completely understood. For example, your organization needs policies detailing expectations for showing up on time, taking breaks as required by the law, following office schedule policies, etc. Of course, these policies need to follow state laws and should be written with the help of someone who is knowledgeable in this area, like an HR company. The policies must be clearly written so employees can follow them easily.

Effective policies include boundaries so employees will know exactly what margin of error is acceptable.

This way, if a policy is not followed exactly, you can explain to the employee where they missed the mark and easily guide them to the right way. For example, it may be the office culture at one practice that the team clocks in and then take five minutes or so to get started in their day, and that is okay.  However, if one team member continually takes upwards of 30 minutes to get their workday started, then they need to be informed of the boundaries and ways to adjust their routine to work within those boundaries.  Again, we are dealing with people, not robots, so there can be some wiggle room – but the boundaries need to be set.

Next, each employee needs to hear from you on a regular basis how they are doing overall, and where they could improve. Many times, employees don’t realize they need improvement in some areas. Alternatively, at times employees may not know how great they are in certain areas and that their efforts are appreciated. Regular communication with team members, for both good and less than optimal things, helps them learn and helps you to be a leader they want to follow.

Training is a huge part of managing the schedule, for two reasons.

First, often what happens is organizational rules and boundaries are not taught to new employees by management, but instead are modeled by the organization’s culture.

New employees initially assume they are supposed to show up on time or clock out for a break, but they watch others on the team not living up to those expectations. Unless the organization’s leaders are actively working on fixing that issue in a visible way, then new employees are actually being trained that these behaviors as acceptable and the norm. Second, management must make sure regular training of team members is built into the schedule of the office. Inevitably, employees will start to make up their own rules around things without regular training, reminders, and ways for them to grow and learn. It is important as a leader to schedule in time to continually train and enhance the team, helping each team member grow in their role.

The next suggestion may be a bit of a challenge in a dental office, but it will make your office run smoother.

I recommend you plan for schedule issues in advance. There are three aspects of planning ahead that are important. First, ensure your team communicates upcoming schedule issues as far in advance as possible, so something can be done about it. Let the team know that requests for time off must be submitted with a reasonable amount of notice so coverage can be arranged for those who are going to be out of the office. Second, plan in advance when additional help may be needed, like when team members may be off or during a higher production time. Many times, we let the schedule control us. If we’re honest with ourselves, we knew well in advance that a challenge might happen and did not make a plan to handle it accordingly. Third, be proactive about finding issues that could potentially come up, such as around holidays or snow days. Don’t wait for a big number of employees to ask for time off or the snowstorm to finally come through town before you discuss the best options for these situations. Be proactive, ask the team about their personal plans, and come up with multiple game plans and be ready for anything.

The final step to managing a team schedule is to keep yourself and everyone else accountable.

The word “accountable” is not a negative term, like most people think. You can turn it into a positive word with your actions—leading by example and asking others to think ahead. Check in with employees to ask, “What might be coming up in your life or the office schedule that we should proactively plan for and be accountable for?” Don’t let the schedule run you. With a few simple steps, you can be proactive and in control of the schedule.

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Laura Nelson

Laura Nelson, BS, MS, FAADOM is the founder and driving force behind Front Office Rocks, and the leading provider of on-demand virtual training and resources for dental practices.