I’m sure many of our readers are very familiar with The Practice Solution Magazine’s phone surveys. Our team of surveyors speak with doctors all over the country, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Given the nature of your busy schedule, we definitely appreciate it when you take the time to speak with our team. The information that you provide enables us to concentrate on articles of interest to you and your staff.
With that in mind, we have found in our recent surveys that one of the most distressing areas for most doctors is the managing, hiring and controlling of staff. Every person is different, and human interaction within small practices often times can be nerve-racking, volatile and frustrating. You have probably found that not everyone thinks like you do, cares as much about your practice as you do, or is as willing to work extra hours as you do.
We definitely recognize the frustration that can occur with losing an employee whom you have just invested thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours training. One of the most important things that you can do to bolster your practice is to ensure that all of your staff are fully trained and operating on the same page. The optimum team is one that knows what their specific duties are; how to do those functions without any difficulty; can do them without emotional issues getting in the way (in other words, strictly professional); and are aware of what the other staff should be doing.
When your staff are competent work is more efficient, morale is higher and the doctor can just be the doctor instead of the referee or babysitter.
If you implement the suggestions here, you will find at least some of your frustrations disappearing, and you may even get more support from your employees because they will have a better understanding of what you need as the practice owner, which will enable them to become more competent and professional.
It would be nice if employees never made any mistakes and always did a perfect job. But, we are all human, and mistakes or on-the-job errors are part and parcel of running a practice. That raises the question, what do you do when your staff err and how do you correct them? Here are some suggestions.
As part of this overall process you must have written job descriptions and office policies that clearly delineate what tasks a person is responsible for on their job and the overall working guidelines for the office. The reason these are so important is that you use them as part of your correction procedure. Unfortunately, very few practice owners have proper job descriptions and office policies in place.
For starters, if you need to correct a staff member, make sure you review any specific disciplinary policies you have issued so that your actions are consistent with these. For example, if your policy states that theft is an automatic discharge, you would not simply issue a reprimand to someone caught stealing.
The first level of correction is normally directing the staff member’s attention to whatever policy he/she violated, what was not done or what should have been done, all of which is delineated in their job description or in your written policies.
Have the staff member reread the policy and/or job description. Ensure that they understand it and clear up any confusions or misunderstandings. This is usually enough to handle the first offense.On the second offense the office manager or practice owner should review the situation with the staff member and have them sign a copy of the policy that was violated as an attestation that he/she understands and agrees to the policy and/or job description. We then recommend for you to put a copy of the signed document in the personnel folder of the staff member and give a copy to the staff member to put in their staff binder. One can consider that this constitutes a warning. On the third offense, we recommend that you do the following: give the employee a written warning, a copy of which goes in their personnel file. Sit down and discuss this situation with them; go over the fact that they’ve been corrected on this twice before; and tell them that, per office policy, continual violations could result in a suspension or dismissal. Practice owners normally find that this type of action on a third offense either puts a stop to the problem or points out clearly that they have a real problem staff member on their hands and that proper actions, including excellent documentation, will need to be taken in order to suspend or dismiss the staff member for future violations. What do you do with a staff member that you have corrected three times and who messes up again? You’ve already given them a written warning, discussed that continued violations could result in suspension or dismissal, but you still find them doing it again. At this point you should check their production record (although you should have done that already as part of correcting earlier violations). Hopefully you have a simple statistical method to keep track of key production metrics for each staff member and the office as a whole so that you can monitor their productivity. If the person is an excellent producer (which is unlikely given that they keep messing up), you might consider the next step to be a suspension without pay for a certain number of days. If the person has a poor production record, dismissal may be in order. Again, the importance of having proper office policies and job descriptions in place in order to properly deal with staff cannot be overemphasized. You can easily put yourself in a legal quagmire if you attempt to discipline staff without these in place. We also strongly recommend that you check with a good employment attorney when you are looking at dismissing any problem employee to ensure that all of your legal bases are covered.