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Managing Employees' Behavior

By: Laurie Houghton


For many doctors, managing employee behavior is not always a fun or easy task. Some doctors say, "I love everything about my profession except correcting my employees." Yet the success of your practice depends on having competent, friendly employees whose behavior represents your beliefs.  Correction may sometimes be necessary.  If an employee behaves in a way that does not conform to the vision of the practice, everyone may be negatively impacted.

The following are actions you may take to help keep your team on track:

Document policies & procedures

·    It is important that employees understand what is expected; they are not mind-readers.  Create an employee manual that details policies for everyone in the office, such as dress code and phone use.  Professional associations, industry-specific employment consultants, and payroll companies are excellent sources for employee manual templates.  Be sure your manual is customized to your state and city.  Labor law can vary significantly.

·    Develop a standard operating procedures manual (SOP) that includes each task done in the practice, both front and back, that describes how that task is done in exquisite detail.   Even tasks that may seem obvious, such as answering the phone, could have an SOP that is three pages long.  For example, “we answer by the third ring, we smile before we answer, here are the questions we ask if it is a new patient and we enter the information on this screen”.  This can be a big task that takes months to complete, but may be worth the effort if it helps lead to consistency in performance and stability in practice operations. The SOP manual is also an excellent training tool when a new employee joins the practice.

Communicate expectations and consequences

While documentation of expectations is important, you may make an additional impact by communicating personally to your team members about those issues that are especially important to you, and assigning consequences for non-compliance. For example, one of your non-compliance issues may be employees who use their mobile phones for texting and reading email during work hours, even if your employee manual spells out the desired phone behavior. Use your team meetings to remind staff members that this will not be tolerated. Communicating both expectations and consequences helps ensures no one is surprised should you need to take action to preserve the integrity of your practice. Team meeting communication should not be a substitute for individual correction; the employees who are doing the right thing should not be punished for behavior of those who are not.


Don't procrastinate - your practice is at stake

Some of us may procrastinate when it comes to doing something unpleasant. But in the case of employee management, failing to confront inappropriate behavior or poor performance at the time it happens can lead to misunderstandings or escalation of a bad situation. Plus, it may leave your practice vulnerable to negative impressions by patients.  Also, good employees sometimes leave the practice if they see their colleagues misbehaving without consequence.  When you see a problem behavior, address it immediately. It may only take a quick, private discussion to clear up a misunderstanding. If you find you need to terminate an employee, consider consulting an attorney who specializes in employment law.

Overcome your fear of confrontation

Why might we be afraid to confront employees and other people in our lives, even when we're clearly entitled to do so? As social beings, we fear rejection and do our best to avoid it. Yet the ability to confront is an interpersonal tool we can use in both our personal and business lives. The key is to do it in a constructive manner. Following these guidelines may help you manage your fear of the confrontation process. It may also help to remember that the word “confrontation” comes from Medieval Latin and means to be in front of someone, not to fight with them.

Research. Before entering into a stressful conversation with an employee, do your research. Understand and be able to articulate the behavior you are addressing before you begin the conversation. Has it happened multiple times? If so, how many, and when? Check your employee handbook to see if the situation or behavior is addressed, and if so, bring the book along for direct reference.

Script. Create a script for starting the conversation and practice it with a family member or friend. A sample script should describe your expectation, the behavior you found objectionable, and how this made you feel and why. Then restate your expectation and possible consequences for non-compliance. In a situation where an employee was seen using her personal phone during business hours, the script might go like this:

·    As outlined in our employee handbook, using personal phones during work hours is not allowed.

·    This morning I saw you texting on your phone while at the front desk.

·    This made me feel upset because it makes us look unprofessional and creates the perception that patients aren't getting the care they deserve.

·    I expect you to not use your personal phone during work hours.

·    Today I am issuing you a formal written warning.  If it happens again it could lead to termination of your employment.

Remember, as practice owner, setting clear guidelines and expectations is an important part of the job!


About the author

Laurie Houghton, a Practice Management Advisor at Wells Fargo Practice Finance, has fourteen years of experience as a practice management consultant, clinical experience as a dental hygienist, an MBA in management and a certificate in mediation. This gives her an unusually broad base of experience with which to prepare doctors for their transition to ownership, and to help doctors diagnose and remedy practice problems with creative options. Laurie can be reached at 1-800-377-7340 or laurie.houghton@wellsfargo.com.

View all articles by Laurie Houghton

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All financing is subject to credit approval.

All financing is subject to credit approval.

All financing is subject to credit approval.

All financing is subject to credit approval.

All financing is subject to credit approval.

All financing is subject to credit approval.

All financing is subject to credit approval.

All financing is subject to credit approval.

All financing is subject to credit approval.