Optometric Management Tip # 291   -   Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Your Office Manual

Don't you love it when an employee stops you in the hall and asks you if she can leave at 2pm to attend a personal event? Or how about the industrious staff member who mentions that he is going to come in extra early in the next few days to get caught up on some work? The experienced manager or owner knows that the response to these seemingly innocent questions can have far reaching effects. There is often a domino effect where one thing causes something else or there may be a delayed reaction where a secondary problem isn't noticed until much later.


There is no easy answer for staff issues. A good manager will consider many factors and will think of the problems that may be created, possibly bringing them to the employee's attention. If you aren't sure of the consequences, a delayed answer may be the smartest way to go, such as "let me think about that and get back to you". When I consider an employee issue, I use a two step guide: I look to our office policy on the matter and I always ask myself if my response will be fair to the other employees.

Fairness is one of the most important characteristics employees look for in an employer and believe me, they're looking. Part of the challenge in managing a staff is simply knowing the policies that have been set up in the past. Having office policies in writing is a big advantage because there is no doubt about what the rules are and 90% of the fairness test is met if the employee knows a policy in advance.

Writing your manual

A few of my recent tip articles have focused on some items that are typically covered in an office manual, and I've been encouraging practice owners to begin to write a manual or revisit the existing one. It occurred to me, however, that we should step back and get an overview of the topics you might want to include in a policy manual. Listed below is a table of contents of topics that I think should be in the manual. Read the list and see if you have a policy or statement for all these items. I'll write more about many of these topics in tips to come, but email me if there is an area that you are struggling with and I'll try to address it.

I like to think there are two different kinds of employment manuals. There is a policy manual, which I'm addressing here and there is a procedure manual, which covers how to perform actual tasks in the office. Both are very important and beneficial. A policy manual would describe how an employee requests a vacation while the procedure manual would describe how an employee performs keratometry on a patient. We'll also cover writing procedure manuals in a future tip.

Can it have too much detail?

While it's important to give details about the rules of the office, too much detail can cause problems. You will generally have to follow the rules of the manual. That may seem fine, since that's the point in the first place, but remember that one set of rules does not always fit every situation. You may not think of something when you devise a policy and if it's very specific you may lose any flexibility. For example, if you list the steps that are supposed to occur if an employee is disciplined or discharged, you may be bound to follow those steps. If you give a job description that is very detailed, it may be difficult to ask and employee to do something not listed. An office manual could be treated as an employment contract by a court of law or by a state department of employment.

Topics to include

Here are some topics that should be covered in your office manual.
  1. General Philosophy of the Office
  2. Vision Statement
  3. Our Practice Motto
  4. History of the Practice
  5. Practice Ownership
  6. Employee Benefits
  7. Health Insurance
  8. Uniforms and Personal Appearance
  9. Continuing Education and Travel
  10. Eye Care Benefits
  11. Financial incentives from suppliers
  12. Work Schedule
  13. Paychecks
  14. Vacation Days
  15. Personal Days (Sick Days)
  16. Personal Time Off
  17. Overtime
  18. Complaints by Patients
  19. Employee Parking
  20. Confidential Patient Information
  21. Confidential Proprietary information
  22. Alcohol and Drug Use
  23. Personal Telephone Calls and Internet use
  24. Chewing Gum
  25. Smoking
  26. Maternity Leave
  27. Jury Duty
  28. Lunch Period
  29. Probationary Period
  30. Employment at will
  31. Resignation or discharge

Best wishes for continued success,

Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management