Optometric Management Tip # 391   -   Wednesday, August 05, 2009
Staff Use of Cell Phones

I received several reader emails describing frustration over the issue of employees who use their cell phones on the job for personal phone calls or texting, so I thought it would make a good topic.

A related topic is the use of cell phones by patients in the exam room, but I wrote about that in Tip #138.

Office policies

Every practice has employment policies, even if they are not written down. Policies are the rules you operate under; they are simply how you do things. Of course, it is far better to have them written down and it is really just as easy as typing the rules in a Word document. Save the document as a file titled “Office Manual” and you're all set. This document is always changing and evolving as you learn a better way to do things or as problems arise and you figure out a way to prevent them. Each new topic can become a heading in your office manual. Written policies are much better because the rules are clearly stated in advance and you avoid the confusion of relying on someone's memory.

Staff use of personal cell phones should be a topic and you need a policy for it. Enforcing the policy is another challenge, but having it clearly stated is a great start.

How tough should policies be?

This is not as easy as it might seem. Practice owners and managers who are too tough risk developing an office culture where staff are unhappy and have a bad attitude. If you are too lenient, employees can take advantage and become lazy and selfish. Smart employers care about the wants and needs of employees and they want the practice to be a good place to work. In a service profession like ours, we need staff to care about the patient experience and to be friendly and thoughtful. Good attitudes are developed by bosses who care and are respectful of employees.

I believe in looking at each policy individually. We should consider the policies from the employee's point of view, but balance that with the need to make the practice profitable. I try to be very supportive in some areas, but in others I find it is best to be strict. Use of cell phones while on the job is one of the latter for me. My reasoning is that it is too difficult for many employees to draw a line when it comes to personal gratification like talking or texting with friends and family. Clearly, the employee is supposed to be working, so prohibiting personal phone calls is hard to argue with. Enforcement is too difficult if we allow it to some degree because the office manager can't monitor everyone all the time.

My policy is to simply not allow use of cell phones or personal digital assistant devices by staff at all when on the job. They should be turned off and put away. They may be used at lunch and before and after work. We are sensitive to the need for employees to receive emergency phone calls and even for children to check in with their parent after school, but these calls must be made to our general office line and they must be kept very brief. Emergency calls should obviously be infrequent.

Office phones and computer use

A similar topic is the use of office phones and computers for personal use. Just as with cell phones, I take an approach that prohibits it. Using the Internet on office computers for personal use is a double problem in that it wastes staff time that you're paying for and it opens your computer system and data to damage from adware, spyware and viruses.

Hold the line on certain staff areas that are frequently abused. Just say no.

Best wishes for continued success,

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