Optometric Management Tip # 524   -   Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Chronically Late Staff Members

Most eye care practices have had chronic repeat offenders who arrive late for work at some point. With a busy office, this situation can slip under the radar of the doctor or office manager and eventually it can become an embedded habit for some staff. The problem is that employees who are late are being unfair to their co-workers and they cause a drop in patient service. It should not be tolerated. Here are some steps to stop the behavior.

An office policy
I'm a firm believer in having a written office policy that clearly details the work schedule for employees. The policy in my practice basically says that employees must punch in (on a computer workstation with a virtual time clock program) at the time that is shown on their work schedule. Employees may not punch in more than 10 minutes earlier than scheduled; if they do, they will not be paid more. It is stated in writing that employees are expected to work until all patient care is completed, but we make a strong effort with patient scheduling to end the day reasonably close to quitting time. Our office manager begins to tell some employees that they can leave work as the day comes to a close.

I think the doctor or office manager should determine the exact work schedule for all staff and post it in writing. This includes start times, lunch breaks, quitting times and days off for each day of the week. Once the schedule is established, it does not change very often and people can plan around it. Staff members should not get to decide if they start early, work through lunch or stay late. Unless there are unusual circumstances, I will not approve that extra work time.

We assign a few staff to start work 30 minutes before the first patient appointment. We want the doors to be open, the lights on and the coffee brewing when the first patient walks up, even if he is early. The rest of the staff are scheduled to start work at the time of the first appointment.

I highly recommend that you install a virtual time clock on one of your office computers. Time sheets are very inaccurate and always in the employee's favor. A good reason for installing the time clock system is that time records and payroll calculations are handled automatically.

Managing the late arrivers
In order to stop latecomers, someone must be watching the clock and noticing when staff members arrive. If the manager sees an employee arrive late, something should be said right away. Ask the reason. When you hear an excuse, such as catching a train or traffic, the response is that all employees must allow enough time to compensate for unexpected delays. If employees realize they will be caught arriving late, most will correct the problem.

Additionally, we implemented a demerit program. We place a point in the employee's record each time they arrive late. Five points results in a strong warning letter and ten points results in immediate job termination. It may seem childish, but it worked for us. Even our most frequent offenders only have one demerit point.

How to change a lax policy
Simply hold a staff meeting without singling anyone out (although everyone knows who the offenders are). Acknowledge that you have not developed work schedule policies well enough (or have not enforced them enough). Explain that when a staff member arrives late, it is not fair to other staff, doctors and patients. Effective immediately, the office manager will be watching the clock at starting time very closely, so please allow enough time to be ready to start work on time.

Best wishes for continued success,

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