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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
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
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.