I've consulted with many ODs lately who have raised the issue of staff members chronically arriving late for work. It may be just a coincidence, but I also believe that society in general has become more tolerant of being late for appointments and events. Patients seem to arrive late for appointments more frequently and people in general seem to have less concern over running late. Of course we can't change societal trends, but we can adopt and enforce standards in our practices.
I don't think it is good for the practice culture for staff members to routinely arrive late for work. It fosters a sense of not caring about others. It creates ill-will among co-workers who have to cover for the late person. If your practice has been tolerant of some frequently late arrivers, I think it is time to change the rules and enforce them. I'll show you how.
A check list
Here are some points to consider as you adopt a new approach to staff punctuality in the office.
Start fresh. If your policies about arriving to work on time have become lax, it is best to announce to all concerned that the rules are changing and explain why. This is actually fairly easy because everyone knows they are supposed to arrive on time. I would announce the new standard for punctuality at a staff meeting, admitting that the office has not enforced the rules very well in the past but that you will be in the future. Mention how arriving on time is important out of respect for co-workers and to provide excellent patient service. You may want to announce some rules about arriving a bit earlier than the schedule calls for, but not too early. Announce other changes based on some of the items discussed below.
Doctors should have the same standard. It is a good idea if the doctors, manager and owners of the practice adopt the same standards required of staff. Staff may be scheduled earlier to get the office ready, but doctors should not show up late for their first appointment or meeting. Doctors and managers are leaders in the organization and a successful culture is built when the leaders demonstrate the desired behavior.
Office manager. We need an office manager who has authority to direct and discipline other employees. In other words, we need a supervisor. This could be the doctor, but for punctuality issues, it works better if it is a manager. We need someone to track late arrivals and to continually correct and discipline employees who break the rules. If you do not have a manager, you need one. You could appoint this job position from within or hire a new person for that job. Managers can serve dual roles in smaller practices, such as manager/receptionist or manager/optician. In larger practices, there is enough administrative work that the manager will rarely work with the public.
Definite staff schedule. There should be a written staff schedule that is determined by the manager and doctor. Employees cannot change the schedule without approval from management. It shows each employee's name, the day of the week, start and stop times and days off. It could include lunch breaks, but if there is a preset constant lunch then it is not necessary. As you formalize the schedule, make sure you have enough staff starting early enough. If the first patient appointment is 9am, you need some staff to arrive at 8:30am to be sure the doors are open, lights are on, thermostats are correct, equipment uncovered, coffee is made, etc. Staff should understand that they must remain until all patients are completed and that can run past the scheduled closing time. I schedule most full time employees at about 37 hours per week so staying late does not drive them over 40 hours per week.
Time clock. I strongly recommend using a virtual time clock on office computers for hourly employees. A sign-in sheet is notoriously inaccurate. Employees punch in in the morning, out and back in for lunch and out at the end of the day. The accuracy of this system will save a great deal of money over one year and it makes payroll accounting much easier. Many inexpensive time clock programs are available online.
Policies. Consider adopting some policies about the work schedule. My practice does not allow staff members to start work more than 10 minutes early, lunch breaks may not be skipped and working extra hours must be approved in advance. Be careful about changing policies that have long been established, however. It is never smart to take away an employment benefit without giving something of equal value back.
Catch the late arrivers. After announcing the new effort for punctuality, it is very helpful if the manager is present at the time clock workstation at the time employees are supposed to start. She may need to catch some offenders arriving late for them to learn that management is serious. I would start out very understanding about a late arrival, but if it continues, the manager must become stricter about it. Speak to offenders in private about each tardy incident. Let the employee know that a record is being maintained about each late arrival (just print the time clock data for the week). It is OK to embarrass the staff person about it; ask why he was late and then indicate that the reason is not sufficient. If there is traffic, the employee should start sooner. As time goes on, become less tolerant of excuses. After numerous late starts, you may have to tell the employee that the habit is cause for dismissal and be ready to carry it out. It is necessary to set the right example for all employees.
I realize that many doctors and managers want to be a good boss and treat staff well, but letting some people arrive late is not treating the others well. Your good employees will appreciate your effort to make the workplace fair.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week
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