I’ve written about office policies for patients over the past several weeks, but today I’ll turn my attention to employment policies. If you own a practice, you already have employment policies, even if you have not given them much thought and even if they are not written down. Policies are simply how you do things. It is far better, however, to give considerable thought to your employment policies and to put them in writing. These written policies can become your office employment manual, which is given to all new employees and may be used as a reference for existing staff members.
What policies should you have?
This is a very large topic and I’ll break it up into bite-size pieces in the next few Tip of the Week issues, but here are a few examples of employment issues that deserve to have a written policy in your practice:
• Vacation days
• Personal time off
• Calling off sick
• Leaving early or arriving late
• Uniforms and personal appearance
• Continuing education and travel
• Eye care benefits
• Financial incentives from suppliers
• Work schedule
• Bonus programs
• Personal telephone calls and internet use
• Maternity leave
• Jury duty
• Lunch breaks
• Resignation or discharge
Full-time or part-time
Policies are generally different for full-time employees compared to part-timers and that alone brings up an important policy: how do you define full-time? You should have a formal written definition, such as: employees are defined as full-time if they are scheduled to work a minimum of 32 hours per week (or whatever number of hours you choose). That does not mean you have to actually offer anyone a 32 hour work schedule; the employer can still decide on the schedule. Of course, if employees don’t like the schedule, they can turn down the job offer (or quit).
Rule #1: Don’t take anything away
It is a pretty smart rule to simply never take anything away from employees. Doing so generally reduces staff morale and may lead to other problems. You really don’t need to, anyway. Even if a policy has morphed into something that was not originally intended, if you have allowed it to exist for a long period of time, it is now your policy. If employees perceive that something of value exists, it exists.
As you review your employment policies and consider changing some of them, think about how you have handled various issues in the past and start with that. Here are some important tactics that let you manage your practice without taking anything away from employees.
• Implement a grandfather clause. I use this one a lot. Simply make the new rules apply to new employees only and tell them about it when they are hired. It means having two sets of rules, but it keeps everyone happy. Eventually, with employee turnover, you get the policy you want.
• Give something of equal value. You can end a bad policy by giving employees something else of equal or greater value. This is not a bad thing for management. It is generally a good practice to improve your employment benefits over time. You end up with a better work environment and a happier staff. If you want to add some benefit or perk anyway, you can clean house by changing some old policies at the same time.
• Just live with it the way it is. Sometimes a policy will bother you, but it is really minor when you think about it. If it is not hurting anything, you may be smart to just leave it alone.
• Ask for volunteers. You may be able to change things by explaining why it helps the practice and asking for volunteers. You may want to give an incentive for volunteering.
• Admit if an old policy is not working out and explain why.
• If applicable, you can tell staff that a policy has always existed, but you have been lax in enforcing it. It helps to give a warning that you now must begin to enforce it.
Compare with other industries
It is helpful to know what other companies are doing with regard to office policies. It is a job market and the policies you implement are compared with what other firms are doing. You may already have a general sense about such employment policies. If you have a spouse, family member or friend who is an employee in a non-optometric company, ask them to share more with you about the policies at their workplace. As you analyze other employment policies, it is best to compare those with similar wage levels to your practice and be aware if they are for part-time or full-time staff.
Compare with other eye care practices
Ask other ODs about the details of their employment policies. You can do this with friends and colleagues, join a study group or ask a question on an online optometric forum.
Use common sense and make it fair to all
Office policies are a balance between the interests of management and those of front-line workers. Practice owners who design a workplace that makes employees love their jobs end up with a happier staff and a more successful practice. But employment benefits and perks also carry a cost and there is always a practical limit to how much can be offered. It is a judgment call that comes with being the owner and CEO of the practice.