No Cell Phone

Thursday Troubleshooter: How do I stop cell phone use in the dental office?

March 21, 2013
My employees won't stay off their cell phones!
QUESTION: My staff continues to use their personal cell phones to text, email, and talk during office hours. How can I get them to stop?


Cell phones are a concern in many practices. Asking a team member, especially someone of the younger generations, to use their phone only during break or lunch is like cutting off their arm! How do you get someone to change? Begin with the “why.”

Research shows that having a cell phone by a person during the regular workday causes six to eight hours of lost production per week! That's huge! It's not the texting or speaking that causes such a drop in productivity, it's the break in concentration from what the person was doing, and the need to reengage in the task at hand.

There are two challenging leadership questions that I believe should drive everything we do in a dental practice. Every action, goal, or policy should hinge on these questions:

1. Is whatever is happening in the best interest of the patient?
2. Is whatever is happening in the best interest of the practice as a healthy practice?

If the answer is no for one or both, whatever it is must change. Miles Global is not pro-staff or pro-doctor. We're pro-patient and pro-practice. So all policy must apply to the doctor, and having practiced as a dentist for over 20 years (as well as a dental assistant and front desk administrator) I know that at times the problem behavior may be associated to the doctor. The doctor must lead by example.

Policies need to be established, and the team knows the reason why. Personal use of the Internet or cell phone during business hours is actually a form of time embezzlement. If one person is allowed to get away with the behavior, resentment builds and morale drops.

Some practices have gone to the extreme of locking up cell phones, placing them in a basket, or placing them in the front office manager's office. This is a sad state of affairs if we must treat our staff like children.

Here’s a funny example. I once worked with an office with a front desk person who kept her cell phone in her bra on vibrate. When the phone vibrates, she headed to the restroom to answer the phone. When I was consulting, she bent over to get a fax off the machine and the phone fell out! Rather than holding a team to the behavior of a few, I would recommend sitting down with the problem person and having a clear discussion about behavior.

Coach individually, and clearly communicate your expectations one on one, with your office manager present. The next step is a formal written corrective review. Sometimes doctors tell me, "But she's a GREAT dental assistant (or hygienist or associate)!"

Skills can be divided into two camps — hard and soft. The hard skills are seating a patient, assisting, cleaning up, stocking rooms, etc. The soft skills are based on values. If you've clearly defined your values, then hold the person accountable to the values of the practice. I recommend you do a values exercise with your team and vote on team values, and then it makes the “soft” discussion easier.

If you're interested in more information on "Up Front Accountability,” which leads to increased morale and value in the work/job, contact Care Credit for my recently released CD.

ANSWER FROM JUDY KAY MAUSOLF, of Practice Solutions, Inc:

Here is a simple solution. Establish a protocol that says all cell phones are to be kept in the employees’ locker. Staff can check for messages at lunch and during breaks.

I wonder when it became necessary to have a cell phone hooked to the hip during work? It is a huge distraction … every time it vibrates or buzzes it takes the attention away from the patient or task at hand. If there is a family emergency the family member can call the office number. Problem solved!

CONSIDER READING: Thursday Troubleshooter: How do we report an office affair?
CONSIDER READING:Thursday Troubleshooter: Our boss makes us feel guilty for wanting to attend our children's functions

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