QUESTION: How do we respond to our boss who makes us feel totally guilty if we ask for time off for a child’s play, graduation from kindergarten, etc. These are once-in-a-lifetime events for young children, yet our office has a policy that unless it falls on our day off we cannot have a one- to three-hour break to attend events that are important to our children and us as parents. The team members are willing to pinch hit for each other for an occasional and important event, but we know better than to ask. I might add that our doctor takes time off at will for special events for his family or for golf, and he thinks nothing of asking us to change his schedule on short notice, and we're expected to be off without pay when he’s off. We want to be fair but we’re torn.
ANSWER FROM LINDA MILES, founder of Speaking Consulting Network:
This is a very common question and is a problem in other practices. Many dental team members have young children, so not attending important, once-in-a-lifetime events makes a parent feel guilty in two ways — first, by asking off when you know all team members must be there at all times when patients are scheduled, and second, you’ll feel guilty for a lifetime knowing your child looked for Mom (or Dad) and they were not there. This is a situation that must be worked out to eliminate low morale, which in most practices is more costly than being one person short for a couple of hours. On the other hand, in the defense of your dentist and many others, sometimes practices have to adopt strict office guidelines for time off requests such as these because they become way too frequent. If one team member had off today, two more wanted off tomorrow.
My recommendation for every practice is to discuss this issue openly and meet halfway. Some of my clients offer eight hours per year of “Family Flextime.” Team members give as much notice as possible for special events time off, making sure there is little interruption in patient care by covering for one another (if possible), or hiring a sub for a short time. If an employee requires no family flextime, the person is rewarded in their anniversary month with an extra day of pay. Team members who request only two of the eight hours receive 75% of a day’s pay, and if they use four hours they receive 50%. This relieves the guilty feelings on both sides, improves morale, and makes the dentist look like the hero.
ANSWER FROM LAURA JAMISON, Jamison Consulting:
This is not an easy question to answer without truly knowing the dentist. It appears he has family values and understands the importance of family. It would be of value for one person to approach the dentist in a friendly way and ask whether he would be open to creating a more harmonious office environment. One-on-one communication would allow the doctor to process the request to take time off periodically for family events without feeling ganged up on. The team member who approaches him must have good verbal skills as well as good listening skills. She should focus on the intention of the meeting (to create a more highly motivated and harmonious team) and the values that are shared (value for family) instead of the way the doctor has communicated the policy in the past. For example, "Doctor Smith, I'd like to speak with you about how much your team cares about this practice and what would cement our commitment to our work. We know that family is important to you and it is to each of us as well. I believe this is why we were drawn to working together. But when we have a special event involving our children and we’re unable to attend it makes us sad. In turn, we really have a difficult time being present in our work, which impacts the patients. When these occasions arise we are all willing to pitch in and help one another so we can take a few hours off to be with our children. That's what makes our team feel like a family. I wonder if you would consider giving us time off when requested for family events if you were given ample notice?" This approach can't hurt, and the doctor may not even realize the high level of importance this has to each of you. Best wishes.
ANSWER FROM ROBERT SPIEL, President, Spiel Consulting:
Linda’s answer is very balanced in meeting both the needs of the practice and the desire of team members to have some flexibility for special family moments. If this provider were a client of mine, in addition to meeting the immediate policy need, I’d also ask him how he views his staff — as his greatest expense or greatest investment?
The answer to that question is critical because if a team is viewed as an expense, then the overriding concern of the dentist is to control and micromanage, activities that become exhausting, ineffective, and cause high stress and high turnover. On the other hand, when a provider realizes a team is his greatest investment, he begins to see the crucial need to lead and mentor the team to greatness – and to reciprocate the loyalty the team members show by giving loyalty back.
Two principles are at play here. The first is, “Employees treat patients the way they are treated,” and second, as Dr. Steven Covey taught years ago, “You can buy a person’s back, but you can’t buy their heart … they give it to you.” To offer exceptional patient service you need exceptional teamwork and leadership, and that includes realizing both the dentist and team members have lives outside of the practice. Common courtesy and respect would dictate arriving at a solution that works for everyone.
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