Thursday Troubleshooter: I pick up the slack while others talk and shop

Experts address a frustrating issue

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QUESTION: I work in an office where every hygienist plays on his or her phone between patients. The front desk person shops online all day, and the dentist and office manager know all these things are happening. You see, the dentist and office manager are married. They will not say anything to these employees because the office manager plays on her phone too! Then you have me. I have to work to pick up the slack, and I only check my phone at lunchtime. I am speechless. What do I do?

Sign me,
Desperate worker

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ANSWER FROM FRED JOYAL, one of two founders of 1-800-DENTIST and its CEO for 20 years:
First, it's critical in this day and age to remind everyone that Internet access is a privilege, not an employee right. Cell phone use for personal reasons while you’re working essentially constitutes not working. Most businesses allow cell phone use on breaks, not during work activity. Most large companies use Websense or some other product to block people from misusing or overusing the Internet during company time on company computers.

Beyond that, owners have different rights from employees, and employees should know that. But it falls upon the owners to be clear that they are more than willing to allow limited phone use and Internet access as long as work is not neglected, and that acting responsibly as an employee is required in all aspects of their job, including cell phone and Internet use. Acting irresponsibly in any way should be noted and expressed in employee reviews.

In other words, don't assume that people know the policy. Smartphones are altering our social behavior, and without clarity people do what they feel like doing or what they think they can get away with. It's your responsibility to inform your employer of your observation, not as a complaint but rather as a request for clarification of the policy.

ANSWER FROM LINDA MILES, founder of Speaking Consulting Network:
I feel your pain! There have been many blogs and articles on DentistryIQ about cell phone and Internet use on company time. Cell phones should be powered off and stored in purses or lockers during patient hours, just as they are during movies, plays, and flights. In my opinion, stealing time during patient hours is another form of embezzlement. But until the leaders of this practice (dentist owner and spouse office manager) feel this way and lead the effort to make this stop, your efforts to put a stop to it are futile.

There should be an office policy in place that says no one should be able to make or take personal calls during patient hours, and no one should be able to conduct personal online work such as emails or Facebook/Twitter. I’m sure your office consistently keeps patients in the chair or office longer than necessary. I’m also sure patients see those who are wasting time and not focused on the patients who pay everyone’s salaries.

Here’s how you can do something about this — First go to the owners and tell them why you feel this is unfair to patients, the practice as a healthy business, and you personally who picks up the slack. If they continue to feel it is not a problem, your only solution is to find an office in which there is a strict policy that matches your own philosophy of managing one’s time. Until you confront the issue head on with the doctor and spouse, or until they establish a firm policy and agree they too must adhere to it, your frustrations will continue to mount. Wishing you all the luck in the world.

ANSWER FROM JAN KELLER, founder, Jan Keller and Associates:
Every practice should have a clearly defined policy in their HR manual for cell phone and Internet usage, especially social media websites during office hours. Cell phones should be turned off at the start of the day and placed in employees lockers. During breaks and lunch, employees should be allowed to use their personal cell phones. Too often, I have encountered clients wh have corrupted files and viruses on their computers when employees are allowed free use of the Internet.

Yes, business owners have different rights than employees. However, doctors and office managers set the tone in the practice. As leaders, they demonstrate good behavior when it comes to personal use of cell phones and Internet during treatment hours. If a spouse is the office manager and does not exhibit the behavior desired in these areas from employees, it is difficult to manage other areas in the practice. Poor morale develops disrespect. Patient care and productivity can both suffer as a result.

If it is not already written in the HR manual, you should ask your boss for clarity and expectations when it comes to use of personal cell phones and the Internet. I agree that this should not be a complaint but an observation to have clear expectations from the leadership and management of the practice. If personal use is tolerated and accepted by the doctor and his or her spouse/office manager, then you can only control how they react to the situation. If it is causing you to resent other team members and you are extremely unhappy in this situation, you may want to seek other employment.

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Do YOU have a tough issue in your dental office that you would like addressed?

Send your questions for the experts to answer. Responses will come from various consultants associated with Speaking Consulting Network and Dental Consultant Connection. Their members will take turns fielding your questions on DentistryIQ, because they are very familiar with addressing the tough issues. Hey, it's their job.

Send your questions to megk@pennwell.com. All inquiries will be answered anonymously every Thursday here on DIQ.

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