Thursday Troubleshooter: Cell phone use in the office revisited

Cell phone and computer use is a constant problem.

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QUESTION: In our office, many of the people who work with me use their cell phones or office computers to email, text, tweet, or Facebook during the workday. How can I get them not to do that?

[Editor's Note: This question comes up a lot. See answers from Rhonda Savage, DDS, and Judy Kay Mausolf for additional ideas.]
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The use of cell phones during the workday is one of the most universally-faced issues in dentistry today. Here is a step-by-step approach to make a total culture change that will stop this behavior and stick.

Step 1: Get the doctor (yes, he or she may be as much to blame as the team) and team together and ask a simple question. “When you repeatedly use your cell phone or computer for personal use during the workday, what does that do to your work time?” The group will clearly state, “It cuts into the time we have to do our work.”
Step 2: Ask, “Are you being paid during the workday to do your office duties, or to have personal communications?” Of course the answer is clear, “We are being paid to do our office duties.”
Step 3: Ask each person to write down the following for their eyes only.

a. How many minutes every hour do you spend using your cell phone or office computer for personal reasons?
b. Take that number of minutes/per hour and multiply it by the number of hours worked each day.
c. Take the number of minutes per day and multiply it by the number of days you work each week.
d. Take that weekly number and multiply it by 4 (a conservative number), which is the number of weeks in a month:
e. Take the final number or monthly number of minutes and divide that by 60, which is now hourly, and multiply that number of hours by your hourly pay rate.

You now have the amount of money you are being paid NOT to work. A powerful message is delivered.

Step 4: Each person writes anonymously on a piece of paper the total number of hours per month and places it into a hat. Someone reads those numbers to the doctor and entire team.
Step 5: Now ask the question, “Does our office have a problem with using cell phones or office computers for personal use?” The answer is almost always "yes."
6. Decide as a group how personal emergencies will be dealt with using the office phone line.
7. Ask the doctor and each team member to sign a commitment letter that states that they will not use their cell phone or office computers for personal use during patient treatment time for one month. Post that letter in the team meeting space. For each infraction, the person puts 25 cents into a jar. At the next monthly team meeting, ask the team to renew their pledge. Third/last month: have people re-commit to no cell phone use during patient treatment time. Now the behavior is solidified.

I have used these questions and the exercise many times with great and lasting success. Why great and lasting success? Because instead of telling the group what the problem is and how to fix it, the group sees the problem and owns the solution.

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

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Past Thursday Troubleshooters:
Piercings and tattoos on dental office employees
Who gets priority at the front desk of the dental office? Caller or visitor?
How do we report an office affair?
The dental office manager plays favorites

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