"I definitely need help in setting up an employee manual because I have no idea where to start. What are the main components? What’s important and what isn’t?"

Personnel Management in dental offices requires specific elements to be effective; not the least of which is a manual that clearly spells out the general policies, terms of employment, and compensation & benefits of your office. Handy to have with the manual are documents that help bring clarity to issues and for proper information safekeeping. It is not just another “system”, or important legal document. It is the reference point for how employees are expected to behave and conduct themselves, and how the employer will provide for a safe, professional, and (hopefully) prosperous work environment.

Without this tool and its components, office policies tend to be ambiguous, and employees are left to guess how they’re supposed to behave in certain situations. Even with this in mind, a manual must not rest alone. Proper leadership skills must be orchestrated by the employer along with a written guidebook to ensure successful human resource management.

What I will attempt to do in this article is explain essential background information on human resources that must co-exist with a written guidebook on personnel policies. I’ll finish by providing guidance on how to construct and effectively integrate an employee manual into the workplace.

Truth is, in my experience, ALL dental offices need an employee manual; unfortunately, only a few have a current working guidebook.

But where does one start?

My suggestion is to obtain an employee manual already prepared for dental offices. There are several on the market that are worthwhile and can be purchased at a fair fee. As a service to each of my consulting clients, I have developed a personnel manual that fits specifically into the dental environment. In any case, a proper manual would have the capability of being fine-tuned, or individualized for each dental office, due to the unique qualities found in each practice. The employer should ensure a working environment exists in his or her office that supports fair employment practices. Let’s dive into some of those concepts so that you will have an idea regarding what manual will be a perfect fit for your office.

A cornerstone in business management is providing employees with the reason why things are done a certain way. Establishing principles that will keep a business running effectively while handling any personnel issues is in line with this concept. Employers should make sure time is spent thinking about how their business will be run, and how decisions will be made. For example, if one declares, “We will always respect other people’s time in our office”, then one tends to focus on staying on time during the course of the day. And, appointments that are scheduled are not moved for the convenience of the office, but rather kept for the benefit of the patient.

In terms of personnel management, consider establishing principles that will help make decisions easier to come by. For instance, “We will strive to be fair to the employee in all aspects of human resources” would be a sensible tenet to adopt. In this way, when a situation arises, fairness would be the prevailing principle ensuring an appropriate outcome.

Another consideration may be to incorporate the “Reasonable Man Theory”; an ancient English common law which follows, ‘in any circumstance, a person is expected to know what is real and/or reasonable and do what is prudent’.

When dealing with personnel management issues, one must ask, “From who’s perspective is it reasonable?” In today’s day and age, the employee’s perspective of reasonable is used. In that case, examine each situation through the eyes of the employee. What one risks is the inherent loss to business through decreased productivity from people who are not treated reasonably and prudently in the work place.

In order to keep morale high, remove hurdles to productivity. Here are some suggestions that can help promote good management of people.

  • Create a mission statement – define the practice’s “big picture”.
  • Help people understand “why” they are doing what they’re doing by explaining standards of care and protocols for each job responsibility.
  • Have complete job descriptions - they are the foundation for effective personnel management. And, job descriptions clarify the employee’s responsibilities, wiping out ambiguity in the workplace.
  • Build an office where people know how they’re doing: provide objective feedback on performance.
  • Develop tools & reports that employees utilize that help them become accountable for their job requirements and work expectations.
  • Endeavor to help make all employees feel comfortable and fulfilled in their work.
  • Ensure a non-hostile work environment exists that is private and safe.

One important aspect in personnel management, in particular the State of Arizona, is the clear establishment of employment “at will”. In simple, this is employment that lasts as long as both parties will it to last. If one party elects to discontinue the arrangement, then the arrangement is discontinued. Put another way, if the person is employed, the employment lasts as long as both parties agree equally.

Avoid the following common errors and maintain employment “at will”. Don’t promise permanent employment; again, employment lasts as long as both parties agree equally. Next, make “at-will” employment very clear by placing it in the personnel manual and on job applications. Also, avoid any “Termination for Cause” statements in the manual or employment documentation, as this may negate the “at-will” status of employment in the office. Finally, don’t neglect to obtain a signed acknowledgement of receipt of the manual! In this way, employees confirm they have read and understand the manual in its entirety and agree to abide by the policies set forth.

Time has tested the theory that a fantastic team is built around reliable personnel management systems. Hiring protocols are followed so that people with the right skills and temperament are screened and hired properly. They are employed because they know they can perform the duties described in the job description, and references have provided positive reinforcement of their good work history. From their first day on the job, they know what to expect because they’ve read a manual describing how things work in the office and what is expected of them in return. During their time of service, they know how well they’re performing because a formal review process evaluates their work productivity against the employer’s expectations. Consequently, employees are accountable for the results of their actions – good or bad.

In the final analysis, all who work in a dental practice should provide for a profitable and gratifying experience. A personnel manual that is customized to fit the particular aspects of any practice is a must; only then can it be utilized to maximize employee performance. I’ll state the obvious in that just purchasing a manual will not solve personnel issues. Editing the manual to suit the particular nuances of an individual office and incorporating the manual with good employment policies, complete protocols, and sound philosophies are proper business strategies. Following through on what is established within the manual will result in excellent human resources.

An effective employer shows he/she cares with fair employment policies and parameters for continued employment. Use the above suggestions to construct a guidebook or manual that is complementary of the management and business principles of the practice.