I know I should have an employee manual for my office, but I haven’t the foggiest idea where to start. Should I buy one already written? Is that enough, or should I modify it for my office? Will it solve all of my staff issues?

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. Included with the manual are forms, worksheets, and employee records for proper information safekeeping. It is not just another “system”, or important legal document.

Ensure the manual works for the practice not against it.

Without this tool and its components, the office policies are 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.

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 but 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. The manual I have constructed has the capability to be fine-tuned, or individualized for each dental office, due to the unique qualities found in each practice. However, prior to delivering the manual for editing and final production, the dentist and I spend considerable time building an environment 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. Acquiring principles that will keep your business running effectively while handling any personnel issues is in line with this concept. Make sure you’ve spent time thinking about how your 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.

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 a reasonable outcome.

Another consideration may be to incorporate the “Reasonable Man Theory”; an ancient English common law which states, “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 – help people understand “why” they are doing what they’re doing.
  • Have complete job descriptions - they are the first and last line of defense for personnel management. And, they 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 to make them accountable for their job requirements and work expectations.
  • Make all employees feel comfortable and fulfilled in coming to work.
  • Ensure a non-hostile work environment exists that is private and safe.

An effective employer shows he/she cares with fair employment policies and parameters for continued employment. Use the above suggestions to add value to any personnel guidebook or manual that is used in the office.

One important aspect in personnel management, in particular our 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 these 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 will negate the “at-will” status of employment in the office. Finally, don’t neglect to obtain a signed acknowledgement of receipt of the manual!

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 involved 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 your practice is a must, however it should be utilized so that it maximizes employee performance. I'll state the obvious in that just purchasing a manual will not solve personnel issues. Incorporating the manual with good employment policies, intact procedures, sound philosophies, and following through on what is found within the manual will result in excellent human resources.