“One of my employees sells cosmetics in her spare time, one hosts cookware demonstrations and one has a child who is forever soliciting us to buy cookies or raffle tickets. I applaud my employees for their energy and drive but feel their business should be conducted on their time, away from the office. Can I implement a policy prohibiting employees from bringing other business into the office and if so, what’s the best way to handle it professionally with the staff?”

Wow, I’ll bet this takes us baby-boomers back to the days when multi-level marketing hit the scenes with product being sold to friends and family at home. But Amway and Shaklee buyers take note, now there are jewelry makers, purse, lingerie and Botox parties, just to mention a few. Amway, long considered one of the most successful company’s in America, grew from people selling products part-time in the home direct to the customer rather than through retail establishments. These part-time jobs for some turned into multi-million dollar distribution networks yielding huge dollars for the ambitious. Naturally, building a multi-level marketing enterprise at times found their way into the workforce and sales strategies were tried on co-workers to find even more customers. It wasn’t unusual that employees at the job received unwanted solicitations from motivated entrepreneurs wanting simply to build a future for them. Unfortunately, some were doing it on someone else’s clock.

Many times there is a sense of pressure with these types of secondary businesses. People will buy the product (cosmetics, cookies, cookware) not because they really want these items, but because they don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings or feel the pressure of being the only one not to but the mother-load of products. There is a sense of obligation since the people who are selling the items are personal friends. This ultimately can create animosity between fellow employees not only within the working environment but after hours as well. For example, one employee neither sells items on the side nor asks for employees to contribute to school fund drives, whereas another employee constantly solicits her/his wares. After awhile, constantly being harassed for purchases will get old. Problems will percolate and tempers may boil over. Add to this the encounters with patients in the office who are asked to buy something or overhear employees discussing the secondary businesses. An action of success, monetary value and happiness with even your most valued employee could become a lesson of disaster that may backfire and cause the business harm.

It would be very wise to implement a policy prohibiting employees from soliciting secondary businesses within the office. This should apply not only with patients but also among employees. During working hours, the main task at hand should be focused on dental matters. As an employer, you should expect your employees are getting paid to do their specific jobs, not discussing, thinking about, and conducting secondary businesses on the side.

It is difficult to prohibit solicitations during breaks when employees are off the clock such as lunch, but even then selling should be discouraged.

The question that comes up for me as an Advisor for dentists: “Are employees putting forth the same effort encouraging patients to pursue necessary dental services as they are Tupperware?”

To this, it is sensible to consider placing the person selling the most product that has nothing to do with dentistry, and has no obvious problem with time management, away from direct patient contact and place her/him in the treatment coordinator position responsible for gaining case acceptance to necessary treatment from patients!

Of course, I’m using humor to make a point. Consider for a moment that a great dental team, as in any successful business or even major sports franchise, plays to its strengths. Sure, establish a policy that prohibits solicitation of outside businesses within the office to both employees and patients but consider the talent used to sell cosmetics, kitchenware, or even laundry soap can be parlayed into case presentations and ultimately help grow the business (dental office, of course!) in the same way a successful sports team puts their key players in a position to best utilize their skills.

To sum up, if the Personnel Manual in the office does not make clear that solicitation is not allowed, included it in an addendum or revision. Here’s a sample:

“Time spent on solicitation during work hours (exclusive of time spent off the clock) by either the soliciting or solicited employee is prohibited. Distribution or posting of literature on office property requires special permission.”

It would be wise to make clear that unprofessional conduct not allowed by the office is better defined. Consider, “Unauthorized solicitation or attending to personal affairs during work hours”.

And finally, build your team around their strengths! Make your dental practice a successful business by placing your employees in positions that will utilize their skills and help patients become well. Watch the byproduct come about in a full schedule, happy patients, and empowered employees!