DentistryIQ Thursday Troubleshooter: "I can't have my hours cut!"

Thanks to DentistryIQ for the chance to contribute to this week's Thursday Troubleshooter. I wish this Office Manager well!

QUESTION: I recently accepted a dental office manager position at an office that had not had a manager. On my third day during my newly implemented morning huddle, one of the front staff members blurted, "Is the doctor going to cut my hours, because I can't have my hours cut, I need 40 hours." I said, "Have you not been getting your hours? I was told you all are overtime and I’ve been asked to fix that."

She responded, “No, but he promised me 40 hours.” She and two other staff members cosigned a promise of 40+ hours a week. I was taken aback by these demands. I've been in the dental field 15 years and I’ve never demanded 40+ hours. I’m thankful to be employed and to get at least 32 hours. After assessing patients’ in-office time, the office’s open hours, and the hours the staff stays on the clock, I determined that 40+ hours isn't realistic. I posted a schedule for the staff that lists their days off and lunch times.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I probably should have walked out! They were enraged because they were only scheduled 39.50 hours or 40 hours! What I’ve observed is that the staff does what they want and they really don’t use their time productively, they just get “their hours.” There are six female staff members and one male dentist who isn't consistent with policy and rules, hence why he and his wife hired me. Now the resistance and pushback I get from the team is disheartening. Help!

ANSWER FROM AMY SMITH, founder of Amy Smith Consulting, LLC:

It appears you may have been hired to be the “bad guy,” probably because the dentist knows he’s gotten himself into a pickle in terms of what he’s promised his employees and what the practice can actually afford to deliver.

I suggest you first sit down with the doctor and his wife, if she’s involved with the practice, and ask them what they’ve agreed to. Are the agreements in writing? Are they tied to what the employee do or produce? Do the employees have written job descriptions, as required by employer compliance law, and is their compensation tied to the performance of these duties? (My guess is that there are no job descriptions or up-to-date employee files.)

If the doctor supports you, call the team together and explain that the practice does not have the necessary production to support a 40+ hour workweek for six employees. Explain that the industry norm in a job like theirs is 32 hours per week, and that you have done your best to keep them at or near the 40-hour mark. If you continue to meet resistance, tell them you and the doctor will understand if they need to look elsewhere for employment. Be firm, you are being tested.

If the doctor does not support you, you also have a decision to make as to whether or not this is the right job for you. From what you’ve said, I don’t think you would have trouble finding a better and probably healthier position somewhere else.