Absentee Staffing Causing Chaos in Your Practice?

By: Melinda Wilhelm, VP of Operations

No office manager or dentist likes the dreaded phone call “I am sick today and can’t come in,” especially when the schedule is overbooked with emergency patients, there are several new patients and there are many examinations required in hygiene.

This situation is not an “if” it is a “when” and it is smarter to be proactive and plan for the inevitable.

The workplace stress fallout affects not only the entire staff but the patients who are there for treatment.  If the absentee person is a dental assistant the procedures scheduled must be analyzed to make sure the remaining staff is delegated to cover for the missing person.

If the absentee staff is the front office it depends on how many support people are trained to cover for the most important position for managing the day.

The average solo or small group practice has one to two people full time at the desk and two dental assistants in the clinical area and maybe a person that is support for both areas.   For anyone to assume that any of these people could easily fill in for them is not being realistic.  The remaining staff will be working harder and longer that day and most likely there will be some lost production due to rescheduling patients.

What can you do to lessen the stress of the absentee staff?

  1. Delegate developing a plan to find “substitute” staff responsibilities to a team member, and pay extra for this responsibility. To make it official add to his/her job description. This list must in their cell phone contact information so it can be accessed from home.
  2. Develop an absentee notification policy for being gone because of illness or personal days.  Business teams, hygienists, assistants, would call the office manager and notify him/her of the problem by 6:00 a.m. day of.  Office Manager calls the dentist immediately or no earlier than 6:00 a.m.
  3. Develop relationships with area team members that may want to substitute on days when they are off from their primary job.  Keep the names and numbers of these people on a sub list that is located where everyone can find it.
  4. Use temporary staffing agencies or online services to find employees.  Fill out their contracts and temporary worker job profiles ahead of time so that you can just call them when you need them.
  5. Pay substitute employees more than the going rate. Many dentists think they should pay a substitute far less than their regular employee even if the skills are the same. If you do this it will be hard to find good substitute workers in the future.  However, make sure you understand your state substitute employee guideline and policies as to whether this person is paid as an employee or as an independent contractor.  Your attorney or accountant is a good resource for these types of questions.
  6. Ask each staff member to have a trusted family friend or family member prepared to be available at a moment’s notice to help with a crisis such as “the babysitter is sick today” or “my baby is sick today.” Without the support of family members it can be very difficult not to have to take time off regularly to take care of children.

Be proactive and make sure you have adequate staffing to cover your practice in times of crisis.

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