The dictatorial office manager

Feb. 1, 2003
I have been an RDH for many years and have worked in several general dental practices during this time. I have been employed at my current position for five years.

By Dianne Glasscoe

Dear Dianne,

I have been an RDH for many years and have worked in several general dental practices during this time. I have been employed at my current position for five years.

Recently, the doctor brought on a new office manager, who just happens to be his wife's best friend. This woman has taken over the practice! She now knows what each employee makes per hour, makes all decisions concerning salary increases, decides when (and if) an employee can take a day off, or if their vacation plans suit her needs, and so on. It seems she tries to create office tension, and we are at a loss as to what to do.

Consequently, staff morale has plummeted and everyone is unhappy. Before she was hired, everyone worked as a team and got along well. However, no one can get along with her!

Our doctor's wife also works in the office. Because of the new office manager's close ties to our doctor and his wife, we do not feel comfortable speaking out against her.

Any comments or ideas would be greatly appreciated!
An Office in Distress

Dear Distressed Office Member,

You have presented a very difficult situation to resolve. However, I'll try to address the issue as I see it.

My first question is: Why did the doctor see the need to hire an office manager? My personal opinion is there is no need for this position unless it is a multi-doctor/large staff practice. High quality staff members do not need to be "managed," but rather empowered to do their job.

A second dilemma arises from the fact that this new hire is the best friend of the doctor's spouse. This would tend to give the new hire a 'favored staff member' status. This situation is sure to create resentment among the other staff members.

The third problem is the new office manager's apparent attitude. She has assumed a dictatorial management style, which is very different from what you experienced in the past. I suspect your own perception of her would be quite different if she had chosen a participative management style. I have to wonder what, if any, experience she has managing employees.

Obviously, she has rankled the other staff members by throwing her weight around and assuming the role of the new "boss." You and the others resent the fact that she, instead of the doctor, is now setting policy on such things as wages and vacations.

My personal opinion is that the doctor made an unwise hiring decision. It is never a good idea to hire someone who would be difficult to fire, such as a family member or close friend. What if a staff mutiny occurs as a result of her dictatorial management style? She could not only lose her job but her best friend as well. Your doctor has a created an "us against them" mentality by hiring his wife's best friend. He has upset the team concept within the practice.

Many doctors find that they do not enjoy the business aspect of running a dental practice. Staffing issues, in particular, wear on doctors over time. Doctors have said, "Dianne, if I could just come in and do my dentistry and not have to worry with staffing issues or whether someone is doing their job, I'd be the happiest doctor in the world."

I suspect this is one aspect of the practice the doctor wants to delegate to someone else. This whole unhappy situation could have been avoided if the doctor would have invited input from the team and included them in the office administrator selection process, if, indeed, an administrator was needed.

My advice to you is this:

• Write down your concerns about the new office manager.
• Honestly evaluate whether your attitude toward her decisions would be different had those decisions come from the doctor directly.
• If you feel her attitude is unreasonable, be able to support your claims with examples.
• Do not discuss problems about the new office manager with any other staff member. Rather, take those concerns to the person/s who can do something about the problem, namely the office manager and the doctor.
• If no one says anything to the doctor, he may not know how unhappy this new hire is making everyone. As owner of the business, the doctor needs to know your concerns.
• If the doctor is happy with the office manager's job performance, you will have to decide if you can adjust to the new environment.
• Do not give the doctor ultimatums or suggestions about his hiring decision unless you are willing to seek new employment. Don't put him in the difficult position of having to choose you or her.

Shutting down communication only makes the situation worse. If the doctor realizes the new hire is responsible for creating a negative and hostile work environment, he will have to decide if he can risk losing other staff members as a result of poor morale.

I believe if the current situation continues, staff turnover is certain. Turnover is costly to any practice in terms of low morale and retraining.

To leave you with a positive thought, things might get better with time.

Dianne D. Glasscoe, RDH, BS, is a professional speaker, writer, and consultant to dental practices across the United States. She is CEO of Professional Dental Management, based in Lexington, N.C. To contact Glasscoe for speaking or consulting, call (336) 472-3515, fax (336) 472-5567, or email [email protected]. Visit her Web site at www.profession

How busy is the office administrator?There is a need for an office administrator position when there are large numbers of employees. Many multi-doctor practices could not function smoothly without this administrative position. Here are the duties of a true office administrator:

• Know the practice mission, long-range business plan and short-range goals
• Hire all office staff
• Coordinate new staff training; train new front office staff
• Supervise all personnel; handle staff disciplinary procedures
• Oversee the implementation and compliance with the personnel policies and procedures
• Supervise system implementation; hold staff accountable
• Handle staff questions, concerns, and problems
• Keep personnel records current (attendance, performance evaluations, interview forms, disciplinary actions, etc.)
• Handle unusual patient problems
• Review and redefine job descriptions
• Figure payroll and IRS reporting
• Write checks for accounts payable
• Carry out banking
• Keep bank statement reconciliation current
• Carry out front office duties that are assigned (usually financial coordinator)
• Monitor practice statistics (collect data, tabulate, record, and present at business meetings)
• Coordinate, schedule, and lead staff meetings
• Schedule performance reviews for all staff, conduct performance reviews for front office staff
• Coordinate vacation schedules
• Oversee inventory control of office supplies
• Review practice financial statistics monthly with doctors
• Coordinate continuing education for each staff member
• Coordinate office uniforms and dress codes
• Attend continuing education annually
• Maintain membership and attend local community organization meetings
• Coordinate marketing projects
• Oversee achievement of office goals on deadline
• Oversee and lead daily morning meetings
• Coordinate computer maintenance
• Coordinate upgrade training on computer and training of new personnel on computer

As you can see from this exhaustive list, the position of office administrator is a weighty one. In the typical dental practice with one doctor and one or two hygienists, such a position is not warranted.