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Time clock issues

Feb. 1, 2012
I work in an office with an unreasonable, overbearing, intimidating office manager.

Dear Dianne,

I work in an office with an unreasonable, overbearing, intimidating office manager. She has the doctor wrapped around her finger, and I truly believe he is afraid of her. She has a proclivity to gossip and has been known to share sensitive information with the other business assistant, which gets spread all over the office. Over the past nine years, I’ve lost count of the employees who have left the practice, mostly over issues with our office manager.

The latest issue has to do with when we clock out at the end of the day. Recently, the office manager came around to the hygiene operatories and informed us that a new rule was in place, and that we are to clock out 15 minutes after our last patient. She said that in the future, we would not be paid even if we had charts to write up, restocking, or any other duties. This new “rule” was put in place because the other hygienist consistently runs behind with her last patient. The other hygienist and I are scheduled very tightly and rarely have any downtime. It’s a stretch some days for me to even get a bathroom break. We are allowed to clock in 30 minutes before our first patient is seated, as we have to review our charts, set up our rooms, and participate in the morning huddle.

The new rule imposed by the office manager has me steaming! We frequently observe the office manager engaged in private conversations on her cell phone, taking breaks in the staff lounge, going on the Internet dating sites, holding court with the front desk staff (her best friend is the receptionist at our office, hired at her recommendation), or carrying on extensive lengthy conversations with patients while sitting in the waiting room. Her “do as I say, not as I do” demeanor is causing much unhappiness in the office.

We do not enjoy going past 5 p.m., but there are things that have to be finished before we leave at day’s end. The other hygienist and I are hard workers, and if there is the occasional downtime, we engage in other duties, such as sterilization, calling patients, etc. We do not conduct personal business while clocked in on office time or stay late to “milk” the clock. We want to get out just like everyone else.

When I spoke with the doctor privately about the matter and voiced my concerns over the problems with the office manager and her lack of knowledge in human resource management, he disagreed. The doctor said he feels she is doing a fine job and does not need additional training. He also expressed his confidence in me and even gave me a raise.

I really don’t want to have to look for another job at this late stage in my life. I’m not worried about finding another job, but I don’t want to have to adjust all over again and go through something different at a different place with different people. Are there any good solutions to this problem?
Brenda, RDH

Dear Brenda,

What a mess! First, you have a doctor who has chosen to abdicate his leadership responsibilities to someone who is a negative force in the practice. Second, you have an office manager who lacks professionalism and human relation skills for the position she holds. Third, serious legal consequences exist when staff members are asked to work without expectation of wages. Fourth, your coworker’s slow working speed is causing problems for you. And finally, office morale is low and turnover is high as a result of all the aforementioned problems! The working environment has become toxic.

From a business standpoint, I do not think it is necessary or even wise to have a position for “office manager” in a one-doctor practice. The front desk should be staffed with one person who is the scheduling coordinator and another person who is the financial coordinator. Each of those positions is cross-trained so that one can fulfill both duties should one need to be absent. An office administrator is needed only when there are multiple doctors in a practice.

Furthermore, any staff member with a proclivity to gossip is a problem, no matter what position that person holds. It’s especially egregious when that person is in a position of authority. In your situation, the doctor needs to reevaluate why he feels he needs someone else to manage for him. It would appear the office manager has many negative attributes, particularly if turnover is problematic. The doctor needs to reclaim his practice by assuming the leadership role and rid the practice of any staff member who becomes a negative force.

It is federally mandated that employees must be paid for any time they are engaged in work, whether it is in direct patient care or in peripheral duties connected with patient care. Asking employees to clock out and finish their duties off-the-clock is illegal. In fact, according to Alfred Robinson, director of the wage and hour division of the Labor Department, it is one of the more common violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Over the past several years, hundreds of employees have filed lawsuits against companies that require them to work off-the-clock. The office manager has no authority to pass such a “rule” to deny any employee payment for wages, whether she considers them productive or not.

Since finishing on time seems to be the issue, here is what I recommend:

1. Mark off the last 20 minutes of every day before lunch and at end of day in the schedule as “flex time” that allows the hygienists and assistants to get everything cleaned up and restocked. This will allow everyone to get a full lunch period and get out on time at the end of the day. (You need to be on a 10-minute increment schedule.)
2. Make sure clinical notes are completed as patients are seen. Do not ever wait until the end of the day to write up charts or enter information in the computer.
3. Time-saving tips include using preset tray systems that allow for quick turnover of rooms, barriers instead of wiping, and assistance with periodontal charting that reduces charting time by 10 minutes.
4. Your coworker has allowed herself to settle into a pace that is a “negative” in the eyes of the employer. My experience is that doctors who work slowly will tolerate slow hygienists (as a rule), but doctors who are like greyhounds on speed do not tolerate slow-moving staff members for very long, even if they feel the staff member provides good care. Most likely, she needs to learn how to step up her pace.

Bottom line, it is patently illegal for your office manager to issue mandates about clocking out. If there is a staff member who is blatantly abusing the clock, that staff member should be fired — period. If the doctor needs help managing his practice, he should hire a consultant to provide the necessary training and systems development within the practice. Good employees do not need to be managed. And good leaders lead from the front, not from within the pack.
Best wishes,

Dianne Glasscoe Watterson, RDH, BS, MBA, is a professional speaker, writer, and consultant to dental practices across the United States. Dianne’s new book, “The Consummate Dental Hygienist: Solutions for Challenging Workplace Issues,” is now available on her website. To contact her for speaking or consulting, call (301) 874-5240 or email [email protected]. Visit her website at

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