You can blame bad apples all you want, but if you're stuck with a staff that consistently under produces it might be time for the $64,000 question: Is your practice part of the problem?
There are dozens of ways that medical offices mismanage their most important asset — human resources. From avoidable layoffs, to poorly planned workspaces, to policies that encourage sick workers to drag themselves into the office, it's a wonder anything ever gets done.
"Productivity to me is a really important issue that can easily be improved and I'm surprised by how often practices turn a blind eye to it, especially when staffing is the number one cost on their expense list," says Judy Capko, a practice-management consultant in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and author of "Secrets of the Best-Run Practice," in an interview.
If you find yourself wondering where your practice falls short, here's a list of the top 10 HR blunders that can send productivity down the tubes.
1. Misguided meetings
Staff meetings are a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of your practice, but they can also be a big waste of time. Ineffective meetings accomplish little, leave everyone running in circles, and create added frustration for all involved, says Prashanthi Sylada, a board member for the Society of Human Resource Management. Planning can help. Before your next meeting, draft an agenda that clearly outlines the objective, goals, and topics on the table. Don't forget to identify a point person to keep the discussion on track and always include time frames for addressing each point. It's equally important to distribute the agenda in advance as an e-mail or hard copy to each attendee. "Otherwise, people come to the meeting and start thinking out loud," says Sylada. "When they have the topic ahead of time they can start thinking before the meeting even begins and come ready to contribute."
2. Social media
It almost goes without saying: text messaging, e-mail, Web surfing and social network sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn can be big office time sucks. A 2010 survey by news navigator onenewspage.com found that 39 percent of employees in the United States and the United Kingdom use social media sites at work, and 26 percent admitted to spending more than an hour a day on sites that were not work-related. Other studies have found the constant checking of "in-boxes" throughout the day interrupts workflow dramatically, taking employees sometimes twice as long to complete their tasks and increasing the rate of errors. But banning access in the office is not necessarily prudent.
"For physician practices, in particular, this is a double-edge sword," says Troy Jaklich, president of Legacy Human Resources in Denver, which specializes in medical offices. "A lot of physicians are creating company Facebook pages and blogs as a means to attract new business — as another marketing arm."
His suggestion: All practices should revisit their online policy annually, update their employee handbook as needed, and communicate their policy clearly to the staff. For example, make clear to your employees that online communications (even outside the workplace) that pertain to coworkers and the practice must be appropriate, should not damage the practice's reputation or business interests, or expose the practice to a potential liability. It's a good idea to put your social media contract in writing, making it clear that violation is grounds for disciplinary action or termination. Get each member of your staff to sign it and keep a copy in their personnel files. Such measures not only eliminate any uncertainty surrounding the use of social media, but help prevent missives that can land your practice in legal hot water. To prevent the watchdog effect, you may also decide that all personal use of cell phones and the Internet is forbidden during work hours. Or, you might wish to allow an occasional (content appropriate) YouTube huddle — so long as it's during their lunch break or after hours.
Reimbursement cuts have put many practices in a bind, forcing them to consider layoffs. After all, compensation is generally the biggest piece of a practice's expense budget — accounting for up to 30 percent of expenses in primary-care groups, according to Capko. More often than not, however, the impact on morale negates any short-term gain, says Jess Orrick, a practice management consultant with Orrick Associates in Newton Centre, Mass. "Many practices tend to be understaffed to try and save money, but that leads to morale problems which effect how employees deal with patients," he explains. "[Staff] get impatient and cranky. It's not the patient, though. It's the job. They don't like where they are."
Indeed, a 2009 study by the Workforce Institute at Kronos, a workforce management firm in Chelmsford, Mass., found that 40 percent of respondents whose workplaces had experienced layoffs in the past year felt that overall productivity of their organization was negatively impacted. Some 66 percent of them said morale had suffered and that people were less motivated, and 36 percent feared their office would not be adequately staffed to meet future demand.