Better trained staff & less problems by using an employee file

Employee fileWhat if I told you there was an easy way to cut the staff drama, more consistently enforce office policy and have your team solve their own problems? An employee file serves all these purposes.

An employee file is a folder (digital or paper) for each of your staff members that stores their application, required medical forms, licenses and documentation about their work performance. The documentation piece can be simple – just use a blank piece of paper with the employee’s name at the top works just fine. What you do is to enter the date and some notes about your interactions with this staff person as they occur – this serves as legal documentation about their work performance. So, what do you write?

The first thing to write on every employee’s file is her hire date and any deadlines you discussed for her training. Let’s say you hired a new dental assistant and you discussed that you expect her to take 3-4 weeks to get acclimated to the practice and then after about a month, that she would be assisting you and things would be working smoothly after that. Write it down. Next, set yourself an alert for a month from now – use your cell phone alarm or an Outlook alarm or (my favorite) send yourself an email through

Ding! One month later, you get your email reminding you “Check Susie’s employee file” and you discover your note from her hiring date. Now you have the chance to stop and think – how is Susie performing? Are you working smoothly together? Even though Susie has 10 years dental assisting experience what are the items that you feel she needs to know better so that your days run more efficiently? Let’s say you’re happy overall but you come up with 5 tasks that Susie could work on. That day or the next, when your patient doesn’t show up – ask Susie to sit down with you to talk for a minute. Pull out Susie’s employee file and read your note from when she was hired. Next, say to Susie “So, it’s been just over a month and I’m very pleased with how you’re fitting in. There are several good things about how we are working together and I think you’re doing a good job. As I’m thinking about how things are going, there are a few things I’d like you to work on. They are . . .” Now you move into a discussion with Susie to clarify what exactly you want accomplished in these 5 tasks. Once Susie understands what you’re telling her, then ask her “when do you feel you could get these new tasks learned?” – she should give you a deadline. Generally 2 weeks is a nice deadline for basic tasks for staff. Now, while Susie is still sitting with you – you make a new entry in her employee file – telling Susie that you want to write this down so you don’t forget. You write today’s date, that you & Susie had a mtg, that she is doing well and what the 5 tasks are you want her to start doing. You also document that you both agreed these will be done by 2 weeks from now. Again, set your email follow up for 2 weeks later.

Ding! It’s 2 weeks later and you see your email reminding you “Check Susie’s employee file”. Again, in a moment of downtime, ask Susie to sit down with you (and her employee file) to touch base. If successful, this is a great way to congratulate Susie on learning these 5 tasks. Document her success. Done. If she has only accomplished some of the tasks – or none of them – this is a great way to face the facts of her performance. Review your note from your last meeting and ask Susie to tell you how she did with the tasks. Let’s say she accomplished the 2 easiest tasks and failed the other 3. You say “Susie, nice job with these 2, but I’m concerned with these 3 tasks – tell me what you’re thinking about these tasks.” Then, she may have legitimate reasons she failed (didn’t have the supplies needed or the equipment was broken) and you can fix these – or she may have poor excuses (or shares that she has personal problems that are causing her to have performance issues at work). Your job here is to let her know that these tasks are important, that you expect her to do them – and reset a new deadline.

You are now successfully managing your staff. You are congratulating them when they succeed and you are following up with them when they are struggling. You don’t forget how long it’s been that they received a pay raise or achieved a new license because you are documenting this in their employee file. You also will clearly see the performance of your staff – if the page is full of meetings regarding performance problems, then you will know when it is time to terminate this employee based on accurate documentation, not just emotional frustration!

One of the best uses of an employee file is to manage absenteeism. Absenteeism definitely follows the 80/20 rule – a few people have ALL the absenteeism problems. Again, you will document absences in the employee file and when the number hits your policy limit (in our office you get a warning if you have 5 instances of any type of absenteeism) you have a meeting with your staff person. In this meeting you tell your staff person that you like them and they’re doing a great job, but they have a problem with absenteeism. You tell them they have had 5 instances of absenteeism within the last 12 months and that it’s time they solved their problem. You let them know what the next step in the absenteeism policy is and that you don’t want this consequence to happen to them since you like them so well. Again, you document this meeting in their employee file. If they have more absenteeism, then again you meet – deliver the consequence – document in the employee file. It is very difficult to let a staff person go when they have good performance but an absenteeism problem. Often, dentists stretch their own rules because they dread the idea of hiring a new person and training them. By maintaining an employee file, you can see the problem in black and white and make better staff management decisions.

You can see by documenting an employee’s successes and struggles in an employee file, you create a living record of their work performance. If you review all your employees files on a quarterly basis, thinking about how they are performing and meeting with them to set standards and deadlines, your staff will feel that they are important to you and they will know how they are performing. This good communication between you and your staff results in a smoother running practice. And, isn’t that what everyone wants?

To discover a comprehensive approach to managing dental staff and solving the challenge of dental staff training: Click here to read about our dental staff training approach.

For more ideas to improve the business-side of your dental practice:

AUTHOR: Jill Nesbitt
1 Comment
  • I like the idea of using that site to send yourself followup emails- great idea!

    November 8, 2011