The secret of 192 -- A simple work policy that benefits both doctor and staff.

May 1, 2003
Now I know that all of you dentists out there have a detailed, easy-to-understand office manual that tells your employees what your policy is when it comes to vacations, personal days, holidays, and sick days.

by Mark Absher

Now I know that all of you dentists out there have a detailed, easy-to-understand office manual that tells your employees what your policy is when it comes to vacations, personal days, holidays, and sick days. There's never any confusion over what holidays are covered such as Christmas or New Year's, except when they land on a Sunday and you wouldn't be working anyway.

But what do you do when the busy holiday season hits and both of your assistants decide to take their last week's vacation, or a sick day to go shopping, or a personal day to go to the vet? What about when you want to go to a continuing-education course? Does your staff stay behind and clean the office? It's enough to make a sane office go crazy! And if you really want to make your employees mad, don't pay them for a day they think they should be getting paid for — even if it's written as a bylaw somewhere in your 200-page office policy manual.

This year will mark my 20th anniversary as office manager in my wife's dental practice. Coming from a large corporate environment, I made it one of my first jobs to design a written work policy that we could all work from. Paid holidays were Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day, Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day. One week's vacation was given for each six months employees worked, up to four weeks per year. Staff members also received four sick days (reimbursable if not used), and two personal days per year. Sound familiar? Well guess what? Sick days were always used, personal days were always taken, vacation times were a fight, the doctor was frequently upset when someone was missing, and there were frequent misunderstandings and confusion about paychecks. To top it off, when the doctor wanted to take a vacation, no one else did!

Change must come!

After six years of this mess, I knew something had to change. Small businesses cannot operate like large corporations. Most well-functioning offices do not have extra employees in reserve to cover for those who are not there. I realized that to be an effective team, everyone needed to be at work, doing their job, at all times. You can't have a basketball team with only four players ... and believe me, we were getting beat at this game! So, I developed a new plan of working 192 days per year. I know you are wondering where I got 192 days, so here goes:
4 days a week x 4 weeks a month x 12 months = 192 days

To sell this initial concept to the staff, the new policy had to be a win-win situation for both dentist and staff, because I already knew how volatile it could be to change or reduce any benefits. So, I counted the average number of work days we actually worked per year over a three-year period and discovered that each employee averaged 224 work days per year. I then proposed that everyone work 32 days less the following year (or 192 days) for the same money, with the following conditions:

1All full-time employees, including the doctor, will work the same 192 days each year, starting January 1.

2 The doctor will decide (with some staff input) which 192 days we will work the following year. The next year's 192 scheduled work days are then posted on a large calendar on June 1 of every year.

3 All employees will be paid 24 equal paychecks on the 1st and 16th of each month. Each paycheck will be based upon 8 workdays per pay period (8 x 24 = 192), regardless of the actual number of days worked in that pay period.

4 There are no paid vacation days, holidays, sick days, personal days, or paid missed days of any kind. If an employee misses a workday for any reason, their paycheck is deducted 1/8 the regular amount for every day missed.

5 If the office misses a day, due to weather, seminars, doctor sickness, or for any other reason, this day must be made up. We always work 192 days per year.

The proposal passed, and to our delight, it has been very successful. Our office works as a complete team, and each year since implementation, our office has increased our productivity and income. This is at least partially due to having a staff that is always at work, thus reducing potentially stressful situations for the doctor, staff, and our patients.

Employees are rarely sick, and we work less days than most school teachers! We usually take Fridays off, so personal days are not a problem, and we never work on holidays. We take a week off at spring break, one or two weeks in the summer, and a week over Christmas. Most importantly, our staff is never confused as to when they get paid (they just check the calendar), how much they get paid (24 equal paychecks), or how many days (192!) they are expected to work. Another unexpected benefit has been the accuracy of budgeting, forecasting, and comparison of production numbers. Each year's expenses and income are based on the same 192 production-day opportunities.

This work policy is so simple, many people think there must be more to it. There's not! Your employees know what to expect, and you have a team that's always there and ready to go.

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