Samantha Rigby, First Practice Management’s HR specialist, on how having effective HR policies will make the life of a practice manager easier
One of the biggest challenges I face is to make practice policies sound exciting, interesting and a worthy time investment. We all know practice managers are busy – they’re firefighters, counsellors and accountants – as well as HR managers – all rolled in to one.
As First Practice Management’s HR specialist, my role is to try to make the day-to-day life of the practice manager a little bit easier, and the best way of doing this, when it comes to managing your people, is by having rock-solid policies that completely support the both practice and the management. Therefore, it is important to get across to PMs that really knowing their practice policies – and making sure they are as strong as possible – is so important, and can make life so much easier.
A policy gives you a roadmap on how to deal with difficult scenarios, so it should be a rare situation where you have to think about your next steps. Most policies are also based on legislation, so not only do they provide managers with a guide, but they can protect your practice by reducing risk and operate within ACAS guidelines.
A working example
Let’s look at the sickness policy and procedure. Most managers will be aware of the importance of completing a return to work interview when an employee is off, but there are other ways that a sickness policy can support practice managers to effectively manage staff absence.
Practice one (P1): has an effective sickness procedure which includes trigger points and a step-by-step plan for managing long term sickness.
Practice two (P2): has a ‘standard’ sickness policy that includes return to work interviews, bringing in a sick note after seven days, and staying in touch with the practice.
Both practices have two sick employees; one has been absent three times for a few days in the past six months, while the other has now been off work for six weeks.
P1 has ‘trigger points’ in their policy; these are the most effective way to manage regular, short-term sickness. The practice makes an assessment on a ‘reasonable’ amount of absence – which can depend on the size of the practice since smaller practices are more likely to struggle if someone is absent. P1 has decided that three periods of absence in a 12-month period would be an appropriate trigger, meaning that once an employee hits absence number three, a sickness meeting is initiated. This will be an informal meeting; a further instance may progress to a ‘first written warning’, then to a final written warning and could, eventually, lead to dismissal. Each time the trigger point is hit, the next step is initiated.
P1 has a plan, knows what to do and, importantly, all their employees know exactly what will happen should they be off sick frequently because they are aware of the practice’s sickness policy.
P2 doesn’t have trigger points in their policy. Instead, they meet with the employee on their return to work and ask them why they keep having regular absences. However, if the employee cannot explain their reasoning, the practice manager can urge caution to the employee, but has no plan in relation to where they go next – misconduct, disciplinary or capability? Do they need to refer to occupational health? Nothing seems to fit, and the next steps aren’t so clear.
Potentially, this could give the impression to other employees that there are no consequences for being off sick – which is why it is important to review your policies on a regular basis.
A good PM will want to support poorly staff if they need to be off work for an extended period, and it’s also important that the employee can see that they care about them. However, the PM needs to balance business and people needs; an employee needs time, patience and support, while the business needs people in work. So, what can you do?
The answer is to try and fall somewhere in the middle; offer consistent support to the employee, but also have a procedure and plan in place to ensure that it doesn’t feel like nothing is being done, and to make sure the situation doesn’t continue indefinitely.
P1 has a sickness procedure that details when an occupational health appointment should be made – between four-to-eight weeks. This sets the ball rolling for the next step of the absence, such as when might the employee return, how can the practice support them, and how long the practice can support their absence.
P1’s procedure states that they must contact the employee every two-to-four weeks for updates (recommended), and to be in contact, and have meetings, whilst the employee is off sick – making adjustments to ensure that the employee can attend, such as hosting the meetings over a weblink.
P2, on the other hand, is not sure whether (or how often) they should make contact and only thinks a referral to occupational health should be done when the absence is starting to feel a little bit too long – they’re not sure how long the situation might run for, or whether they can get any temporary cover in the meantime. In P2, the practice manager does not feel that they have any control of the situation.
Every situation is different
Every situation and employee are different – common sense and consideration should always be applied. If you know that an employee is off regularly to attend hospital appointments, for example, this could be discussed in the sickness meetings and, in such a case, it might be deemed inappropriate to act on trigger points. There should always be a degree of flexibility.
Finally, don’t let policies and procedures restrict you – you should still use your own judgement, but be sure to back it up. Having the right policies in place will actually help to lighten your load by using recommended, tried-and-tested methods to support you to effectively manage your team.