One of the things we notice when doctors are starting a new practice is that they often grow their staff numbers quickly. Mostly, this is done because there is no formal plan for staff growth and engaging new employees is done on an ad hoc basis.
Staff are easy to hire but not so easy to fire. Therefore, much thought should go into your practice before another staff member is hired. Staff salaries are usually responsible for a large percentage of your expenses. Here’s a list of alternatives we recommend you consider before hiring.
1. Increasing Hours Worked by Existing Staff
Can you ask existing staff work overtime or more hours than they are currently undertaking? It might be worth putting out a memo to existing staff (especially casual or part-time staff) asking if anyone would like to work more hours and if so, could they submit a list of days and times when they would be available to work.
It is also important to ensure staff are not taking excessive time off work from hours they have scheduled already. This can be done by minimising workplace stress through creating a pleasant working environment, encouraging team bonding, allowing flexible work schedules, and ensuring business owners and managers are available to listen to any employee concerns.
2. Increasing Productivity and Efficiency
Can any employees undertaking training to improve their skills or effectiveness in their role? Can you find a way to reward staff for any suggestions they have to increase productivity? A gift voucher might be a good way to reward the best suggestion each month from staff members.
Can you “re-design” jobs. That is, list all the jobs/tasks that need to be done within the practice and then list all existing staff and match the tasks to the staff until you have assigned all of the tasks away. This might result in staff changing roles completely or just being assigned additional tasks to what they are currently doing. Grouping tasks together by type is logical, and ultimately results in higher productivity within your practice. This big picture re-design approach might save the need for hiring new staff.
And of course, you could always offer productivity bonuses to staff based on a tangible amount of work done. In order to do this it is important that you ensure staff are given objectives that are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed) and then ensure that these objectives are tracked and if met, the appropriate bonus is given.
Another idea is to ensure staff avoid lots of “task switching”. When an employee switches frequently between a lot of simple tasks, they become slower at doing them all. It is better to have staff focus on less tasks for longer if you want to get more out of them. Studies show that not only do you lose time from task switching, but you are also more prone to errors.
3. Using Technology
Is there a way you can use computers, cloud software, apps, or other technology to take care of tasks that would otherwise require a new staff member? This works best when you ensure all your technology is up-to-date and well serviced.
For example if you use Xero for your bookkeeping and accounting, head on over to the Xero ‘App Marketplace’ (https://www.xero.com/au/marketplace/) and you will find a bunch of add-ons to Xero for all types of industries and for all types of tasks. There may be just the right app available to do a job that will save you hiring another employee.
Some practices have even implemented an “iPad Receptionist” (an iPad on a purpose-built stand) to help check in patients, collect patient details and other tasks rather than employ a second receptionist to do this task when the first receptionist is busy on a phone call or billing a patient. Other practices have check in available via a mobile phone app. Also having online patient bookings can also free up valuable receptionist time.
It also very common now to use electronic systems and strive for a paperless office which can help free up time spent by staff on routine tasks. Multiple monitors for each workstation can help with viewing multiple documents at once to make data entry faster. Also ensure that for new staff, part of your induction process includes showing them and training them on all the technology that you implement to ensure it gets utilised.
4. Engaging People without Employing Them
Some tasks in a practice might be able to be done by people that you do not directly employee e.g. contractors, outsourcing (particularly for marketing, websites, and IT) and virtual employees (we have even seen services offering virtual practice managers and virtual receptionists). Services like Airtasker (a service which allows its users to outsource everyday tasks to other people) are becoming more popular for small, one-off jobs.
5. Retain your Existing Employees
It is also important to note, that it is important to keep existing employees happy because having to replace them is costly. You have costs of recruiting and costs of training. Also, when staff leave, the morale of existing staff can be affected, and this can reduce productivity. Existing staff may have to work extra to pick up the slack while a replacement is found. So part of avoiding hiring new staff is doing your best to retain existing staff. This might involve communication any career path within your practice (e.g. reception to senior receptionists to practice manager), promoting a great workplace culture, and minimising workplace stress as previously discussed. Also benchmark your salaries to ensure that they are competitive.
Staff are an important asset to any business, and they should be looked after well and utilised effectively, but this means that they are also expensive to hire and train, especially when you could get a similar result without taking a new staff member on.
Regardless of the above tips, before you hire an employee you should always look at your financial reports to see if there is enough profit and cashflow to carry another employee (ask your accountant if unsure).