Who’s the boss?

Many newly qualified dentists start their careers working in a practice owned by somebody else. In my experience, when starting any new job, it’s necessary to consider three things:

• Employee induction

• Contracts

• Team integration.

Offering an orientation or induction period to a new employee is indicative of a good employer and helps to familiarise the newcomer with their working environment. Providing new members of the team with an accurate and well constructed job description also helps to ensure that they are fully aware of what their job responsibilities are from the outset.

The cornerstone of any employer-employee relationship is based on an accurate understanding of what the boss expects from their worker. This is formally stated by an employment contract, which sets out terms about how the relationship will be governed.

A common source of friction between employers and employees is a breakdown in communication. Invariably, this leads to conflict in which one party blames the other for a breach of process or protocol. A well drafted contract can help to prevent this.

Joining an established team is never easy and successful integration is dependent on how the existing team members take to the new employee. Personal introductions from the principal and early opportunities for team working are good ways of kick-starting the process.

According to a recent series of interviews at three training practices, a good employer is:

• Fair

• Appreciative

• Pays sick leave

• Offers support when things go wrong

• Delivers on their promises.

During the same set of interviews, employers said that a good employee:

• Does what they are paid for

• Appreciates the pressure the employer is under

• Doesn’t always take time off

• Is on time, well mannered and presentable

• Should be committed and loyal to their practice.

The answers are revealing because they demonstrate a set of common themes.

Case study

An employer may dock the pay of an employee if they have had a long period of unauthorised absence. The practice owner is ultimately responsible to the Primary Care Trust (PCT) for their contracted annual UDA target.

If the practice’s activity levels fall below agreed limits, the PCT will want to claw-back some of the contract value. Therefore, the employer is likely to want the employee to be held responsible for any income lost.

The employee may feel unfairly penalised as the absence was due to circumstances that were beyond their control. This situation may have been covered by the employee’s contract, which will reflect the contracted terms agreed with the PCT by the practice owner. However, no amount of employment legislation can ever comprehensively cover the variety of situations that might arise.

The secret of a harmonious relationship between employer and employee is not reliant solely on the law. It’s based on the quality of the inter-personal relationships that are established before the contract is signed and by ensuring a degree of integrity is maintained by all who are party to it.

Dr Susan Willatt is a dento-legal adviser at Dental Protection, the global leader in dental indemnity. For more information about the services the company provides, visit http://www.dentalprotection.org.

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