Answering your questions on handling two weeks notice and governing use of personal cell phones at work

Edited by Christopher S. Frings PhD, CSP

Answering your questions on handling two weeks notice and governing use of personal cell phones at work

Managing a two weeks notice

Q: Our policy requires
nonsupervisory staff to give a minimum of a two weeks termination notice to leave our laboratory in good standing. It is difficult even to get another person hired in two weeks, and then with orientation and training, it takes months to bring them up to the necessary productivity. How do the panelists deal with this short notice?

A: According to Larry Crolla, Two
weeks is the norm, although, as you point out, it is insufficient to gain the lost productivity. You will not usually get people to give you more time; some will even give you less. The best solution is to make sure you have good training and orientation programs. Another idea is to make sure you are paying at competitive rates and that your lab is a fun place to work, so that people leaving is not a regular occurrence. Outside of these preparations, I know of no magic to help in this situation.

Terry Jo Gile advises, When staffing shortages occur, it is time to get creative. I have records dating back to 1983, so I know when staff leave. For me, it is May, July and November. Knowing that, I try to start advertising and marketing three to six months before those times, even if I dont have openings, knowing I will have some soon. That way, you have applicants in the pipeline ready to go. You might also consider PRN positions for former emplyees who have quit, but might enjoy the opportunity to work occasionally to fill in and keep their skills current.

Alton Sturtevant acknowledges, This is a difficult issue to deal with and is one that cannot ever be simple in this day of our mobile society. A good first step, of course, is to have an estimate of how often this has happened in the past so that you can estimate future trends. I have always felt that cross-training within or across departments is the best way to prepare for personnel shortages or for unexpected testing volume increases. Having up-to-date training checklists and procedure manuals is necessary for this protocol and should be standard at all times. Automation helps with a shortage of staff as well, but most labs automate to reduce labor as a routine. A plan to send out tests that are not of an emergency nature to your reference laboratory or a sister facility during extreme staff shortages may be a viable plan. If this is an option, be sure to plan ahead of time.

Dr. Sturtevant recommends, Using temporary staff or part-time staff as full-time employees can also be a solution. In this case, you would need to have the personnel trained ahead of time. Moving regular staff to the more difficult testing areas and using the part-timers in the more routine areas would be one approach. Again, a plan and good training checklists and SOPs are a must. Some communities do not discourage personnel from working at other local hospitals to make extra money. This would give a jump on the time when you are short and need immediate relief. We have also found those former employees who left on good terms (i.e., retirement or moving up in management) make good fill-in personnel. Basically, a combination plan is probably the most workable way to address this inevitable situation.

Marti Bailey adds, You need to have ongoing contingency plans for handling staff vacancies. The best time to plan how youll cover the next vacancy is when youre fully staffed, rather than waiting until you have a vacancy and are in crisis. The following are some things for you to consider that might help you to cope with staffing vacancies:

  • Cross-training: Although specialization is important, some degree of cross-training is imperative. Whatever your level of cross-training is now, consider increasing it by some degree. I believe that the best way to handle cross-training is to select only the best people, only those who want to do it, and then reward them accordingly for their broader range of skills. There are people who can fill in on short notice without having day-to-day contact with the work and still do a very good job.
  • Hiring the best-qualified people: Its more important than ever that you have a hiring process that helps you to select the best candidate for each opening. Hiring experienced, highly qualified, well-rounded candidates can go a long way toward minimizing the interval between hire and full productivity.
  • Retention: Knowing the impact of a vacancy, you want to be sure that your turnover rate isnt excessive and that folks arent leaving for the wrong reasons.
  • Exit interviews: When conducted by your human resources department and subsequent sharing of information, this is the best way to detect whether your lab is a good place to work or not. If there are problems, they need to be addressed if you want to break the cycle.
  • Training plan: Have a group examine your training plan, looking for ways to streamline and get new hires up to full speed faster. Maybe its unrealistic to train for everything at once, rather than mastering a portion of the work duties incrementally. Youll need to think out of the box on this one.
  • Reallocation: Give some careful thought to whether or not your staff is appropriately allocated across lab sections. It might make sense to shift a person to cover a vacancy until that opening can be filled.
  • Per diems: Consider getting approval to hire folks who are willing to work on an occasional per-diem basis. The best choice is former employees who were trained in your lab and then left to raise families, retire, etc. We have had good success in bridging vacancies and also vacations and leaves using per-diem or casual employees. There is no real commitment on either part. We dont promise long-term employment, and neither does the employee. When a good relationship develops, both sides win.

Bottom line. Two weeks notice and one months notice for nonsupervisory and supervisory personnel, respectively, are the rules rather than the exceptions in 2002. Ways to help cope with staffing vacancies include cross-training, per-diem personnel, part-time personnel, making your lab the fun place to work, paying a little more than the going rate, and hiring the best people.

Use of personal cell phones at work

Q: Almost everyone in the lab has
a personal cell phone that they bring to work. There seem to be a lot of incoming calls on these cell phones, as one of them seems to be ringing or making a strange noise almost every time I go into the lab. Any suggestions about what to do?

A: It is the same abuse situation
whether employees use company phones or their personal cell phones to receive personal calls during work. Using a personal cell phone does not tie up a lab phone; however, it is still a distraction that can lead to errors in ones work.

Larry Crolla points out, Most labs have a personal call policy. This policy should apply to phones in the lab and phones they bring into the lab. We all know how distracting our business calls can be; personal calls make this distraction even worse. Discuss this with the staff and make sure you have a policy in place that addresses this situation.

According to Alton Sturtevant, This is a very real problem and can be a very sticky issue to solve. The beginning of the solution would be to consult the personnel policies to determine if the issue is addressed there. There is usually a section addressing personal phone use and/or employee rules of conduct that can address the issue. If not, then ask for advice from human resources. We address this issue through several policies. Our telephone usage policy states that personal calls should be limited to breaks or meals except in emergencies. The policy also states that excessive personal calls are defined as more than two calls per day. Employee conduct and work rules prohibit boisterous or disruptive activity in the workplace. Violations of these policies will result in disciplinary actions. We feel that if personal phones are allowed into the workplace, all of the above rules apply. In addition, the phones should either be turned off or put in the silent mode while in the workplace to prevent disruption. Management has the right and responsibility to control all disruptive activities within your laboratory. They should not hesitate to take action on this issue. If you cannot get guidance from HR or published policies, then a uniform policy should be adopted to address the issue.

Marti Bailey advises, Other than for rare emergency phone calls, using personal cell phones during working hours is probably analogous to conducting other personal activities, such as paying bills, reading novels, using the Internet, writing letters, etc. On-duty work time belongs to your employer, and using paid time for personal reasons is time theft no exceptions. With the frequency that youre seeing, the time to develop a policy might be overdue. There are hospitals that have restrictions on cell phone use. You may want to check into whether yours has one, and if so, whether it provides guidelines applicable to your situation. Restrict cell phone use to employees break times. As long as there is a way for employees to be contacted for emergencies using company phones and phone lines, there is no need for personal cell phones. You might have to go so far as to ban cell phones from bench lab space. Theres no question in my mind that what youre seeing now will probably only escalate unless you implement a policy. Unless used for work itself, cell phone use on the job is disruptive and robs an employer of productive time.

Bottom line. Incorporate the use of cell phones into your phone policy. You can probably bring the policy up to date by inserting the following every time the word phone is mentioned: (includes personal cell phones). Restrict cell phone use to employees lunch and break times. Have personal emergency calls run through the lab phones and not the cell phones.

Christopher S. Frings is an internationally known consultant and speaker on the topics of leadership, managing change, time management, reaching goals, and stress management. His consulting firm, Chris Frings & Associates, is in Birmingham, AL.

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