3 ways to optimize performance of working moms at your practice

Tomorrow is my son's seventh birthday and I'm baking his cake as I type. Not many occupations lend themselves to this level of multitasking. But as a mom who spent many years working in an office environment, I'd like to share some insights into ways your practice can help the moms on your payroll succeed in both roles.

First, a couple of disclaimers. I know that juggling work and parenting is not specific to women. However, medical practice employees are predominantly female and I'm writing from my own perspective. If you do want to know how the following advice might apply to any working dads in your office, I strongly suggest you ask them!

Also, I'm not advocating 'special treatment' for moms or any other type of employee. But I do believe that it is smart business to be proactive about helping a huge swath of your workforce manage common conflicts. Failure to do so can result in definite consequences to your bottom line.

"We've seen something as simple as a receptionist who suddenly has a change in daycare and has to take off right at 5:00, and because of that quits scheduling patients at 3:30," Marc D. Halley, MBA, president and chief executive officer of Ohio-based Halley Consulting Group, recently told FiercePracticeManagement. "Once we look at those trends and identify why volume is dropping, the practice can help the staff member deal with his or her issue. Recognizing that turns that volume back on again," he said.

So, with no further ado, here are my top 3 tips for making work-life better for moms:

1. End the stigma

Take a hard look at your practice culture. If one of your employees was in the same situation as the woman described above, would she feel that it was acceptable to ask for help making sure she left work right on time? Even in 2014, it's not uncommon to see employees of both genders fawn over a man dedicated enough to his children to leave work early when the need arises--yet snarl that a a woman is unprofessional for doing it.

Whether or not this is the climate at your office, what matters is how comfortable the female employee feels being honest about her needs. When I first went back to my office part-time after my son was born, I put a lot of energy into making sure my reduced schedule didn't inconvenience anyone else, and I stayed more connected to work on my days off than I'd have liked. No one told me I had to do this--it was self-inflicted pressure to be on top of all my responsibilities at all times. But these feelings are very common and super powerful.

How great would it be for new moms (or new hires with children) to have managers put them at ease upfront? Far from granting a free pass, you could start the conversation with something like this: "If you have a childcare conflict or any problem crop up when balancing work and home, I want you to tell me about it so we can solve it together. This is not a place you have to conceal your responsibilities as a parent or feel judged about needing accommodations sometimes."

2. Preempt coverage emergencies

Most moms excel at engineering and carrying out even the most complicated of daily routines. But disuptions occur even among the best-laid plans--and contingency plans. The likelihood of hiccups increases exponentially during times such as unexpected school cancelations and daycare closures, sick days (for parent and/or child) and holidays.

Remember that an employee who can't stay "just five minutes" late isn't a poor team player, but subject to another layer of inflexible rules. Daycare facilities often charge by the minute for late pickup, for example, while bus drivers in some communities can't drop young children off without a parent or guardian present.

For these reasons and others, experts recommend you cross-train your employees to allow them to move nimbly throughout your office functions when you are understaffed. As managers, it's also good to have a sense of which employees operate under rigid family schedules and those who are more easily available in a pinch. Also note that the same individual could move back and forth from either category over time, and even seasonally.

3. Encourage connection

The after-school hours between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. provoke a lot of anxiety for parents, making many eager to hear from their children during this time to find out what they're up to and ensure they're safe. But if you discourage cellphone use at your office and want to minimize the disruption of many check-in calls coming at once, consider giving employees direct-dial extensions to receive calls without tying up the switchboard, Ken Hertz, a principal consultant with the Medical Group Management Association, recently told FPM.

This suggestion relates back to my earlier point about candidness. If you want engaged and productive employees, don't put them in a position that encourages white lies or secrecy. Acknowledge that there is life outside of your practice--for everyone--and facilitate appropriate ways to keep it in balance. Something as simple as making that after-school phone call easier will not only erase employees' distraction of wondering whether their children are safe, but will also send the message that you care about their well-being.

And if your employees feel supported and appreciated, they'll be a lot more likely to extend that same sincerity to your patients. - Deb (@PracticeMgt)