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The thorny issue of start times

by in GP Practice Management, Staff, Time management

There’s always one. They’re contracted to start work at 12:30pm sharp, but at 12:30 on the dot you see them strolling across the car park before they come in, dump their bag on their chair, say hi to everyone, make themselves a cuppa, go to the loo, and finally start work at 12:45.

This is commonplace in all lines of work. Some people diligently ensure they’re at work earlier than needs be, just so they can get prepared, others show little regard for actually starting their work on time.

While in GP practices, this is usually more likely to be the case with those working the afternoon shift. Employees who start in the morning have to be in early and make sure the practice is set up for the day – according to a forum user this process involves the time to “switch on, log in, get all the files/folders out, unlock the door, put the rubbish out, and generally get everything ready to have their hands hovering over the telephones for the 8am rush.”

So the question is: how do we ensure that everyone starts working when they’re contracted to do so? And, what approaches can you can take if you’re dealing with a particularly tardy – and tricky – employee?

Time is money

According to 2014 research from Salary.com, 60% of us waste between half an hour to an hour each working day. Given the further rise of social media in the years since, with the frequent distractions that it causes, it’s likely this number has increased even more.

Then there are smokers. They might always arrive on time (or even a few minutes early), but can take prolonged ten-minute breaks up to four times per day. But that’s fine, right? Whilst smoking certainly isn’t as accepted as it used to be, especially for those working in any capacity within healthcare, smokers are still often afforded some leniency when it comes to taking breaks.

Wasted time at work is an age-old issue. As a manager, you have a tough task: your team doesn’t want you to infantilise them by demanding that they ‘do this’ or ‘don’t do that’, but you also need to maintain their levels of productivity.

And it’s not just about presenteeism. Just because you’re at your desk doesn’t mean that you’re working – we don’t want our employees to be robots, but if they spend all day speaking to their colleagues then they’re hardly being effective.

In a GP practice, this issue is all the more serious. Having receptionist or backroom staff shirk their duties in favour of chatting to one another, making cups of tea, or whatever it may be, ultimately damages your practice’s ability to provide local residents with the healthcare they need.

Asking too much?

However, there’s another side to this argument. As much as we all want to improve productivity, you can’t actually mandate an employee to come into work before their contracted start time – can you?

Your response might be that employees need to be ready to work (their computer turned on and with them logged on) on the nose of their contracted start time. However, this process takes time. Are we suggesting that the time this takes is to be unpaid? Whilst it might only equate to a maximum of 5 minutes, the principle of enforcing unpaid time won’t sit well with many people.


An alternative way to think about this issue is that your contract doesn’t stipulate when you should arrive at work, but rather when you should begin work. Therefore, if it takes you ten minutes to faff about and get yourself ready, make sure that happens before your start time.

Potential solutions

As mentioned before, this problem generally applies to those who come into work in the afternoon. Therefore, how about the following potential remedies:

  1. Pay morning staff for their extra time

If they’re regularly coming in early and putting the extra work in, they need to be financially rewarded. It won’t be that much extra in their paycheck, but at least this way the morning staff will feel like their hard work is being recognised.

  1. Employ a rota system

How about regularly rotating those who work in the morning and those who work in the evening? This may of course not be feasible given some employees’ family (or other) commitments. However, given the extra amount of work that needs to be done each morning when setting the practice up for the day, it’s only fair.

  1. Delayed start, delayed leave

You could always implement a simple policy where if you arrive late then you leave late. It’s fairly easy nowadays to check when an employee has logged on to their computer, so this will provide you with an irrefutable timestamp.

The only potential roadblock is if people arrive at work but immediately have to handle something that’s not on their computer – you don’t want your staff eschewing important pressing tasks just so they can log on to their computer.


No practice manager wants to have to smother their employees. That being said, they also want their members of staff to arrive, and more importantly to start working, on time.

If you’ve got a recurring issue with one of your employees, you’re far from alone. How you decide to deal with it, though, is a matter of personal choice.

What are your thoughts on the issue? Let us know in the comments section below. Or share your views on the Practice Index Forum.


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Practice Index

Practice Index

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