OD Practice Owners Absolutely Must Step up for Their Employees
If you own an optometry practice, chances are you’ve had one of those days. The kind of day where nothing seems to go right.
First, one of your optometric technicians calls out sick. Then, a front desk staff member needs to rush home to deal with a flooded kitchen. But while any clinician or optometry practice owner dreads these moments, they can actually be defining moments of your practice: the times that build the most morale among employees, and increase long term loyalty and camaraderie among your staff.
Whether days like this cause your staff to update their LinkedIn profiles or order more company tee-shirts depends on one thing: You. More specifically, how you handle the situation.
A tough day separates optometry practice owners from optometry practice leaders. An optometry practice owner sits back and lets a problem fester, assuming that the support staff will take on additional roles and manage a clinic.
On the other hand, an optometry practice leader is someone who truly steps up to the plate and accepts responsibility for steering the ship in short-staffed situations.
Dr. Patricia Fulmer, O.D., F.A.A.O. is a private practice owner and one of the team members at CovalentCareers, Inc. She points out that one of the worst things for a busy clinic to be is understaffed, as it causes the flow of the clinic to become interrupted and ruins the patient experience. One of the most valuable assets to a clinic is a strong patient referral network, so compromising the patient experience should be avoided at all costs for the health of the business.
Dr. Fulmer notes that, while it can be tempting to let the chaos unfold and stick to treating patients, you must remember that you’re the one the team looks to for guidance. She adds, “If you’re the doctor, especially in any kind of supervisor role, you’ve got to be ready to step up and do what needs to be done.”
She points out that this can vary, depending on who is out that day. You might wind up answering the phone. “You might check out a patient, or even work up a patient for yourself,” she adds. “But when you do that, not only does it make the day run smoother, it also shows the staff that you’re part of the team as well.”
She is correct; it’s vital that you show your team that you’re willing to step up and do whatever tasks need to be done; you’re not just going to sit back and see patients while everyone else runs around, stressed.
Dr. Fulmer points out that these short-staffed situations aren’t always limited to a single day. They can last a month or longer. But the health of your clinic and staff depends on you taking ownership of the situation and having an “it can be done” attitude, along with keeping the lines of communication open while things are tough.
“Tell them you appreciate them,” she advises. “Tell them that you know they’re doing the job of three people, but you just need them to bear with you.”
If your staff understands that you’re working on improving the situation, and truly appreciate the extra work they’ve taken on, they’re much less likely to resent you and start updating their resumes.
“If they see you stepping up to help out and taking the steps to find the right match for the staff vacancy, they’re more likely to do the same thing, and take on more roles,” says Dr. Fulmer.
Leading by example is the key here. If your staff sees you taking initiative to improve an unpleasant situation, they will follow suit. If they see you - the doctor, the leader - kicking back and taking a blase attitude toward the situation, they will do the same.
“Morale starts to suffer,” says Fulmer. “They stop working so hard. They start to resent the job and start to resent you and the practice itself.”
Improving poor morale starts with you.
Successful practices are successful because everyone pitches in during tough times, including the doctors and practice owners themselves.