Optometric Management Tip # 180   -   Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Avoiding Staff Burnout

A few weeks ago, I addressed the topic of doctor burnout, and a colleague asked if I had any tips for staff burnout. It’s an important issue that’s worthy of your attention because if your staff has a poor attitude or low morale, you’re practice will suffer. Staff burnout can be characterized by a lack of motivation, rude behavior toward patients or co-workers, a crabby attitude or just plain apathy.

The potential damage

Patient perception of your entire practice is largely based on what they experience with your staff. From the first phone call, followed by the initial greeting, through the clinical and optical services and ending with the financial billing, your staff has a huge impact on how patients’ think of the practice. Doctors and office managers are often so busy; they may not even monitor how receptionists and technicians act with patients. Most are professional and do a great job, but we’ve all been to plenty of doctors’ offices where the staff treats patients as if they were a bother, or worse. It happens.

Just as much damage can occur to a practice when petty infighting occurs between staff members. If employees are unhappy, they can cause riffs, hold grudges and create cliques. Interdepartmental conflicts can cause patient service to suffer. Employee turnover increases, which further erodes service quality and is costly.

Organizational culture runs deep

While there is no magic answer to developing great employee attitudes, a savvy business leader can make a big difference. At the core of a happy staff is high job satisfaction and a healthy organizational culture. While this topic is too extensive to cover in a short article, you can use some common sense to evaluate your office culture and consider what makes any employee happy on the job. Excellent salary and benefits are important, but so is respect from one’s boss and from peers. Everyone has a need to be appreciated, accepted and highly valued.

Here are a few ideas that might provide a quick, positive influence on staff morale, but don’t forget to work on the deeper issues.

Communication

Employees need to be in touch with their boss. Always hold a weekly staff meeting, at a regular time. If there are no issues to discuss (hard to believe) then just talk about things in general. Ask questions of your staff and seriously consider their input (their morale is improving already). What problems have they encountered in the past week? What are some things patients complain about? What seems like a waste of time?

Cross-training

Learning new skills can do wonders for an employee’s outlook. See if your staff has any interest in learning additional skills in other departments. Of course, there needs to be some perceived benefit to the employee, like potential for a raise, otherwise it just feels like more work. But, if your practice benefits from the increased staff flexibility, a raise is in order and is a small price to pay. One of the most stressful times in any office is when a staff person is out sick or on vacation, but a clinical technician who can also do a frame selection and dispense glasses can greatly aid the situation. How about a lab technician who can also perform clinical pre-testing? During a busy time, a receptionist who can also perform a basic frame delivery and adjustment can turn a long patient wait into a 3-minute service.

Increased delegation

Like cross-training, delegating more duties causes staff to feel good about their contribution. Some optometric employees feel they have few opportunities for growth. Learning new skills and taking on more responsibility is job growth.

Staff attendance at CE meetings

Develop a program to send your staff to continuing education meetings and eye care conferences. This would be a new employment benefit, which is an immediate boost, but actually attending a meeting always recharges one’s batteries. When staff members listen to expert lecturers, it expands their horizons and gives them renewed motivation that transfers back to the practice. Staffers enjoy talking to other eye care professionals and visiting the frame, lens and equipment exhibit areas. You may decide to close your office for a few days while the whole staff attends a national or state optometric convention, or develop a fair policy that allows employees to rotate with time off to attend conferences. Consider having your practice pay hourly wages for the time spent in class, plus all travel and registration expenses.

Office activities

Organizing an occasional out-of-office event is a great way to promote a unified staff. Consider placing an employee (or a committee) in charge of the arrangements, with final approval by the doctor. Here are a few ideas:
Best wishes for continued success,

Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management