Optometric Management Tip # 262   -   Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Staffing Ideas When Doctor Takes Vacation

One of the problems with owning your own practice is that if you take a nice, long, well-deserved vacation, the practice income virtually stops. And even if you make peace with that, which you should, the practice expenses keep coming. A colleague and regular tip reader recently emailed and asked if I had any suggestions on what to do about being overstaffed when he takes a vacation.

Ask for volunteers

I would not impose mandatory time off on employees or pressure them to take vacation days when the owner/practitioner does, but there is no harm in asking if employees would like some extra time off without pay. This time off would not count against personal days or vacation days, it is just extra free time. Some staff may welcome it.

If you are still overstaffed during the vacation period, I would assign one or more special projects to key employees. Iíll provide some ideas below.

Of course, some staff members are needed to just to operate the office as usual, so determine that number first. Some of the usual duties are: answer phones, make appointments, sort mail, enter payments, run recall notices, print statements, check in optical jobs, dispense eyewear, call patients, repair and adjust glasses. The number of people you need each day depends on the size of your office, but I think itís important to keep the office open during normal business hours.

You need a manager

Itís important that there is someone who will look out for the productivity of the office and who has the authority to direct staff while the doctor is away. In many offices, the doctor is the only boss. I donít think that is the best arrangement and I believe virtually every practice should have a manager, even if the staff is small. Having a manager is very helpful when the doctor is on vacation, but even when working, the doctor is generally too busy to observe most staff activities.

A true manager will Even if all employees choose to not take time off during the doctorís vacation, a manager may ask again if anyone would like to go home early on any given day. Many employees will take advantage of such an opportunity on the spur of the moment and that reduces payroll costs.

Special office projects

Doctor vacation days offer the perfect time to conduct some special projects that would normally not be convenient if patients were being seen. There are plenty of tasks that will be within the usual scope of typical office job descriptions, but others are clearly outside of that realm. I would be sensitive about asking staff to perform duties that are outside of the norm for their job. Some employees will be happy to pitch in and perform any job they are capable of for the good of the office, while others will be clearly insulted. If you ask for help with unusual jobs, do so without implying any pressure if an employee wishes to decline. Use good judgment. While an employee with a ďcan-doĒ attitude may earn special appreciation from the boss, donít upset staff morale if someone chooses to opt out of a strange assignment.

Here are some projects for staff to do while the boss is away. Unusual projects

Here are some more ideas, but they are outside of the usual office tasks, so much depends on your staff. If the job is far outside the job description, ask for volunteersÖ donít force it. Consider allowing staff to wear blue jeans or other work clothes if appropriate for the task. Days without patients may also be the perfect time to have contractors and other service people perform work. You could assign a staff member to coordinate and supervise the work while youíre gone. Creating a practice that does not depend solely on the owner/doctor for everything is in the ownerís best interest. Take some steps toward achieving that while you take a vacation.
Best wishes for continued success,

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