Optometric Management Tip # 351   -   Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Staff relationships: how chummy should you be?

How can you control staff attitude? You can't control it. You can only foster it, develop it and encourage it. Ruling employees with an iron fist is not the best approach for a professional service business like ours. I advise practice owners and managers to think about employees as if they are internal customers. Just as we care about customers' wants and needs, we should do the same for employees. Ask yourself why an employee should choose to work in your practice over all the other jobs in the area? What is so great about working in your office? Owners and managers expect employees to be happy and friendly all the time but what's in it for the worker? Is it the pay and benefits? If not that, then what else is there? The other things revolve around organizational culture and asking questions like these is the first step to improving it.

Organizational culture

One of the most important things you can do to enhance practice success is to develop a positive organizational culture. But how do you do that, exactly? Most of us are not even sure what it is. Organizational behavior is a complex subject, but if we simplify it for purposes of this newsletter, we can assume it refers to how employees feel about their job and the unwritten rules that govern how things are done at work. It's important because your office culture is the key factor that influences staff attitude and we all know the huge impact that has on patient service.

A friendly, caring staff member creates loyal, happy patients who buy more and refer more. A grouchy, rude employee causes patients to complain about fees at best and to change doctors at worst.

Look within

Evaluate your practice with regard to the following elements of organizational culture. Consider asking a high level staff member for objective input.

How chummy should you be?

Optometrists have asked me how close they should be with their staff members. I think that is an enlightened question. At least these practitioners are moving beyond a stone wall of silence and disinterest that separates some practitioners from their staffs. But there is concern that if the practice owner takes an interest in the personal lives of employees that a personal friendship may develop or try to develop.

There is probably room for all kinds of relationships; there are many examples of husband and wife teams that succeed along with many more relationships. In general, however, it may not be advisable for the boss to be a close friend to a worker, in my opinion. I think a genuine interest in the personal lives of employees is a good thing. Taking time to ask staff members about their families and their personal interests develops a congenial office culture. The relationship can remain office-based and need not extend into after work times, except for the occasional office social activity which is open to all staff.

I would be pleased to see friendships develop among co-workers. I am tolerant of some personal conversations in the office as long as they are kept in balance with work and never allowed to be seen or heard by patients. We want the office to be a pleasant place to work and it's smart to view it from the staff member's point of view.

Best wishes for continued success,

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