Optometric Management Tip # 357   -   Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Staff: Too Many or Too Few

Sometimes it seems like every day is an exercise in balancing the number of employees on hand. One day we will have two people call in sick on top of two others who had scheduled vacation days and the office will be hectic and stressful. On another day, a doctor will be off and the staff on duty will be standing around with nothing to do. Here are some tips for adjusting your staff on any given day so you are close to the proper number.

What is the proper number?

This article will concentrate on ways to adjust the number of employees on hand based on unusual circumstances, assuming your level of staffing is correct in general. In other words, we can have an acute staff problem if several people call off work unexpectedly, or we could have a chronic staff problem if you have too few employees for the size of your practice. The correct staffing level is best determined by observing the practice in action over time and we should also consider other aspects like the overall marketing strategy and pricing philosophy of the practice. There is always an ebb and flow of activity in an eye care office, so owners and managers must accept that there will be times when a patient has to wait a short period and there will be times when employees are standing around chatting. Over time, there should not be too much of either situation.

There are some benchmarks that can be useful, but I consider these as rules of thumb that must be refined through practice observation.

Too many staff

Here are some ideas if you are faced with a day where you have too many employees on duty. If some of your staff is paid on an hourly basis, you could ask for volunteers who would like to go home.

Another way to approach the extra staff issue is to have plenty of projects and tasks to assign. There are probably many things that could help your practice that are not part of anyone's daily duties.

Too few staff

If patient services will suffer when staff members call off work, you can call other employees who are not scheduled to see if they wish to work. Obviously, such special requests should not occur too often or they will become annoyances for the employees and will adversely affect morale. But staff members who pitch in and help the practice when possible are generally highly regarded when it comes time for salary reviews. It doesn't hurt to ask, but we can't demand an employee work extra hours. Keep in mind that if an hourly employee exceeds a 40 hour work week, you should pay time and one half wages. Don't succumb to employees who want the extra hours and tell you they don't need time and a half. State law typically requires it and it's better to pay it than face a labor review later.

Here are a few other ideas:

Best wishes for continued success,

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