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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor January 24, 2007 - Tip #262 
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Staffing Ideas When Doctor Takes Vacation

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Additional Information

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. I'll 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 it's important to keep the office open during normal business hours.

You need a manager

It's 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 don't 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
  • Observe that all employees show up for work on time
  • Assign work duties and monitor progress throughout the day
  • Coordinate lunch breaks
  • Supervise general office procedures and patient service
  • Make decisions about any problems that come up
  • Make daily bank deposits and reconcile the cash drawer
  • Close the office properly
Even if all employees choose to not take time off during the doctor's 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 "can-do" attitude may earn special appreciation from the boss, don't 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.
  • Write a procedure manual. Most offices have a policy manual, which describes the rules of the office, but very few have a manual that describes how to do the actual jobs of all employees. This is very valuable when you are training new people and even more so if you sell your practice. Just tell groups of employees to write down every step of their jobs, type it up and save it as a computer file. Just list how they do what they do. It will be a thick manual. Include digital photos of clinical instruments or business machines.
  • Computer data entry or clean-up. Are there any data entry tasks that were postponed because you were too busy?
  • Produce a practice newsletter. Write the stories, layout the copy with a software program, work with a printer.
  • Conduct a survey of service quality and patient satisfaction by phone or mail.
  • Train or cross train staff in new areas. Technicians can be taught to perform frame selections. Opticians can perform visual fields. Receptionists can dispense a pair of glasses. Can all techs insert trial contact lenses on another person easily? Is everyone skilled at lensometry? Can more than one person file insurance claims?
  • Put all frames on display into standard adjustment.
  • Purge old patient records and move to remote storage or have extremely old files destroyed.
  • Reorganize trial contact lenses and verify gas permeable trial lenses.
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 volunteers... don't force it. Consider allowing staff to wear blue jeans or other work clothes if appropriate for the task.
  • Plant flowers and work on landscaping
  • Deep clean parts of the office that are often neglected
  • Paint walls and woodwork
  • Wallpaper and decorate
  • Clean out and discard clutter and old contents of storage areas
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 you're gone.
  • Supervise contractors who are doing repairs or remodeling. This could be plumbers, electricians, carpenters, roofers, etc.
  • Supervise new carpet or tile installation.
  • Work with a computer consultant to replace and expand a computer network.
  • Have a security system installed.
Creating a practice that does not depend solely on the owner/doctor for everything is in the owner's best interest. Take some steps toward achieving that while you take a vacation.

Best wishes for continued success,

Read Past Tips Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week

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Send questions and comments to neil@gailmard.com.

Dr. Gailmard offers consulting services to eye care professionals through Prima Eye Group; information is available at www.primaeyegroup.com.

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