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I think it's smart management for a practice to supply uniforms as an employee
benefit. I know it's a significant expense to do it right, but I see uniforms as an
investment in the practice image and the return is excellent. Cutting costs is a
short term strategy that can result in a downward cycle of reduced service,
which usually results in less spending per patient and fewer referrals, which may
create the need for more cost-cutting. It's a bad cycle. Spending money on the
right things in the practice stimulates employee morale and customer service
improves. An upward cycle is created. Great looking outfits create a feeling of
confidence and pride among employees that is perceived by patients.
The alternative to making uniforms a benefit is to allow staff to wear what they
want within some kind of dress code or to specify a uniform and require staff to
purchase it. In either case, the practice loses some control over the appearance,
the quality and the condition of the clothing.
What style is best?
The choice of uniform style is really a matter of personal taste and is up to the
practice owner. There is really no right or wrong. Well, I guess there are some
wrongs, but hopefully you'll know them when you see them. Much depends on
the desired image of the practice, which can vary from chic optical boutique to
medical practice to economical big box store. You may have to try a few
different looks before you settle on the right one.
Staff members generally have very strong opinions about uniforms and it's
unlikely that you can completely please everyone and yourself, but it's still smart
to listen to employee preferences. Meet with your staff and discuss the issues
with the preface that everyone will have to compromise to some degree. Realize
that people are naturally sensitive about how they look in clothing and may not
want to share personal aspects about their bodies, so be considerate and
patient. The practice owner should have the final decision about uniforms
because the practice image is at stake.
The little details
Ordering uniforms is not for the faint of heart. Be forearmed with the following
- Many uniforms that offer a bit more style do not come in a wide range of
sizes. Some practices need uniforms from very small to very large. Know
your size range as you begin to search.
- Buy a test sample of the uniform and have staff members try it on and
then wash it to see how it looks after washing. You may need a few
- Choose a company that's easy to return products to. JC Penny catalog is
very easy to work with and you can have things delivered and returned
via UPS. We also use a local uniform shop and have good results with the
Cherokee brand. Many styles are viewable online.
- I like to see the practice name and logo embroidered or screened on the
breast of the shirt or jacket.
- Realize that if you supply a set of uniforms every six months, many
employees will wash the items 26 times. Many clothing items begin to
look shabby after that many washes. I think twice per year is about
- Employees need enough tops since no one washes clothes every day. A
good uniform set is five tops, two pants and one lab coat or smock.
- You might want to have a summer look and a winter look, with short and
long sleeved tops.
- It's smart to include a smock or jacket in the uniform set or allow personal
cardigan sweaters, because personal temperature preferences vary
among individuals. You want employees to be comfortable and not argue
over the office thermostat setting.
- To promote a team look, consider having all staff members wear the same
color on specific days of the week (Monday is blue, Tuesday is green,
etc.). Or, have just one color scheme with slight variations so people can
wear various combinations and still coordinate.
- Some practice owners prefer their eyewear fashion stylists to wear
fashionable clothing instead of the clinical uniform. This is personal choice
based on the goals of the practice. You may wish to provide a uniform
allowance to these individuals equal to the typical uniform cost.
- Consider requiring all departing employees to return all uniforms at
termination of employment. They are the property of the practice. After
washing, this collection can provide an interim set of uniforms for new
employees to wear during a probationary period and until new uniforms
can be ordered.
- Some practices have staff wear shirts and pants from retail stores, such as
polo shirts and khaki pants, or blouses/shirts with black slacks. You could
use a store at the local mall or mail order... Talbot's, Land's End, The Gap
and J. Crew are some options.
- Shoes are always a sensitive issue. The practice may want to define the
shoe style and have employees responsible for buying their own shoes.
Simple white athletic shoes (no colors or stripes) work well with standard
health care uniforms.
- Ask about stock availability and backorders before placing a large order.
- Start the process early and plan ahead. Refine the choices as you go
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week
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