Article Date: 6/1/2008

A LOYAL Staff is More Than Just Satisfied
staff management

A LOYAL Staff is More Than Just Satisfied

Follow these eight tips to maximize staff retention.

BY TED A. McELROY, O.D. Tifton, Ga.

If you don't keep pleasant, hard-working and efficient staff loyal to you and your practice, they'll leave. It's that simple. On the surface, the solution to replacing a staff member seems simple. Just hire someone new. What many of us don't realize however, is that when a "good" employee leaves, we incur several costs.

These costs:

  1. You lose the efficiency of an employee who already knew how to do the job.
  2. You must find new staff to fill that position.
  3. You have to take time from your schedule to interview candidates.
  4. The salary of the new hire will likely be higher than the person who just left.
  5. You have to take the time to call candidates who didn't make the cut and tell them you've "voted them off the island."
  6. You have to train the new hire (expect at least one month for the efficiency to reach that of the previous staffer, if you're lucky).
  7. Someone in your practice has to teach the new hire how to do her job and educate her on your practice's philosophy, which means more lost efficiency. Lost efficiency means lost money.

You have an excellent chance of ensuring your pleasant, hardworking and efficient staff members stay loyal to you and your practice by following these eight tips.

1. Provide fair compensation

I've heard of many ways to figure out fair staff compensation. Many O.D.'s ask colleagues what they're paying for a certain position — not the most reliable research, as some of us tend to be on the frugal side. A better way to research fair compensation: Do a Web search of pay-scale calculators. These calculators will give you a range of salaries for your region of the country and therefore help you to make a wise decision. Also, you can use these sites to add in benefits for the future employee to help you budget the process. (See the article "Guidelines for Giving Pay Raises".)

2. Offer creative benefits

Creative benefits can serve as great staff motivators. Many potential employees are looking for insurance with a vision plan and you already offer a vision plan — or you better.

We offer each potential employee both health and dental insurance. In addition, we offer one free comprehensive eye-health examination per year, digital retinal pictures, any kind of follow-up care for eye disease that we may detect, and if the staff member has a need for treatment, we supply her medications by way of samples and a year supply of contact lenses or one pair of high-end glasses per year. We make sure our vendors cover our costs for materials. We also extend this benefit to our employees' families.

3. Offer bonuses

Bonuses are a great tool for ensuring staff loyalty. We set our bonus structure based on the following: First, receipts. My staff and I set a goal of how much we would like our receipts to grow based on the previous year's receipts. We take the yearly total and divide it into twelve for our monthly goals.

At our office meetings, we look at our receipts and track our pace. This gives us the opportunity to decide whether we need to alter the pace. If at the end of the month we make our goal, each staff member receives $100 (before taxes). If staff doesn't meet the goal — no bonus. However, if we don't make our goal in January or February, but March is profitable enough to make up for the first two months, the staff gets the bonus for all three months. This gives my staff the chance to catch up from bad months, my absences, etc.

I also provide a quarterly bonus. If we surpass our goal at the end of the quarter, my staff splits 20% of the overage amongst them. In addition, I also offer a longevity bonus. This means that each employee receives $100 per year that I've employed them (before taxes) on the anniversary of their hire. This is a small price to pay for the amount of time the staff has given to the practice.

We offer a longevity bonus. This is a small price to pay for the amount of time the staff has given to the practice.

I'm not sure this falls in the category of bonuses, but every year at our Christmas party I try to do something a little different than distributing a check. Four years ago, I realized by August, that unless we were hit by a truck, we would easily make our goal for the year. My family and I had been to a resort over Labor Day break and stopped at their Christmas shop. We purchased each staff member, full- or part-time, an ornament and wrapped it with a piece of paper that had a date on it. When the staff opened the gifts at the office meeting, someone asked the reason for the date. I replied, "Those are the days we are all going to Walt Disney World." After everyone stopped crying, giggling, passing out and hugging me, I explained that the work they were doing meant a great deal to me and I wanted to take each of them and one guest to the "Happiest Place on Earth." My staff still talks about the trip.

A few years ago when we reached a milestone in receipts, I gave each staff member $500 (before taxes), a diamond pendant, and their spouses each received a TiVo and three years of TiVo service. (I find it makes the occasional late days easier for spouses to handle if they realize I care about them too.)

4. Provide educational opportunities

Knowledge goes a long way when making your team feel that they matter. Ensuring your staff feels comfortable in their ability to carry out the job required of them makes them feel powerful and certain of what they can do. Therefore, send your staff to at least one state, regional or national optometry meeting each year so they can talk to staffs from other offices and see what they are doing to make their practices great. This will also allow your staff to hear from some of the greats in lecturing about the best way to perform their jobs, learn new techniques and just get out of the office with each other for a while.

Additionally, your staff gets to see you in a different environment. Your staff may see you only at work and think of you as the benevolent dictator who never has time to answer questions or just stays in the little dark room all day. Most of my staff would still think I wear the white coat when mowing the lawn if they didn't see me outside the office every now and then.

Also, going to these meetings gives you and your staff the opportunity to start a study group with other offices in your area. Getting together to share ideas is a big morale booster.

5. Give your staff time off

Time is the most valuable commodity you have in your loyalty bag. There is precious little of it for you or your staff. My team gets ample time off to do what they need to.

I give first year employees five-paid holidays and five-paid days off. I give second-year employees ten-paid days plus the aforementioned holidays, and time off tops out in the third year with 15 days plus the paid holidays. I also classify what constitutes a day off.

If one of my staff has an appointment that requires her to miss two or less hours of work, I don't count that time against them. I consider two to four hours a half-day and more than four hours a day off. I do this to give some time back to my staff for the extra time they spend taking care of our patients.

6. Care and respect staff

I used to think it was better not to get involved in any aspect of my staff's lives. I thought getting too close to them made it hard to be the boss. That logic doesn't work. People don't care what you know, until they know that you care. Take the time to ask staffers" "How are you?" In fact, go around to each staff member everyday and say, "Good Morning." Smile every now and again — it's okay. You won't lose credibility as the boss, I promise. More importantly, you set the tone of how you care for your patients by how you care for your staff.

My staff knows they can take care of most problems without having to involve me. I recently set a guideline that any problem involving a patient that costs the office $1,000 or less to fix didn't require them to come to me first. By saying "Fix the problem, and let me know about it later," I've put my staff in charge, which makes them look good in the eyes of our patients. It shows my patients know that my staff is just as important in the care cycle as I am. It also lets patients know that others can handle office problems, and it decreases my workload and worry. No patient wants to hear that the staff needs to check with the doctor to see if they can replace the temple on the frame — that is two days past the warranty — at no charge.

Time is the most valuable commodity you have in your loyalty bag. There is precious little time of it for you or your staff.

Make every effort not to address the women on your staff as "the girls." Make sure you correct vendors as well on this issue. I've heard doctors refer to their staff as "the girls" many times and it sounds unprofessional. Would you like a " boy" or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) specialist at the control panel of your next MRI?

7. Be Consistent

Your staff needs and deserves the opportunity to tell you what is going right and wrong and how they think you should fix it. An office meeting provides the opportunity for you to take all members' ideas into account and therefore establish consistent office policies. Make sure this uninterrupted meeting is every week at the same time.

Consistency with staff members may be the most important and hardest part of being the boss. But, you have to treat each and every staff member the same. Don't give anyone special privileges. I once overheard a fellow O.D. say he knew he treated all his staff the same because every one of them thought someone else was his favorite. I take a different approach — make each staff member think he or she is your favorite. The only way to do that is by being consistent. Set a guideline and stick to it — no exceptions.

8. Ask staff what they need

The best way to get your staff to be loyal to you is to ask them why they would stay with you instead of another practice. Here are some of the responses I've received in posing this question to staff members in my office and some of our other colleagues:

► "I am loyal to you because you are loyal to us. You take really good care of us financially, and you make sure that we have what is needed to do our job to the best of our ability. You treat us as a part of your family. You are emotionally involved and not just thinking that we are another body that is here for the next eight hours. You treat us with respect." - Staff member at Family Eye Care, Tifton, Ga.

► "What makes me stay at my job is the way the staff is treated. are emotionally involved and not just thinking that we are another body that is here for the next eight hours. You treat us with respect." - Staff member at Family Eye Care, Tifton, Ga.

► "What makes me stay at my job is the way the staff is treated. The doctor lets us know he appreciates what we do and tells us. He does special things for us also. Where I worked before, they never told us we were appreciated, even when we stayed late and did extra things. Also, liking what I do makes me stay." - Staff member, Family Eye Care, Tifton, Ga.

► "I am loyal to you and this office because I feel like you really care about me. I enjoy working here because I know if I have a problem, that someone is always here to help. I know in my heart that I can trust you and everyone that I work with. In the past, the places I have worked have not been this way, and I dreaded going to work. I feel more at ease now that I am here. I feel like everyone I work with are my friends." - Staff member, Family Eye Care, Tifton, Ga.

► "Our doctor is very genuine, down to earth and treats everybody as an equal. Here at our office, I have had the ability to learn a lot. I love my job." - Staff member, Family Eye Care, Tifton, Ga.

► "I am loyal to this office because I really enjoy the atmosphere. The entire staff gets along very well and no matter how busy, [they don't] mind stopping to answer any questions that one may have. A good attitude is a major plus within a business." - Staff member, H. Kemp Jones, O.D., Swainsboro, Ga.

► "I am loyal to this office because I enjoy what I do. If you think about it, seeing is the most important thing you do every day. So what we do here everyday is very important to each person that comes through the door here at out establishment and that is why I am loyal to this office." - Staff member, H. Kemp Jones, O.D., Swainsboro, Ga.

Be loyal to your staff and they will be loyal in return. Enough said? OM

Dr. McElroy was named the Georgia Optometric Association's Optometrist of the year in 2005. He operates Family Eye Care — a primary-care and contact-lens practice in Tifton, Ga. He is a founding member of The Roya Enterprises, a company that assists in aspiring practice owners. E-mail him at

Optometric Management, Issue: June 2008