Article Date: 1/1/2009

Your Staff is Still Your Practice's Most Valuable Resource
o.d. to o.d.

Your Staff is Still Your Practice's Most Valuable Resource

When faced with tough economic times, you would do well to consider alternatives to letting your employees go.

BY WALTER D. WEST, O.D., F.A.A.O.
Chief Optometric Editor

Almost everyone, including me, has written about the impact of the financial crisis and the economy. But, I feel I need to say more. I've written about how we deal with our patients and why it's important — even in tough economic times — to continue recommending the best level of care. There's another concern, however, that many business owners currently face, and many more will face in the near future:

How do they keep their teams together?

We've all invested time and money in recruiting, training and compensating employees. Your employees are your business's most valuable asset, and they have more to do with the overall success of your practice than anything else. Yet, if faced with falling production and fewer patient visits, many optometrists consider laying off employees. It's a real dilemma because those employees have become part of the organization through their hard work and productivity. Yet, if not enough patients are presenting to us, we don't have enough dollars to pay salaries. So, we often see cutting staff as the only choice.

The loss impacts everyone

The sad thing about letting an employee go is the loss everyone experiences. The employee looses a way to earn a living; the practice looses a trained professional; and the workload increases for the remaining employees. Further, once things pick up again, chances are the laid-off employee won't be available to return, or perhaps he or she won't be interested in returning.

An alternative to layoffs

Tough times are tough on everyone. But if every employee in a practice is willing to share the financial burden, there's a possibility that no one employee has to go. Certainly it won't work in every practice, but it will work in many.

Here's how it works: Rather than letting an employee go, reduce the number of hours each employee works in a week. Perhaps you reduce each employee's schedule by one day a week. Use whatever reduction is appropriate to staff your office most efficiently.

Doctor, as the business owner, your employee looks to you to lead by example. Before asking each employee to take a reduction in hours as well as income, be sure you've "given it up for the team as well." Although you still need to be in the office everyday to ensure the convenient delivery of your services, you need to reduce your salary as well.

The advantages of sharing the burden: the ability to keep you're office team together so that you don't overload the remaining employees, ensuring the attention to the individual patient doesn't suffer, and avoiding the need to hire an employee who you must then train and may not fit as well into your office culture.

The value of a good example

Perhaps most importantly, when you sacrifice first, you demonstrate your commitment to keep your team together. Employees who know that you're willing to sacrifice for them are most likely to do the same for you if and when the tables are turned. Be creative. Determine what it will take to keep your team together. Make the investment to ensure the success of your practice and the wellbeing of your employees. OM



Optometric Management, Issue: January 2009