Article Date: 9/1/2003

staffing solutions
When It's Not Working Out
How to deal with "marginally satisfactory" employees
By Bob Levoy, O.D.

Many optometric practices have "marginally satisfactory" employees who don't carry their weight. They hold down productivity and often cause resentment among other staff members who have to make up for their deficiencies. Here's how to correct the problem.

Your seven-step checklist

First and foremost, make sure that such employees are made aware their job performance is less than satisfactory and are given a chance to improve. Many marginally satisfactory employees are totally unaware of the problems they create. Action steps:

► Schedule a performance review during which the borderline employee is put on notice that his performance is not what it should be. Be specific about the cause. Agree on what improvements and additional training, if any, are needed, and the time frame by which they will be done.

► Document everything. Record the date of the meeting and substance of your discussion. For some marginally satisfactory employees, it will be a "wake-up call" and lead to improvement. If, however, the desired changes aren't made by the agreed-upon date, you can schedule a follow-up review to give the employee a second chance. If there's still no improvement, you'll have a valid basis for termination.

► Never fire an employee when you're angry -- no matter what the provocation. Take time to calm down and evaluate your decision.

► "Once you've made the decision, get 'em out quick." That's the consensus of doctors I've asked about the timing of an employee's dismissal. The end of the day is preferred to avoid embarrassment for the employee. Mondays are preferred to Fridays so the person can go right out on Tuesday to look for other work.

► Two weeks notice? No. Everyone agrees it's a mistake. "It's bad for the rest of the staff's morale and a terminated employee is of no use as the trainer of a replacement," as a practitioner expressed it.

Unless the employee is being fired for intentional wrongdoing, it's better to give the person appropriate severance pay and ask him or her to leave immediately.

► Keep the termination meeting brief. Stick to facts rather than feelings. Your opinions about a person's "attitude" or "personality" are debatable and will accomplish little. Simply express disappointment that things have not changed since the last performance review and that you have no alternative but to terminate employment. Acknowledge the individual's capabilities. If appropriate, express regret that you don't have a job opening more suited to the person's qualifications. And let it go at that.

► Tell other employees of your decision, indicating in simple terms the reasons for it and ask for their support until you find a replacement. Staff members may be more aware than you of the shortcomings of the former employee and actually applaud your decision.

Hard-learned lessons: I've never known an optometrist who felt he fired an employee prematurely. On the contrary, most say they waited too long to do it. Neither have I known one who wished he had a dismissed employee back.

Reality check: "It's not the people you fire who make your life miserable," says Harvey MacKay, author of Swim with the Sharks, "it's those you don't."



Optometric Management, Issue: September 2003