Article Date: 6/1/2004

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Improving Office Relationships
You may not realize it, but you could be mismanaging your staff. Find out.
By Gary Gerber, O.D.

Oh no -- not another article on how to manage your staff! Well, not exactly. Because industry professionals have already discussed every possible angle on this topic and because staff management is still the biggest headache for doctors, I think it's time for an upside-down approach -- an article about how to mismanage your staff.


Learning the core complaints

Part of the on-site services we provide to our clients is a "staff venting" session, during which we ask staff members to tell the consultant anything and everything that happens in the office that really bothers them. The doctors are not present and we keep all comments anonymous. We then relay the information to the doctors and come up with solutions to the issues that the staff raised.

Based on this experience, we've been able to distill the majority of staff complaints, pet peeves and grievances that our profession uses to mismanage staff into the following three main areas:

1. Timing is everything. Staffers commonly complain that, "The doctor shows up late to the office" or, "Our first patient after lunch is supposed to be appointed at 1:00 p.m., but we're hesitant to fill that slot because we know the doctor won't return from lunch until 2:00 p.m." Put yourself in your staff's shoes the next time you decide to show up at 9:30 a.m. for your 9:00 a.m. patient. Better yet, put yourself in your patient's shoes.

Related to this comment is, "The doctor is always behind schedule and that makes our jobs more stressful than they need to be." Again, think of what's happening from the perspective of your staff. While you're in that dark room in the back flipping the dials on your phoropter, your staff is trying to explain to Mr. Johnson why it's 3:00 p.m. and you've yet to see him for his 2:00 p.m. appointment.

2. Public embarrassment. "The doctor belittles me in front of patients." Examples are often in the frame selection area. After spending 30 minutes helping Mrs. Picky choose the perfect pair of glasses, the all-knowing doctor shows up, attitude in hand, and says, "What are you crazy? There's no way that frame will work with her prescription. Didn't we just review this very topic at our last staff meeting? Weren't you paying attention?"

Another example in this category is discussing personal office policy issues in front of other staff members. "What? Are you kidding me? You expect to be paid for yet another sick day after the way you handled that last patient?"

3. Living with low expectations. "I can't do my job because I don't have the right tools." Our consultants have been in offices with desk chairs that are missing some of their wheels. We've seen copy machines that need divine intervention to produce consistently legible copies. We've seen computer screens whose only function would be to demonstrate a way to increase computer vision syndrome (while the doctor of course, has a brand spanking new 19" flat panel LCD sitting on his desk). Desks that wobble, file drawers that won't open, drafty work stations . . . these are sure fire ways to become a mismanagement expert.

Put yourself in their shoes

The solutions to these problems are usually obvious, but first you have to recognize that they exist. Then realize that while these problems may seem small to you, they're huge staff relation problems for your employees.

Dr. Gerber is the president of the Power Practice, a company specializing in making optometrists more profitable.  Learn more at or call Dr. Gerber at (800) 867-9303.


Optometric Management, Issue: June 2004