Many optometrists and staff members feel stress on the job. It’s an uncomfortable feeling that leads to bad attitudes, negative office culture and more frequent errors. If you feel stress fairly often in your workplace, review these tips and take some action to reduce it.
Weekly staff meetings
Stressful situations can be due to many causes, but if you communicate about them with your team, things will improve. Enhance the communication by scheduling staff meetings at least once per week and allowing at least a half-hour per meeting. You can hold daily meetings as well, but you need more time to flush out issues and set policies for the future. Simply pick a day and time of the week that will be your regular staff meeting and block it off from appointments. Block it way ahead in your schedule, like six months or one year. You are always going to need the meetings.
Review the problems of the past week and discuss how to improve and prevent these situations. Don’t blame anyone and keep the meeting positive. Ask staff members to tell you about one thing that makes patients unhappy.
Work on office policies
Review all your office policies with an eye on customer service. Let most policies be patient-friendly. The goal is to identify and satisfy patients’ wants and needs. Convert your office culture to one that is based on excellent service and letting the patient win. It will create a happier office.
Lunch breaks are required
Work toward requiring all staff members to take a lunch break. Try to change habits if some staff have decided to work through lunch in order to finish their work, but be careful in the process because staff often use this tactic to increase their paid work hours and taking lunch could mean reducing their pay. Never the less, taking a legitimate break and not thinking about work is a good way to decrease stress. Talking to co-workers about one’s personal life or going out to lunch helps people relax. My staff get a 45 minute lunch period and they must take it.
Reserve some openings in the schedule
I’m a big believer in efficiency in the clinic and seeing a high number of patients per day, but if you are constantly running behind schedule, you will feel stress. Begin by finding ways to save time in the exam process by delegating more to staff and possibly talking less. But also consider inserting a couple of blocked appointment times every day to allow everyone to catch up or to create some space to add an emergency.
Have enough staff
This may be the best way to reduce stress: be sure you have enough help. More employees reduces stress for the doctors and staff. I know we must keep an eye on the payroll cost, but most of the time, an additional employee increases production and gross revenue more than the additional salary. Having enough staff means the phone can be answered and not go to voice mail. It means there will be someone at the front desk and patients will be served well. It means someone can check on insurance benefits before the day of the appointment. And it means if someone calls off sick, you will still have enough staff to not go crazy.
Hire a true manager
Optometrists feel stress when they try to handle too much at once. A busy week of patients along with managing the staff and handling administrative duties is too much. Delegate some of the staff issues and administrative duties to a manager. A manager can be trained to handle most of the problems that arise with staff and also resolve patient complaints. That feels like less stress already! But don’t expect a manager to know how to do it all; the practice owner will still have to lead and will have to coach the manager on how to do a good job. That takes time, but not as much time as doing it yourself.
It is important that all staff know that the manager is now their boss. That can ruffle some feathers, but a manager can’t be effective as a supervisor unless she/he has the authority that only the practice owner can give.
Hire an associate OD
Most optometrists hire a manager to run the business side of the practice so they can continue to see patients. I think that is the wrong way to look at it. I would rather you hire an associate optometrist to see patients so you can have time to run the business! Obviously, a manager is still needed, but he or she can’t replace the OD/owner. The practice needs the leadership and vision of the owner. It needs a CEO mentality and no one can do that better than the owner. The transfer of patients can occur gradually, but as the practice grows larger, it needs more management time.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week
Dr. Gailmard's new book, Practice Management in Optometry: A Blueprint for Success Based on the Optometric Management Tip of the Week, is now available on Amazon.