Conversations had with many practice owners have led me to realize there are many options in the ways we staff and run our practices. Particularly with staffing solutions, and the advancements in technology, many tasks that traditionally needed a person to attend to them can potentially be outsourced, freeing up your staff to work on important patient-facing jobs. Although this area is ever-dynamic, and will and should change depending on practice growth and what season your business is in, here are some of the staffing solutions I’ve found to be an “answer” for me at various times:
Redefine what full-time means. Were you aware that full-time standards were devised during the industrial revolution? That “9 to 5” mentality has been with us for over 100 years, and although that works fairly well in our industry to serve our patients, it doesn’t mean it has to serve your staff. To explain, consider what constitutes “full time” for your staff, whatever that may mean in regard to benefits. For many years, I qualified full time as working 35 hours per week (up to 40). This meant that most full-timers worked for my practice five days per week to qualify.
In the past year, I decided to change my full-time status to 32 hours per week instead. The goal was to give my full-timers one day off per week, and also have flexibility if they needed to work that 5th day (to cover vacations, etc.) in that they wouldn’t hit overtime. This would happen, all while they maintain benefits.
At first, I gave them a choice to move to this, as it would technically mean less hours for some established staff. We tried this out over a period of two months. Those who were reluctant at first saw those who had a day off each week, suffered from some mild FOMO (fear of missing out), and soon came on board as well. I’ve found that this mental break for my full-timers has been wonderful for lessening burn-out and also feeling resentful (at times) towards my part-timers and their days off. Additionally, I realized some payroll savings, but no loss to my bottom line as production actually increased once I implemented the change.
Redefine what part-time means. This has more to do with how your part-timers work versus what qualifies part-time (anything worked less than full-time). I’ve talked to several practice owners who think that part-time means you are catering to staff who want to leave early for the day or come late to work. Although it can certainly mean this, part-time in my office means working a full day…just not every day of the week. I have several talented staff members who only want to work a couple of days per week, some only one. This is also an advantage in filling in for full-timers when they are out/gone.
Redefine what traditional “roles” mean. Practice set-ups in the optometric world have traditional roles, such as technician, optician, receptionist, and office manager, for example. However, these roles may not be as rigid, or even necessary, in our practices of the future. Currently, I’m trying out some contract work that will assist me with the many duties of an office manager. That role hasn’t been filled in the traditional sense in my office, and when I’ve attempted to do so, it wasn’t a good fit. Outsourcing gives the flexibility for you to delegate job duties you are comfortable delegating (key point here, you must be okay letting go). Thus, you can become more reliant on the system than on one person. In my opinion, this removes the stress from many levels.
I will continue to seek out new solutions in staffing, especially as my practice grows and the industry continues to change. Shifting staff, re-describing roles and expected duties, and searching for novel opportunities is tantamount to continuing to seek out clinical education. Seek betterment in all areas of your practice and you, your staff and patients will realize a win.
Gina M. Wesley OD, MS, FAAO owns and practices at Complete Eye Care in Medina, MN. Accolades include Minnesota's Young Optometrist of the Year in 2011 and the Early Professional Achievement Award from The Ohio State University College of Optometry in 2013. She is a member of the American Optometric Association, a fellow in the American Academy of Optometry and enjoys practicing, writing and lecturing in the industry. For questions or comments about this article, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.