I’m writing this article at Vision Expo West in Las Vegas. It makes me think about all the excitement that surrounds major meetings like this and how much it benefits not just doctors, but also staff members. There are many other great meetings in addition to the Vision Expos, such as the AOA, the Academy meeting, SECO, regional conferences, state association conventions and doctor alliance groups. They all have a slightly different focus, but in my experience, they all offer an excellent educational experience for staff.
Staff come back to your office incredibly motivated and refreshed. The conference exposes them to other eye care professionals and a multitude of vendors and products in the exhibit hall. It is extremely expensive to bring a renowned expert speaker to your office, but your staff can attend many excellent presentations at these meetings. A well-trained staff is a better staff.
I recommend that you develop a policy for sending staff to educational events. The logistics of doing this can be a little challenging, so I’ll offer some tips that have worked well in my practice.
Will it be worth a loss in production?
Most practices won’t have a loss in production. If you have a smaller staff, you may have to reduce the patient load for a few days if you send one person to a meeting. Generally, that will just rearrange the patient flow, not eliminate it. In most cases, the patients will all still come for care and you may be a bit busier before and after the meeting.
If you have a larger staff, you can most likely send one or two people to a meeting and not see any reduction in patient flow.
Of course, if the doctor is also attending the meeting, then the change in patient flow would have happened anyway and that is an ideal time for staff to attend as well.
How do I choose who to send?
You may have many staff whoe would love to go to a conference in another city, but you may have some who do not want to go. My office policy on staff education is such that it is never a requirement for staff to travel to a meeting. We will provide other educational programs in our office, online, or within driving distance for staff who do not want to go out of town.
I think of our staff training and travel program as a perk and I would begin by asking key employees who have done a great job if they would like to go to a meeting. If they don’t want to attend, I understand; there is no pressure and I’ll ask someone else. For the staff who are not offered a chance this year, I let everyone know that we will rotate through the staff and everyone will get a chance eventually. I invite staff to let me know their interest level.
The opportunity to travel and attend a major conference becomes an incentive for staff.
Hotel and air fare is too expensive
You should decide what your budget should be for the year for staff travel and education. You may only send one or two staff members to a major meeting per year. When you look at it as a practice expense, the actual dollars are not that much. Two staff members may be able to share a hotel room. Coach air fare is very reasonable if you book in advance. You will have to pay the wages that these employees would normally earn, but that is not an additional cost.
In any case, in my experience, the return on the investment is very high from the standpoint of improved job performance and sales.
What is a fair policy for paying wages?
Let’s be very clear, for staff, traveling to a meeting and sitting in a lecture is work. Walking around the exhibit hall is work. The doctor/practice owner may not think of it that way, but employees do and it would not be fair to ask staff to attend a meeting and not pay their usual wages.
On the other hand, sitting on an airplane or riding in a taxi to a hotel is not quite the same as actual work in the office. You need an office policy for this and we just can’t be too picky about it. I decided that my practice policy for staff education and travel would be that we pay the usual wages for a full day or half day (8 hours or 4 hours). I decide, by looking at the agenda and travel times, how many full and half days there are. We don’t actually count any hours and the maximum anyone can be paid for a day at a meeting is 8 hours, even if they spend more time than that with travel. I pay the same wages regardless of if the staff is normally scheduled to work in the office on that day of the week; that is irrelevant to me.
We also watch that we do not push anyone over 40 hours per week in order to avoid paying overtime if possible. We may give someone a different day off during the week they attend a meeting.
There are a few more factors to consider and I’ll share my complete staff travel policy in the tip next week.
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.