By Ian G. Whipple, OD
March 22, 2023
Hiring has always been hard, and only became harder over the last few years. Employees recognized that the demand for their services had increased, that they had more choice than ever before, and either left their jobs or demanded higher pay. In our practice, a few creative, or “out-of-the-box,” hiring strategies are enabling us to be equally, or even more efficient, with less staff time and resources required. Here’s how we did it.
Rehired Former Employees
I rehired four former employees over the past 15 months. They were all fantastic employees in their first stint with our office. One employee’s husband was transferred to Montana for military duties, one got married and moved to another city, another took an 18-month leave to do missionary work in the Pacific Northwest, and the other left for personal reasons. I considered them “rock-star” status employees and felt that they would have all continued their first employment with us under different life circumstances.
I texted three of the rehired employees to let them know we were hiring again, and that, in some cases, the new positions were for remote work. The final rehired employee responded to a job posting advertisement.
For two employees who now work remotely, I had to ship computers and headsets to their home offices. I also had to purchase two TeamViewer licenses, which allow employees to work remotely.
Previous to these rehires, I set up a “virtual computer” that allows multiple users to work remotely on the same machine. This virtual computer setup means that three remote employees control partitions of one larger computer in the office. Instead of six computers for three remote employees, I now need just four computers for three remote employees.
Shipping of machinery cost around $100 each. The Teamviewer license is about $300 annually per employee. I delegated the technical/computer setup to my IT partner. Installation and implementation of the remote computer setup added approximately $1,000 of one-time IT expenses.
The two rehired remote employees work as a receptionist and insurance coordinator. They enjoy the flexibility of working from home, and I love that they have fewer distractions than if they were in the office. Patients have commented on how clear the conversations with them are because our employees work in a quiet space.
The remote insurance coordinator position is new for our office, and we’re still testing it out. I made this rehire just recently. So far, though, this employee has been able to do in around four hours what our previous employee did in eight hours per day. If this efficiency is maintained, I can either delegate further responsibilities, or save on payroll expenses by making this position part-time. I will let my employee decide which she prefers.
Rehiring former employees saved tremendously on training costs. All four employees were rehired for a different position than their original role, but they already understood the office culture and had great background knowledge of eyecare and products. One employee in particular has become impressively proficient as an optician after only a couple of months in her new role. Traditionally, most new opticians in my office have taken six months to get to the point this new rehire is at.
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Always Being on the Lookout for Great Talent–Everywhere
I have found great success in hiring employees who have previous experience in the service industry. Restaurant and hotel experience has been valuable. I’m always on the lookout for fantastic customer service, and I’m not afraid to compliment another business’s employee on my great experience. My wife and I have occasionally mentioned that our offices are hiring, and let these outstanding individuals know how to apply if they’re interested.
Several years ago, my wife was looking for a specific product at a bookstore, and the employee went above and beyond to help her locate the item. The employee was friendly and made my wife feel special. My wife called me from the bookstore parking lot to tell me that she just found us a new employee, and that she was going back into the store to give her a business card. We hired the bookstore employee, and she thrived with our office for many years before leaving to pursue an advanced degree.
Three of our best employees over the years were previously patients in our office. It’s becoming obvious that there is a personality type that will thrive in our office culture, and when I spot somebody like this, I will hire for their natural talent and train for the technical skills.
Patients always benefit from working with good people. Seeing a potential employee in action at another job, or during an exam, may make it easier to spot personality characteristics that would add value to your team. These are also the kind of employees who tend to stay long-term, reducing your hiring and training costs.
Several years ago, we eliminated the office manager position. Previous to this move, I had promoted senior members of our team to management positions. Our previous office managers had several years of employment prior to their promotions. Our office managers performed well, but when they moved on to other opportunities the void that was created by losing such valuable management staff was difficult to fill.
Rather than continue the cycle of replacing an office manager every several years, I decided to split office manager duties up, and delegate these duties to four staff members.
The most critical component to this move was to create a detailed list of the office manager duties. For our office, these duties included staff development, frame/vendor relationships, HR/payroll and customer service escalation. I discovered that four of our current team members had interest in, or experience with, these categorized duties. The move was simple. I trained and set expectations with four staff members and offered raises to the employees.
I set up regular check-in meetings with these employees, and we routinely discuss strategies to be more efficient in their new management duties.
The salary compensation for these employees to take on management duties is roughly equivalent to the cost of an office manager. We probably didn’t save much money by eliminating one position, but those employees who have stepped into management duties now receive higher compensation, and, therefore, may be more likely to stay long-term with us. In addition, if one of them moves on, I now only need to replace one quarter of the office manager skills.
Rather than spend a single long session meeting with an office manager, I spend roughly the same amount of time in four shorter meetings with the manager employees.
Any time an employee can master their duties well, a better patient experience is created. The management duties I assigned to our employees is limited. This allows them to go deep with their management mastery rather than have less mastery of broad duties. This also reduces the burden and stress of managing an office by splitting duties.
I want to make sure that these managing employees perform their primary duties first. Currently, the managing employees are opticians and technicians, but I think any employee role could step into management duties. Occasionally, I’ll schedule blocked administrative time for my manager employees to ensure their management work happens too, but for the most part, they are able to work on management duties during downtime from their primary duties.