Staff Management

6 Ways Our Practice Creates a Happy Workplace for Employees

By Eric Hammond, OD

July 31, 2019

Your employees are essential to providing patients with high-quality care and a positive office experience. If they are not happy, it is much harder for them to do that, and to stay with you long-term.

We have about 40 staff, including the doctors. We pride ourselves on having many long-term employees. The longest is 33 years! We have many who have been with us for over 20 years. We would worry about turnover if the reason they were leaving was to go to another eye doctor’s office, or because they were unhappy with their job. We almost never have that happen.

If you are losing three techs because two are going to optometry school and one is getting married and moving to her husband’s job location in Houston, I don’t consider that a real lack of retention (yes this is happening to us, and they are all leaving within the span of one month from each other!) We have had to fire a few employees over the years, but we try hard to make it work for all employees, and to help each find the “right seat” on our bus

Here’s how my practice creates a workplace that keeps employees satisfied, and ready to serve patients.

Assign New Employees a Mentor
Gallup, the analytics company, has shown that if your employee can say yes to the question, “Do you have a best friend at work?,” they are twice as likely to be engaged in their job.

That is one of the reasons that, when we onboard a new employee, we assign them a mentor. We try to pick someone we think they can become friends with, and whom it would be easy for them to talk to.

The mentor shows the new employee how to do job-related tasks, but the equally important function they serve is providing emotional support, so the new employee immediately feels that they have a friend on staff. Our employees never go through a phase at the beginning in which they feel like an outsider.

Share Practice Metrics With Employees
It’s easier to feel happy when you know what you’re working toward, rather than feeling that you’re mindlessly plodding away. To put employees’ work into context, we share the practice’s financial metrics with everyone on staff.

Every Wednesday we have a lunch meeting with the entire office. At this meeting, we review metrics, including collections and production month-to-date, optical sales, LipiFlow procedures, average dollars per patient, net promoter score and more. We compare our metrics to last year’s metrics and discuss whether we are meeting our goals. We think this makes employees feel involved in our successes and motivated to find ways to improve.

Weekly Check-Ins with New Employees
We want our employees to love what they do. If they don’t love most of what they do most of the time, we find ways to make that happen, or move them to a different position in the office. I try to check in with new employees every week in the beginning and ask: “Everything going OK so far? Are you happy with your role, or do you think you would prefer something else?”

If they have a passion for another area in the office, but we really need them in their current position, we cross-train them. That way we can continue to have them in the position we need them to be in, while exploring other areas they think they may enjoy.

Sponsor Employee Training & Growth Opportunities
We pay for everyone to take certifications for their department (CPO, ABO, etc). We also pay for lunch for our Wednesday meetings and for Saturday employees (mainly for opticians who struggle to get a long lunch break on Saturdays). We have department meetings once a month to go over procedures that are working, not working, or new ones we want to implement (of course, another free lunch!).

We focus on maximizing efficiency, and make sure the front desk, opticians and insurance team are all on the same page in how we operate. Every new employee goes through a Vision Source Learning program that teaches the fundamentals of patient interaction, ocular anatomy, contacts, glasses and other key parts of an optometric practice.

When employees go to conferences, we pay for all travel expenses and for the time they spend in class.

Provide Financial Incentives to Stay Long-Term
The first year, employees earn 40 hours of paid time off. After that, they earn PTO at a rate of 5.77 percent of the hours they work. We match up to 3 percent of their pay for a Simple IRA. We cover $450 a month toward health insurance, and offer four different plans.

We pay for two pairs of scrubs per year, a pair of glasses on their first day and on their anniversary, a jacket with our office logo, and they also receive a few of our office’s “merch” (cups with our logo, gym bags, pens, etc).

If employees pass a certification, such as ABO, we usually give them a raise at that time. We have no formal bonus system, but we give “kudos” occasionally for going above and beyond. For example, we heard through the grapevine that an optician had been trying to get the clerk at the local Walgreens to try on glasses at our office because her glasses did not fit her face well. She told him her hours never matched up with ours, making it difficult for her to come in. So, he grabbed a few pairs he thought would look good on her, and took them over to her at the Walgreens! We gave him a day of PTO as thanks for wowing our patients and community.

We try to be understanding of everyone’s schedule. As long as another employee can cover, and they have PTO due to them, we usually let employees have requested time off. To accommodate employee childcare needs, we let them go home if necessary, but we also occasionally let employees bring their child to work, as long as the child is not ill.

Offer Fun & Individual Recognition
When we have our office meetings once a week, we only spend about 15-20 minutes going over our metrics. The rest of the meeting is spent celebrating birthdays (we have a card that people sign with compliments, which we read out loud), enjoying cake or other desserts, and participating in team-building activities.

Every employee is in charge of “leading” the team-building part of the meeting. For example, when it was my turn to lead, we did a scavenger hunt around the office. The winner won candy! We have done a Peeps-eating contest around Easter, pumpkin carving on Halloween, secret Santa for Christmas, all sorts of fun things!



Eric Hammond, OD, is an associate at Lakeline Vision Source in Cedar Park, Texas. To contact him:

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