Staff Management

8 Secrets to Retaining Employees for 15+ Years

Dr. Arnold with his support staff, some of whom have been with the practice for 20 years or more.

By Thomas P. Arnold, OD, FSLS

Sept. 30, 2020

Recruiting great employees is only half the battle. The other half is keeping them. Here is how my practice has managed to keep employees for an average of 18 years.

The average tenure of employees in my 28-year-old practice is 18 years, with the current tenures for my 12 employees ranging from three to 28 years. Many of my employees have been with me for over 16 years.

Well-Defined Job Roles
Create clear-cut job duties and responsibilities. Cross-train, but keep staff in the same locations as much as possible on any given day. In other words, don’t have the receptionist run back to do an OCT or visual field. Don’t have the person who conducts preliminary evaluations run to the front to act as cashier. This leads to confusion and frustration. Hold staff accountable for performance in their specific area(s). As the saying goes, “If everyone is responsible, no one is responsible.”

Weekly Staff Meetings: Put the Importance of  Work Into Context
Every Monday morning, since the founding of our practice, we hold a one-hour staff meeting. We introduce new equipment, new technologies, new products and sometimes discuss pathologies or eye anatomy. It is important for the staff to know “why we do what we do.” I like them to understand the reasoning behind testing and the reasons we follow up. Sometimes we show videos or demonstrate equipment.

As we care for patients, we try to explain to the staff our reasoning, e.g. why we vertex contact lens Rxs in high powers. How we interpret the Pentacam, OCT, keratograph or iTrace – we involve the staff.

In this way employees are more confident in handling questions from patients who may not be comfortable asking the doctors themselves. This also gives employees a sense of responsibility and empowerment. For instance, Alyce P. (22 years on staff) has become proficient in corneal molding techniques with EyePrint Prosthetics and takes all our impressions. She explains the entire procedure to the patient.

Recognize Excellence
We recognize high-performing team members, both in the Monday meetings and in private. The regular weekly meetings tend to be uplifting and motivational. Praise is the dominant theme. We want all the staff to feel important, valued and supported. We do not give monetary bonuses.

Effectively Moderate Interpersonal Disputes
As we define each employee’s areas of responsibility, employees know their role and cannot blame others if mishaps occur. If tensions arise, we meet with those involved individually and in private. If intervention is required, we moderate a meeting between the parties and carefully keep the discussion on facts and data. No personal attacks.

Also important is not to allow “splitting” where one group creates friction with another. We identify agitators immediately and address the issue firmly. Those who don’t have a positive, friendly and cooperative demeanor will not stay in our organization. The Monday morning meetings help air out differences and problem-solve before things fester and come to a head.

Simplify Work Processes
We are always looking for ways to help our employees streamline their work and become more efficient. For example, we changed to clear plastic bags for dispensing contact lens boxes. These are kept behind the reception desk with labels attached with the patient’s last name, first initial and the date.

Dr. Arnold and his staff gather for a surprise birthday party they threw for him. Dr. Arnold says a happy, cohesive staff goes a long way toward providing topnotch patient care and service.

These are alphabetized and placed in clear plastic buckets. Having a clear bag allows both the receptionist and the patient see that the order is correct with the right number of boxes, the brand, the powers and the printed receipt. This saves much time and obviates the need to open an opaque bag to inspect the contacts. This came directly from the staff’s recommendation.

Annual Performance Reviews
We conduct annual reviews. We go over job responsibilities, accomplishments, areas of improvement and goal-setting for the upcoming year. With employees with such long tenures, the tone of these meetings is conversational and personal, one-on-one time with the doctor. At this point in our long history, doctors and staff are more like an extended family with shared goals of quality and excellence, not only for patients, but for the team, as well.

Comfortable Work Accommodations
We built an expanded break room with private lockers, a full-size refrigerator, microwave, full-size dishwasher and satellite TV. The space is large enough for staff meetings and the staff can bring in their own meals without having to spend money on fast food. They can stock their own lockers with whatever they choose and lock up personal items.

Work–and Play–Together
Twice annually we do something purely fun together. Some examples are Topgolf, bowling, Dave & Buster’s (arcade games, pool, pizza, burgers and beer), group dining and outdoor barbecue. These are relaxing, casual events for everyone. For those few hours we are all equal and on the same level. It helps to relax the staff and to reinforce that, although we play different positions, we are all on the same team.

Thomas P. Arnold, OD, FSLS, is a partner with Memorial Eye Center at Sugar Land. To contact him:

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