Staff Management

We’re Family: But Is She a Good Employee?

By Diane Palombi, OD

Hiring a family member can be a difficult decision to make. It can go well or it could be a fiasco. If the arrangement doesn’t work, estrangement could result. Having my daughter work for me when she was a teenager turned out well; but not all situations are as simple. There are always pros and cons to consider.

My daughter, Michelle’s, work for my practice started out of necessity. When my practice was just starting out, it wasn’t that busy so I could handle things on my own most of the time. The exception was late afternoons and Saturday. I wanted someone there to answer the phone and greet people who might pop in while I was in the exam room. Michelle was in 8th grade, which let out at the perfect time to help me out. After school she would walk over and work until closing time. She also worked Saturday. With time she learned to run the front desk, do optical dispensing and contact lens training, and handle insurance. She was my employee until she graduated from college.

I know of other companies where this situation did not go as well. However, these companies had hired multiple family members. There were accusations of family members slacking off on the job and being grossly overpaid for their positions. This can create hard feelings between family members–and other employees resentful of the nepotism–which can all lead to long-term professional and family life friction.

There were things that I liked and disliked about working with my daughter. It was nice to spend time with her during the day that normally would not be possible. I feel it made us closer. The patients liked her, as she knew it was important for the practice to give patients a favorable impression. Trust was not an issue. I allowed her access to the cash, and embezzlement was the least of my worries. Michelle was so interested in her job that, at one point, she was thinking about becoming an optometrist herself; so the more she knew, the better.

On the downside, I felt it was harder to discipline her at home as my daughter while she spent so much time at the office as my employee. Sometimes work issues followed us home. Fortunately, this did not occur too often. Another con: Though it happened infrequently, it was tough to hear criticism of her from patients.

I asked Michelle her take about working for me. She said that she liked the variety of the job. It was not boring. The hours were good, especially compared to the retail or restaurant jobs that her friends had. The job was not stressful. I allowed her to do her homework when things were slow. We would go out to lunch when she worked all day. She liked that bonding experience. On the flip side, Michelle said she felt that she was constantly on call. Once I had other employees, she felt that I expected her to fill in when others were not available, and she did not like having to change her plans at the last minute for work. But overall, it was a positive experience for her.

Looking back, I am glad that I had the opportunity to work with my daughter and feel that she was an asset to my practice.

Do you employ family members, or have you ever tried, unsuccessfully, to keep family on the payroll? What is the best way to ensure the familial arrangement in the office works well?

Diane Palombi, OD, now-retired, was owner of Palombi Vision Center in Wentzville, Mo. To contact her:

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