Published in Non-Clinical

Key Optometry Management Strategies to Boost Employee Retention

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12 min read

Master the five key management strategies required to retain optometry employees in this time of "the great resignation"—and improve both staff and patient satisfaction in the meantime.

Key Optometry Management Strategies to Boost Employee Retention
Employees are leaving their jobs at staggering rates. “The Great Resignation,” also referred to as “The Big Quit,” has been an ongoing employment phenomenon since early 2021. And, as there currently is no end in sight, this is the perfect time to talk about the role of management in retaining employees.

Optometry management strategy #1: Praise, a lot of praise

Employees who feel valued are less likely to job search. A survey done by Gloat, an employment development company, in early 2021 showed that 1/3 of employees feel undervalued at work, and 64% of them were planning on leaving their current position. The majority of those planning to leave were entry-level or associate employees.
This study suggests that although upper management might be feeling the love, positions like reception, opticians, and even optometric technicians are feeling undervalued and looking for new opportunities. A manager may want to wait to show appreciation until there is a specific reason (like handling a difficult patient) or when an employee is covering for someone during a gap in staffing, but a good manager knows that employees do a lot of praise-worthy work that goes unrecognized on a daily basis.

Being liberal with praise is absolutely crucial in retaining optometry employees. A good optometry practice manager will make a point to thank their employees on a daily basis.

It’s not an exaggeration to say an office cannot run without them. More than half of employees who quit their jobs cited poor management as their reason. In the current employment climate, where everyone seems to be hiring, employees don’t have a problem leaving their jobs for better prospects.
There needs to be a line item in an office budget for employee education and appreciation. Bringing in bagels and muffins every couple of weeks or getting a cake on an employee’s birthday does a lot for morale. Techs don’t expect managers to stand under their window with a boombox professing their love—but a bag of fun-sized Snickers at the tech station once in a while would be nice.
Being a thankful manager is not a sign of weakness; in the current environment where employees are not desperate for work and hold the power, it’s the bare minimum.

Optometry management strategy #2: Avoid passive criticism

Being able to give direct, meaningful feedback is one of the most difficult parts of management. If employees are leaving an office meeting with the thought, “This could have been an email,” then that meeting was a waste of time. Even worse is when employees wonder, “Who was that meeting for?”
When a manager makes blanket reprimands or “gentle reminders” to an entire group, rather than being directed to a specific employee, it saves them the discomfort of confrontation, but it does nothing to solve the problem. In fact, it creates a second problem: It leaves unoffending employees unsure if they’re the target of the meeting, which can create anxiety or resentment.
Trying to gather everyone in a medical practice is hard. Receptionists will still want to answer phones, and patients will always show up in the middle, even if they’re not scheduled. That’s just the way it is, so if a manager is grinding everyone’s day to a halt to have a meeting, it better pertain to everyone.
If there is one tech who is constantly on their phone or mysteriously in the bathroom every time a patient needs to be worked up or a visual field needs to be done, that specific person needs to be spoken to directly. By bringing in their coworkers (who have ALSO noticed this phenomenon), a manager is just adding emotional strain to their day.

The entire concept of reprimanding employees should be retired from general practice. The Harvard Business Review has published several studies on the effectiveness of punishment in the workplace, and universally these studies show that punishment lowers motivation and does not increase productivity.

So, why do we do it? Managers may feel their past experience of publicly shaming or threatening an employee with probation or a demotion garnered the desired results, but what they may be experiencing is a disconnect between causation and correlation.
Simply put, every employee, every person, has their good days and bad days (or maybe a whole bad week), but for the most part, we operate neutrally, somewhere between exceptional and less than perfect. If a manager decides to reprimand an employee during one of their bad performance stretches, and then the employee reverts to their neutral performance, it will appear to the manager that their methods worked, when in reality the employee would have reverted back to neutral without the negative intervention.
Now, if that is compounded with the fact that the manager did not take an equal amount of time to praise them during their stretch of better than average performance, then the employee will be resentful, and that feeling of resentment is valid.
If a patient leaves a negative review on social media, in regards to the front desk being rude, the manager needs to speak to the front desk about it—but they should likely side with the front desk. If they are being perceived as rude, then that's an effect that should have been addressed before someone had to publicly complain about it.

Optometry management strategy #3: Opt for direct feedback

An exceptional manager gives constant feedback. If a manager is waiting until an annual review or a major issue to give feedback, it’s too late. Just like in the case of social media posts, if a manager waits until a patient is complaining about behavior, they’re being reactionary when they should have been proactive. Employees who feel like they’re working in a vacuum will also feel undervalued. “No news is good news” is not a productive practice for a manager to implement.
Giving positive feedback should be an enjoyable task for a manager! However, praise is often withheld as an attempt to incentivize the employee to work harder, but research shows it doesn’t incentivize employees to work harder, it incentivizes them to leave.

Giving negative feedback or addressing problems is as hard a task as it is a necessary one. If a manager is worried about how an employee will take negative feedback, they need to create an environment where that employee feels safe.

Managers shouldn’t interrupt a tech during clinic to talk to them about performance or behavior. An employee needs to feel that they won’t be punished for whatever mistake they made. Coming at a problem with a solution-based mentality, rather than a blame-based one garners better results, and reminds the employee that they’re part of a larger team all working to make the practice a success.

Optometry management strategy #4: Create and respect boundaries

In many ways, an optometry practice is the same as any other business: managers need to set the tone for professionalism in the workplace. Often, employees are warmly regarded as “a family” by their employer, but in reality, they’re not family. There are many things we expect of a family that would be regarded as inappropriate in the workplace. Setting clear and consistent boundaries is vital to a successful work environment.
In the age of texting and email being accessible on our phones, it’s easy to forget that just because you can access people every minute of the day, doesn’t mean you should. An excellent manager recognizes and respects boundaries.

Managers who contact their employees outside of business hours, in any capacity, run a high risk of overstepping boundaries. The golden rule of contacting an employee outside of hours is: if it can wait until the morning, it should!

Employers often contact an employee to remind them of something, like rescheduling an appointment for someone, or completing a prior authorization “While they’re thinking of it”, but those interactions can be saved to draft and brought up during working hours. A manager may have a good personal relationship with their employee, in which they text and communicate on social media, but that communication should be kept to nonwork topics.

Optometry management strategy #5: Trust your employees

A manager who includes employees in decision-making creates an environment where those employees will feel valued. In addition to employee retention, including employees in decision-making brings a diversity of views and experiences, and can lead to better decision making.
Another thing to consider about inclusion: the decisions being made by management will need to be implemented by the employees, so getting input from the people who will be directly affected by the decisions being made will help guarantee their support. A good manager asks for input from their employees often.
Although many managers were once in the position of their subordinates as techs or receptionists and may feel they know the situation, the conditions that they worked under are probably not exactly the same and can benefit from updated points of view.

Distrusting employees leads to micromanagement and withholding of information: both of which are in direct conflict with employee retention.

These habits are not always intentional. A manager may think they only need to share information with the doctor and equal leveled employees, but when decisions affect every employee, they should be shared with every employee.
If a manager thinks their closed information circle isn’t being noticed by those outside the circle, they’re wrong. Having an upper management circle by default creates a lower circle, and that divide fosters an environment of resentment and “us vs them”, which is not conducive to a well-communicating office. Techs or office staff may withhold information from management as a form of retaliation, or to have some control, which can quickly spiral into a toxic work environment.
One statistic that has remained constant before and after the existence of "The Great Resignation" is that two-thirds of employees cite poor communication as a reason for leaving their last position.
Micromanagement is not only ineffective—and a waste of management and employee time—it creates an environment where the employee feels untrusted to do their job. Along with giving constructive feedback, trusting employees to do their job without being constantly monitored is one of the hardest tasks of a manager.
Managers need to remember they were the ones who hired these employees, if those employees can’t be trusted, that’s a management problem. If a manager has had previous experience with an employee taking advantage of their trust, it can be even harder to allow freedom for future employees to work without constant oversight, but it's necessary in creating a productive, healthy office environment.
When people are constantly being monitored, not only is their morale affected, but they’ll just find different, more elaborate ways to continue their behavior.

5 steps to exceptional optometry management

  • Being an exceptional manager means being a leader, a listener, and a structured supporter of the people being managed.
  • Exceptional managers praise their optometric techs for their time management and their office staff for keeping them sane.
  • They offer direct feedback when employees aren’t working as a productive team and respect that every person deserves to have boundaries, even though technology has blurred the lines.
An employee-empowered workplace is only viewed as a negative by managers who want to maintain old tried-and-failed styles of management. A stellar manager includes their staff in decision-making and trusts them to get their work done without policing their performance. These are the skills needed to retain optometry employees in this hyper-competitive, "grass is greener," employment environment.
Andy Squire
About Andy Squire

Andy Squire is an Ophthalmic Tech with over a decade of experience working in private practice. Currently residing in Northern California, he believes educated patients make better patients, and he's always looking for new ways to improve the clinic experience.

Andy Squire
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