By Steven Faith, OD
August 18, 2021
The youngest generation of employees, those in their twenties, may have a different perspective than your older employees.
Before 2020, our average staff age was 36. It is now 26.
That decade difference in experience poses an unexpected challenge to our leadership team. Aside from the lack of optometric knowledge, it has become obvious that we now have a staff that has 10 years less of life knowledge. These young people, however, have tremendous potential to tap into, provided they receive the right training.
Here is how our practice is training our newest–and youngest–employees to be the kind of people our patients and doctors expect in our longstanding practice.
We noticed that our youngest employees often lack interpersonal one-on-one experience. That means we need to train the traits necessary to be successful in communicating with our patients.
We have to demonstrate by example what good communication between staff and patients sounds and looks like. This can be done through role-playing exercises, or by having a new employee shadow a long-time employee throughout the day, noting how their more experienced peer communicates with patients.
Importance of Respecting Work Schedules
We found that our younger staff has a unique and wildly inappropriate conception of work schedules and attendance. They are significantly less concerned about being on time, calling out sick or staying home if they didn’t sleep well the night before. Their sense of teamwork and responsibility to our office and patients was lacking when they were first hired. These kinds of reprimands were not uncommon:
“No, Susie, 8 a.m. is not a suggested time to come to work. It is the time you are to be at work ready to see patients.”
“I’m sorry you didn’t sleep well last night, Pam, but we do expect you to be here on time in the morning to work your scheduled shift.”
Many of our new employees had to be trained on the proper technique of communicating their intention to not come to work for a scheduled shift. We were getting 5:30 a.m. text messages as our only communication that they were not coming to work that same day. We needed to institute a formal program that if you were not coming to work on the same day of your schedule you needed to actually talk with a manager or doctor so we could assess the situation. For example: Was it serious? Did they need to see a medical doctor? How long did they intend to be out of the office? We found that when the staff was required to talk to a doctor or administrator before not coming to work, our absentee rate went down.
Since we needed a way to encourage our staff to be on time and respectful of their work schedules and responsibility to our patients and their teammates, we implemented a new bonus system in which each person is responsible for their own bonus. Every staff member at the beginning of every month starts with a $250 bonus pool of their own. Every time they are late to clock in for their shift or “forget” to clock in or out, or make a mistake in our electronic time recording system, we subtract $25 from their bonus pool. If they call to miss a scheduled day for an unexcused reason less than 24 hours before their scheduled shift, regardless of the cause, we subtract $50 from their pool.
This simple act of giving employees a personal bonus pool for something they are supposed to do anyway may seem remedial, but has been effective. Out of 20 eligible staff, we have only had four people consistently get the whole $250 and have eight who have received $0 at the end of the month. With this new system, if they don’t get their bonus it falls squarely on them and no one else.
Our new system will cost roughly $60,000 by the end of the year if all staff get their entire bonus pool. That is roughly the amount of bonus pool we had in the past with our more traditional system of awarding bonuses to the staff as a team based on practice profitability. In fact, it looks like we will spend less this year than in past years due to the eight consistent slackers who seem intent on not getting their full bonus.
In the traditional system, the slackers were held up by the hard workers, and got bonuses even if they didn’t pull their weight. Our intent, however, is to directly reinforce through their own positive behaviors what is expected of them in a professional practice, or any work environment for that matter.
Our younger staff often don’t have an idea of what medical professionalism is, or the process for presenting a professional experience to our patients. Many have mostly retail shopping experience that they perceive as professional. Interactions at the Forever 21 store are much different from what we want to present in our office. Our practice’s average patient and optical shopper is a 46-year-old woman who expects more from us than what an associate at a retail store with a younger demographic provides.
We instituted an entirely new training system for all new employees. We started utilizing professional training systems featuring video and online training. We use the Optometric Success Center Learning (OSCL) from the Williams Group as the core base of our staff training. OSCL has given us a wonderful vehicle to have a professional training system that is specifically for optometry with general retail and medical situational videos and an easy-to-follow module system. It also allows us to directly monitor the progress of our staff through the training process, and helps guide those who are challenged by certain modules. The modules are succinct, specific and directly related to everything that needs to be done in an optometric practice.
Other Articles to Explore
We also use the opticianworks.com website through the Laramy-K Optical Lab for our opticians. This has been a wonderful, inexpensive resource for training all of our opticians on basic optics to frame styling to lens types to ABO certification courses. We have used this for many years and continue to do so today.
A more recent addition to our online optometric based training systems is the newly redesigned ABB Educate modules through ABB Optical Group. These modules have an extensive menu of topics that cover everything from optician-based interests to phone techniques to patient interactions to team-building exercises.
And an out-of-the-box training system we have used in the past is the SalesRx online training system provided by Bob Phibbs, The Retail Doctor. SalesRx is a non-optometric retail training system that incorporates lessons ranging from phone techniques to customer interactions to proper interpersonal skill training and role-play training.
With continued online and in-person training, we are confident our newest employees will eventually also become our best.
* I have no financial connection to any of the training programs I discuss. We have to buy them like everyone else does.
Photo credit, top of page: Getty Images