Staff Management

Create a Work Environment that Promotes Superior Care & Practice Growth

By Dave Anderson, OD

July 27, 2016

Invite staff to attend sporting events together, movies, or just the occasional group breakfast.

A work environment that motivates employees to come to work, and be engaged while there, results in better patient care, and a better chance of retaining patients. My two partners and I have intentionally created an office culture that makes employees glad to be here.

There is no doubt that a positive culture, or worse–a negative culture–is felt by patients. When our staff is calm and happy there is a sense of relief that our patients feel. They always comment in reviews on how friendly and happy our staff is, and that this always makes them feel comfortable. Just as a smile is contagious, our staff’s positive vibe is felt by patients.

There are so many times that, given the opportunity to use their positive attitudes and willingness to help others, our staff became the hero to a specific patient. From driving a patient home after their car did not start so they could get their other car, to stepping around the counter to hug a patient after they just got out of the hospital and needed their glasses adjusted, our staff is always treating our patients like they are family. In fact, when discussing patients, nearly all of my staff refer to patients as “our patient.” This ownership of the patient, and positive culture, makes it easy to deliver the best care possible.

Define “Positive Work Environment”

A positive environment can be defined in many ways, but ultimately it has to do with making work not feel like work. If the common goal is more about patient care and having fun, then the culture is fully about the end result and not about the details that can be tiring or difficult. A positive environment is one where not only those who work there, but also the patients, feel an atmosphere that is both comfortable and happy. It is an environment where staff members feel they are serving a higher purpose than just collecting a paycheck. They are helping people to see better and improve their lives.

Create a Mission Statement to Define Office Culture

The mission statement should always drive all decisions in the office, and how everything operates every day. If the mission and vision by the owners is one that is patient-centered, the culture created is one that is, by design, focused on the patient. Here’s ours, which we have for staff in our employee handbook, as well as posted on a wall in our office:


Focus on What is Best for Patients

The message we always send is one focused on being the best for our patients, so they can see their best. Since the pleasant and comfortable atmosphere is part of our mission, we constantly discuss this in our meetings about the positive things that have happened, and use this to help us better handle challenging situations. Specifically, if a patient is giving our staff a difficult time, we always have the staff take a quick break and ask themselves how they can make a more comfortable and pleasant situation for the patient. We often will do role-playing during our staff meetings, and try to make it fun, but address the challenging issue in a way that works for the patient so that we can help them in a world-class way.

The staff of Miamisburg Vision Caremaintains a fun workingenvironment where patients receive a positive and welcoming message. This photo was taken at a local library park, where the practice takes a group photo each year.

Create Activities to Break Up Workload & De-Stress

We have so many things that happen during a typical day, from the “chocolate bunny” to the XOXO jokes. The chocolate bunny happens often as one of our manager staff will “hop” around with a bag full of candy for the staff in hopes that a smile appears on their face. Luckily, our staff really enjoys chocolate.

The XOXO happened a few months ago, when a staff member asked one of the doctors for a third time to fix a computer that was not working properly. The third time usually causes additional stress, since the computer at that time was critical to patient care, and he was focused on his patients.

The staff member left a sticky note with XOXO at the bottom that made the doctor smile and seemed to melt the stress he was carrying, as well as the stress all the staff felt with this situation.

We don’t have game rooms, workout rooms or anything special, but we do have a break room in the back of the office with a large fridge that has room for staff lunches and beverages, and also works as a great gathering place and cool-down area. We allow the staff to spend petty cash from the practice on snack, drinks and other items that are often needed during some of the more challenging days, but this also gives them an area to congregate and chat.

Dr. Anderson and his staff play dress-up as superheros for a kids day and trunk show. Dr. Anderson says activities, like encouraging employees to dress up like this, make coming to work more fun, and help keep employees engaged in their jobs.

Facilitate Staff Bonding

We do all sorts of team-building outings and meetings to help foster positive attitudes, as well as bring the staff together for something more than work. We typically have breakfasts for 2-3 of the meetings during the month, we have lunches a few times a year, either for a specific occasion, or for no reason in particular, and we also do several events a year to help keep employees engaged in our office. Some of the outings include: Dayton Dragons baseball game for staff and family, Movie Day at the downtown movie followed by ice cream, Target shooting day and bonfire, group culinary experience, bowling and others.

There is a cost to each, both in terms of loss of revenue and the actual event, and this varies by the length of time required and the specific event, but the cost has rarely been over $1,000 for our 20-member staff, and the payback in positive attitude is worth every penny we spend.

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Dave Anderson, OD, is a partner withMiamisburg Vision Care in Miamisburg, Ohio. To contact:

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