Staff Management

Manager vs. Friend: Strike a Balance With Employees

By Diane Palombi, OD

If you ask any business owner to identify the one thing they find most challenging about owning a business, the most common response is dealing with employees. How you manage your staff can vary greatly depending on if you have a large multi-location practice with numerous employees or a small office with just a few.

In general, large practices have to be more structured and rigid in their approach. Typically, they have an employee manual that spells out the rules that must be followed. This manual is updated as new problems arise because employees can be clever in working the system.

Small practices, such as the one I owned, do not necessarily need to be as strict. My goal was to be employee/family friendly. I did not have an employee handbook. However I had to implement a time-off rule after one employee wrote herself off in the appointment book without consulting me first. Even that rule was laid back. I just typed up a sheet of paper with the new office policy, which all the employees signed. I usually was pretty flexible with time off. However, I did lose it once with one employee who left town for the hospitalization of her mother-in-law. After several days, she still couldn’t give me an idea of when she would be back. I guess she could tell by the tone of my voice that I was ticked because she was back at work the next day.

It is not a good idea to be too chummy with employees. At husband’s company, the vice-president treats the employees almost like peers. He gets involved with their personal lives and likes to give advice. His familiarity can backfire. When he is in charge due to the absence of my husband, some of the employees do not give him proper respect if they do not agree with something he wants them to do.

I believed in respecting the opinion of my employees. Your optician probably does know more than you about glasses. If she has a suggestion, hear her out. If you implement her suggestion, it shows that you value her opinion. A respected employee is happier and more apt to help out his employer. Happy employees are productive employees.

Watch out for abuses with salaried employees. My husband had a secretary who missed work due to personal problems. No one kept track of her time off since she was salaried. It got to the point that she was working 25 percent of a work week while getting her full paycheck every week. At this point, all of her vacation and personal days were used up. Forced to replace her, my husband was worried the week he needed to terminate her if she would ever show up so he could finally fire her. She also had the nerve to ask why she wasn’t paid for 80 hours instead of the 23 that she actually worked during that two-week period on her final pay check. She also thought she had vacation pay due since she did not go on an real vacation that year.

Be careful about giving extra days off. My husband gave his employees Monday off when a holiday fell on a Tuesday. The employees then expected an extra day off the following year. The same thing can happen with letting employees leave early the day before a holiday. You do it once, they expect it every time. Snow days can be tricky, also for the same reason.

My husband had to eliminate sick days. When he had sick days, the employees made sure that they were sick the number they were allotted. He replaced the sick days with personal days. Suddenly his employees got healthier. Sure, they used all of their personal days, but those were scheduled in advance instead of a phone call that morning because they were supposedly sick.

Like any business, an optometric practice is dependent on having quality employees. Offer yours a guiding hand that encourages fresh thinking about how best to serve your patients.

How do you strike a balance between being a firm manager and an open-minded friend to employees? Do you have any management success stories to share?

Diane Palombi, OD, now-retired, was owner of Palombi Vision Center in Wentzville, Mo. To contact her: dlpod1@hotmail.com

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