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MANAGING OPTICIAN

"Take This Job and Shove it, 
I Ain't Working Unclear No More..."

The more practices I frequent as a Mobile Optician, the more I recognize the vast need of clarity on a touchy subject.

Some job expectations of ECPs are no-brainers. Everyone agrees that our patients are top priority. Right?

We always strive to provide them with the best possible vision care. Don't we? We like to believe that we go above and beyond our call of duty. Therefore, it's clear to us why we do what we do. Isn't it? 

Then why in the optical world are there so many ECPs working day in and day out “unclear” about their job expectations? A group of adults floundering around in attempt to provide exceptional patient care and retention. That works, right?

I ask ECPs, only to receive vague replies: 

“It's not my job, or at least I don't think it is, but it might as well be” 

“The person responsible for that job is no longer here, so whoever has time usually tries to take care of it” 

“Nobody cares as long as we get the work done” 

“I figured out a different way to make this work, I just need to run it by the doctor” 

“I think we need to have a meeting soon, we should have already had one” 

“I'm not sure and I don't have time to answer your consulting questions”

Let's not forget about the “co-worker blame game”. The game that can go on and on with no winners. It is often played in front of patients. There's no limit to the number of players. I have seen these games end with an exit interview, job abandonment, or even text message job resignation. 

“Take this job and shove it, I ain't working unclear no more!” 

Unclear job expectations are costly and can destroy the practice's bottom line. The results: mistakes, loss of patients, staff turnover, and jeopardized reputations. To try and put dollar amounts on these results would be mind boggling. 

Calculators aside, no one in the practice should be exempt from having a copy of their job expectations with purpose on paper. Mental notes work great for some aspects of this industry, so just have your brain transfer those to paper. That way there's little chance for confusion or fuzzy visions. 

Your practice's mission statement should be framed and displayed. When what matters to the practice is clear and agreed upon, everyone seems to feel more confident in their ability to meet and exceed expectations. Open lines of communication in appropriate areas of the practice are essential. 

Having frequent mini meetings to discuss the schedule, expectations, patient flow, personal computer/cell/text usage will reveal valuable information. Some offices have daily meetings, I must say I greatly admire those that do. Mini meetings are great as long as they aren't spent beating the same dead horse. If a dead horse isn't removed from the practice, the whole place stinks. Even the patients can smell it. Remember, the patient is top priority. Bury the horse. 

Job expectations should represent the way you want your patients handled. Avoid ridiculous, humanly impossible workloads. They do not need to include a long “laundry list” with every single little task. Don't hire someone “on a whim” and constantly change their job expectations. 

Use this checklist, and tweak it. Stop “on a whim” behavior.

ECP Job Expectations Checklist 

  • Make sure to cover the legal bases (HIPAA, FLSA...etc)

  • Job Title, Hours, Location, Benefits, Pay Rate 

  • Mission Statement

  • Proper chain of command 

  • List of Primary Job “Fun”ctions

  • Training 

  • List the machines, tools, and equipment that will be used on the job

  • Explain how the ECP will interact with patients, co-workers and vendors 

  • Leave room for practice growth and job flexibility

  • Review and update 

  • Sign and date document 

  • Distribute copy to ECP

Be prepared. Before bringing someone new into the practice, ask the current staff for their input on hiring. Be sure to define the new hire position to match your practice's needs. Have the applicants interview with managers, doctors, and someone they will be working closely with, if possible. 

Make sure your interview questions are legal to ask. Ask open, closed, hypothetical, behavioral and logical questions. Answer all questions that the applicant may have. Check references, check references, and check references. If the applicant makes the cut, invite them back for shadowing with the practice in action. If all goes well, sign them up! 

Training a new hire properly is essential and not for everyone. Timing is everything. Always be up-front with new hires and lead by example. Current staff likes a chance to put their two cents in about working in the practice. Make sure to schedule a mini meeting to introduce and welcome them. Inform all staff of new hire's position and answer any questions. Work with the new hire on reaching a mutual comfort level of their job expectations. The new hire may have optical experience “out of the whazoo” but each place of employment is unique in its own way. 

Cross training aka job swaping can be an interesting challenge. Training your staff to be proficient at different job “fun”ctions may keep the practice running smoothly in the event of a vacant position. Notice I said “may”. No one wants to work in a co-worker's position and be “thrown under the bus” for trying to help out. Cross training needs to a positive experience for staff members to thrive. Try it to cure staff boredom or down time (it works fast). It can also reveal hidden talents, increase practice knowledge, help the bottom line and save someone's sanity. 

The art of good communication is vital to those in charge of reprimanding staff members. Have a copy of the ECP's signed documents on hand. Reprimanding should be calm, in private, constructive; not destructive. Unfair or unpredictable treatment usually ends up affecting the entire staff. 

The way the staff is treated reflects the way the patients are treated. All disciplinary action should be documented and signed. Address all performance problems as quickly as possible. When the boss is aware of the situation and fails to properly address it, everyone is taking mental notes and comparing them. Not good. 

Keeping our language and behavior “office appropriate” is mandatory. That means the entire time you are on the premises and “on the clock”. As ECPs we need to remember that patients trust us with their vision needs. That's a huge responsibility. They select our practice over many others. The average patient visits their eyecare provider every 2 + years. 

During that short visit to our practice they are more than likely watching every move we make. Don't blow your chance at providing exceptional patient care. At the next mini meeting you should define “office appropriate”. I know, I know, I am going to hear it from some of my colleagues for pushing the mini meetings. Would you rather play the guessing game? Everyone in the practice deserves to be “in the know”. 

Ginny Johnson
LDO, ABOC

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