Garrett Vick’s eastern Indiana practice, Centerville Eye Care, was winding down after a busy back-to-school season. He had just hired a part-time receptionist, Tara, and was happy to see her mesh with the rest of the team right away.
Two weeks later, Dr. Vick noticed that Tara’s thick, beat-up glasses had been replaced with a fashion-forward frame. “Wow, Tara! Love the new glasses! Did you find those in our optical?” Dr. Vick asked.
“Yes,” Tara said, beaming. “Gabe — the optical manager — told me I could use my free glasses benefit early, since I’m supposed to be the face of the company and my other pair was so old.”
Dr. Vick did his best to fake a smile and said, “Well, they look great.” Inside, he was furious that a manager would go against company policy. Centerville Eye allowed full-time staff one free pair a year, but only after six months of employment. Part-timers got one pair a year at cost plus 10 percent, also after a probationary period.
Dr. Vick sat at his desk and reviewed the ledgers and spectacle entries for various employees. What he found was discouraging: In several instances, frames he could recall seeing his employees wearing were missing from the system.
The next morning, the lab manager and optical manager were summoned to Dr. Vick’s office.
“Gabe and Owen, we need to discuss the employee eyewear benefit,” he began. “I put you in charge and trusted you to follow our policy, but it appears that isn’t happening.” Owen shifted in his chair and seemed embarrassed, but Gabe spoke with confidence: “Is this about the new front-desk person? Her old pair was awful,” Gabe said. “I used stock lenses and found a pair from that big close-out purchase we did a few months back. Our total cost was under $40, and she looks so much better!”
“She’s a brand-new, part-time employee, Gabe,” Dr. Vick said. “The policy is six months — she pays for it. Even if it was OK to move the time up, why was there no charge on her ledger?”
“Tara’s been unemployed a long time,” Owen explained. “The day she got them, she clocked out early and worked the afternoon for free to make up for it.”
Dr. Vick shook his head in exasperation. “What?! Why has all of this gone so far off the rails?”
Owen bit his lip, and said, “As the lab manager, I do hear a lot of requests from the opticians to try new lens designs and products. There’s too much out there for us to get to know on just one free pair a year.”
Gabe chimed in. “I know Owen does a great job of minimizing cost for the practice. Our labs sometimes give coupons and freebies for staff, and we always try to get frames comped or at a deep discount.”
“Can you help me understand why these aren’t in our computer system?” Dr. Vick leaned forward over his desk. “Because, I have to tell you, it really seems like you’re trying to hide this.”
Owen’s face lost a little color, but Gabe flushed and shook his head. “We have a paper record in the lab, we’re using a spreadsheet to track —” but Gabe cut himself off when he realized he wasn’t doing himself any favors.
“Do I need to monitor my system, Gabe? Owen?” Dr. Vick asked.
Owen shook his head and said, “The opticians are getting the hands-on learning they need to be good at their jobs. I believe if we cover only one pair a year, everyone is going to get very upset, and we may even see a negative effect in sales.”
The Big Questions
1. Are Gabe and Owen stealing from the company?
2. Should new staff with “bad” glasses have an expedited benefit?
3. How can Dr. Vick strike a balance in his eyewear policy?
Expanded Real Deal Responses
It is the doctor’s practice. They should follow the policy. It is not their money to spend. I like new glasses as much as anyone but they are taking money out of Dr. Vick’s pocket.
Dr. Vick is wrong. The staff members, not just the receptionist, are the face of the practice. Our policy is you can only wear what you can buy here. It’s an inexpensive benefit that pays back exponentially. People sell what they wear. Patients buy what they see the staff wear. You cannot expect your staff to sell multiple pairs when they get only one a year.
Danbury , CT
I think that the doctor and optical managers should meet quarterly and review potential new products. If those products warrant a “test drive,” then maybe they should offer a company raffle to try the new product so that everyone could get a chance for an extra pair.
Technically it is stealing. BUT, I wouldn’t go overboard about it and get as fired up as Dr. Vick. I believe in “Say it once, and then if it happens again, bye bye.”
What your staff wears is a direct reflection on your office. Think when you get your haircut, what does your stylist look like? But that, bottom line, has to Dr. Vick’s decision. It’s not Gabe and Owen’s optical.
Lake Charles, LA
New hires should have good looking glasses as soon a possible, especially if theirs are too tired. Part of the policy could be if they don’t finish the probationary period, cost plus 10 percent comes out of their final check. The worst thing in the whole episode is a front-desk person at the “Eye Expert Place” had crummy glasses on at any time.
As a former optical sales manager, I believe that everyone working in a optical shop should have the latest eyewear and lenses on display by wearing it. Employees should be able to buy frames and lenses at wholesale cost at any time. There should also be fun sales contests where spiffs and free frames are awarded to the winners. Every year on an employee’s anniversary, they should be be giving one free pair of glasses. This encourages them to wear the lastest lens technologies and styles and only helps sales. Many employees of optical shops don’t have benefits, vacation time or other perks, so this is a great way to reward your wonderful team!
Dodge City, KS
Gabe and Owen are attempting to help the company but in the wrong way. All employee transactions must be approved by the owner and recorded. Any unapproved or unrecorded transactions are theft. Any free lens coupons, discounted frames, free perks with purchases, etc., belong to the office, not the employees. It is up to the owner as to how the product is used. The owner is also at fault by not monitoring the system.
North Bend, OR
Office policies are put into place for a reason, part of which is to insure equality among employees. Going against office policy should first be discussed with the owner to be sure it won’t cause a riff among employees or an unwanted extra expense. Records have to be kept on every transaction within a business so you have an accurate business overview at the end of the year. It’s also helpful to track theft and to keep all employees accountable to the same office policy. I think their hearts were in the right place, but their business sense was lacking.
Spring Valley, CA
When a doctor sets rules in his office they need to be respected and followed. If you feel the new hire needs something nice to wear, then you go to the doctor and ask. Taking matters into your own hands is taking advantage of your employer.
Dr. Vick should require prior approval for the use of any staff eyewear benefit — at least until abuse of the benefit is no longer a concern. Also, he may want to consider offering staff the option of purchasing unlimited personal eyewear at cost. With constantly changing styles and technology, one pair a year can be very limiting. Having staff outfitted in the latest and greatest eyewear will only benefit the practice.
Gabe and Owen at best are not meeting Dr. Vick’s expectations. At worst, they are mismanaging assets. Dr. Vick needs to reset their roles in this and make his expectations clear. New staff should have glasses that represent the practice. Gabe and Owen should have asked Dr. Vick for permission. In order to strike a balance he needs to implement an approval policy for all employee eyewear sold. To be fair, all employees should have the same access to vouchers for frames and lenses. Employees should all be able to purchase glasses at cost-plus. Hourly employees should never work off the clock for a number of reasons.
They are stealing. Good intentions, and good results don’t change that. Dr. Vick’s employee policy obviously needs to be revisited. His managers have come up with a great alternative, but he should have been included in creating the “new” policy. At the least, each of the “transactions” should have been approved by the owner. The owner also needs to update his approach and understanding of how important the optical department is, and in turn how important employee eyewear is.
This article originally appeared in the October 2016 edition of INVISION.