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If This Team of Expo Slackers Worked for You, What Action Would You Take?

They spent most of the all-expenses-paid trip in the hotel bar.

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DR. BENNIGAN’S STAFF of 12 was buzzing. Liz, the office manager, was spreading the word that for the first time ever the practice would be sending some team members to a big optometry conference. The lucky staff members would fly from their home in Lexington, KY to Atlanta, GA for three days of continuing education, special events and expo exhibits.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved and should not be confused with real people or places. Responses are peer-sourced opinions and are not a substitute for professional legal advice. Please contact your attorney if you have any questions about an employee or customer situation in your own business.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

NATALIE TAYLOR is owner of Artisan Eyewear in Meredith, NH. She offers regional private practice consulting and ABO/COPE approved presentations. Email her at [email protected]

Liz asked everyone to email her a short “essay” describing why they wanted to attend and what they hoped to get out of the experience. Based on these essays Dr. Bennigan chose four staff—two opticians and two technicians—plus Liz to lead the trip. She immediately booked the flights so the group could sit together. Dr. Bennigan agreed to pay each staff person their regular wages for an 8-hour workday. Liz carefully scheduled each staff person with CE lectures as well as time to attend the expo. She printed the course handouts and made binders for each attendee.

The morning of the flight Liz met her four co-workers in the office parking lot and everyone loaded into an airport shuttle van. It was early, just after dawn. As they pulled out onto the highway Liz shushed the group to go over some of the details, beginning with her binders.

“I’d recommend reading through your handouts on the plane,” said Liz. “Dr. Bennigan has scheduled a 3-hour staff meeting for when we get back home, and each of us is going to need to present a 3- to 5-minute summary of what we learned at each lecture.”

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The group collectively rolled their eyes and shifted in their seats, but no one argued.

“Tomorrow night at 7:30pm we are going to meet up in the hotel bar and walk across the street to a restaurant so we can talk about the first day, okay?” The girls tiredly sipped cups of coffee and stared out the windows.

Liz was booked in a room by herself and spent the first night zoned out in front of the TV. The next morning, she saw one of the opticians on the shuttle bus.

“Where’s your partner in crime?” Liz asked amiably.

“Oh, we met up with a few of my old co-workers at a bar last night. She got pretty drunk,” the optician said, chuckling. “She’s still out cold; I left her in the room.”

“Oh boy,” Liz tried to hide her frustration.

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That evening, Liz waited for her team as planned but by 7:40pm she sent a group text asking for an ETA.

“I forgot!” wrote the technicians. “We’re at the big optometry party – come here!” “We have drink tickets!”

“We’re too tired,” texted one optician. No reply from the other.

Liz called the restaurant to cancel their reservation, and backed off the group for the remainder of the trip.

At Dr. Bennigan’s staff meeting the presentations were of varying quality: one of the technicians did an adequate job, but the other had clearly not taken any notes during her classes. The two opticians confessed to missing several classes and largely worked off the handout binders.

Dr. Bennigan held the four back for a recap. “Ladies,” he began, “Liz and I are not satisfied with your efforts—not today, and not while in Atlanta. I was OK paying you for the time you put in to your education, but you clearly have taken advantage of the situation.

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I think we need to revisit the terms of this trip.”

The Big Questions

  • Would it be fair of Dr. Bennigan to subtract from an employee’s daily rate for each missed course?
  • Should the team be held accountable for missing team-building events? How?
  • If Dr. Bennigan decides to send staff next year, what should he do differently?
Becky M.
Osawatomie, KS

We have to show proof that we attended our classes. If we don’t have our schedule stamped we don’t get paid for the time in that class. The staff should not be paid for the classes they did not attend. The staff was disrespectful for not attending the dinner they were aware of ahead of time. If the doctor sends staff next year he should spell out, in writing, what is expected of staff and none of the staff that attended this year aside from Liz should be allowed to attend again. We have never had to put the expectations in writing at our practice. We have a lot of fun at conferences but we also attend our classes and take notes because we’re being paid to be there and our doctor is paying for CE. Common courtesy and respect.

Thomas W.
Myrtle Beach, SC

The doctor paid the staff to attend the classes. They did not attend, so it would be fair for him to subtract for each missed course. The team should be held accountable for missing the team-building events, but as these were clearly after hours and not during their paid work hours, there should be no financial consequences for missing these events. If the doctor decides to send staff next year — and I think he should—he should personally explain his expectations to the staff. Additionally, it would be wise for him to attend the conference along with his staff. It would also be a good idea for him to take them out to dinner as a team-building event and not as a business meeting. I would encourage keeping the team together as much as possible. The office manager zoning out in front of the TV by herself is not acceptable.

Deanna A.
Fort Collins, CO

Express your concerns and document it in their employee file. I would consider sending less people the following year and certainly not the ones who didn’t follow through. There seemed to be a lot of hand holding and trying to make sure they follow through. There needs to be some point of responsibility of the employee. They go to learn and share. The partying and missing classes is abuse of the situation. Next year if they miss class, then they would be docked those hours and asked to reimburse for the cost of education.

Brian C.
Prescott Valley, AZ

We had a similar situation when I took my entire staff of five to Vegas Expo West about 20 years ago. Most of my staff did not attend the education I paid for, and were off drunk/gambling the entire time. Time dedicated to purchasing new frame lines and evaluating equipment was spent trying to find errant employees who were passed out/vomiting in their rooms after the “Marchon party.” It was a terrible experience. I was furious that I closed my clinic for three days (thousands in lost revenue), paid for the entire thing (a couple more thousand dollars), the staff’s hourly wage for three days, and I netted no positives at all. It was a complete waste of time and money. The staff noted my resentment for years afterward, and never brought up going to Expo again. I have never paid for any employee to go to Expo since. I attend it alone, sober, and only for one day.

Chris D.
Tampa, FL

I would not touch the employees’ pay for the trip. But not having filled the agreed requirements, I would suspend them for three days for gross negligence of their duties. This was not vacation; this was work and education. The expectations were set. They failed to deliver — three of them, at least. I would bar them for one year for any company paid events or education. I wouldn’t rub their noses in it, but set the tone to know it will never be tolerated again. And why.

Cherlyn F.
Decatur, IL

Speaking as an office manager, I would write up the employees who did not participate according to the agenda. I would also forbid them from any future trips for a period of time, say one to five years. Our policy on continuing education: Continuing education and the expenses involved will be left to the discretion of management. There may be times when you will be required to attend a seminar scheduled after office hours, or on a Saturday or Sunday. The doctors will pay your registration fee, and you will be reimbursed hourly pay for time spent in classes and for two hours for exhibit hall time. No reimbursement for travel expenses will be considered.

Pamela M.
Highland, CA

1. Would it be fair of Dr. Bennigan to subtract from an employee’s daily rate for each missed course? ABSOLUTELY.
2. Should the team be held accountable? YES.
3. No further out of area continuing education except for the staff person who adhered to the rules. No exceptions for staff members who took advantage of their employer and office manager. The staff, despite the rules, took this as a vacation at the employer’s expense. Shame on the employees. This breach of trust has now created an office problem and will remain as part of the employees’ records. Trust will have to be earned back, if that is possible, and it is up to the doctor and the office manager.

Taylor K.
Ellington, CT

1. Yes, it would be appropriate to subtract the daily rate for missed courses. The staff was being paid for the hours they were attending the conference/expo, so why would they be paid for not going? Especially considering typically you pay per credit hour, so not only would the staff be paid to not be working, they were wasting money for attendance fees.
2. While it is frustrating the team didn’t attend, if they weren’t being paid for that time, there isn’t much to do for this specific issue, unless staff was told it is mandatory.
3. I would call a meeting with the doctor and the attending staff and express disappointment with what transpired. I would then explain that I will not be considering any staff members who missed courses for the next education trip. In the future, having very clear expectations of the staff will be essential.

Judy C.
Wilkes-Barre, PA

Yes, the doctor should hold the staff members accountable. Rather than docking their pay, it should be considered during their annual review process and the costs reflected in any resultant pay increase. I also believe there should be a written agreement between the doctor and any staff members attending a conference stipulating what will be required during the event. I would hope that any staff members offered this opportunity would jump at the chance. I know I would have.

Pam P.
Downers Grove, IL

It’s disappointing when a staff member does not value an opportunity like this! However, without expectations set prior to the trip, I don’t know that it would be fair to not pay for something promised. Spelling out expectations and letting staff select classes that might interest them, or covering CE requirements if they are certified, would give staff the ability to decide if they could meet the doctor’s expectations. Additionally, it should have been noted that any missed classes/days/activities that are required (and most likely already paid for) would result in a reduction of any reimbursement or pay. Working together as a team to cover any aspects of the meeting the doctor needed information about would have benefited all. But the girls all missing the meeting Liz had asked them to attend at the end of the first day could have derailed plans for the following days and was blatantly disrespectful to Liz. Action might be considered in that respect. The staff acted irresponsibly.

Martha D.
Wheatfield, IN

I definitely think he should subtract some of the hours for the ones who didn’t attend their classes. They didn’t live up to their part of the bargain. If he does send anyone next time, I would draw up paperwork specifically letting them know what is expected of them and what is expected of the doctor and have everyone sign. That way, when they come back afterwards and the doctor goes over the conference with them, all parties will be held accountable. If I was the doctor, I would have been really upset with my staff; they were chosen to go and all they did was play around.

Dennis I.
Monroe, CT

The doctor should have laid out all expectations and consequences prior to the meeting. This way, if someone didn’t fulfill their duty, there would be no questions regarding consequences. The staff manager should not only have made sure the staff met for an appropriate meeting, but also allowed for free time. Because the doctor and manager did not lay out their expectations, the only consequence should be that the individuals do not qualify for another trip.

Rigo L.
Indio, CA

This is funny, and at the same time sad but true. The staff should be held accountable for this. There is no reason why the doctor has to pay/lose for their staff to party. The staff should be ashamed, but I understand how things got out of hand. I give props to the manager for not trying to babysit her staff. I would subtract their pay — they would understand why. They need to understand that this is not acceptable. If they get bonuses, I would consider skipping them or cutting them significantly. I would also consider a write-up as well. As for the following year, I would still send staff but not those same staff ever again. There is no room for immature staff.

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Natalie Taylor is an experienced optometry practice manager for Advanced Care Vision Network and a consultant with Taylor Vision. Learn more at tayloreye.com.

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