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Real Deal

Real Deal: The Case of the Disillusioned Apprentice




Meticulous Doctor

A newly hired optical apprentice feels a growing
discomfort at the way she is supposed to present
herself around leering male customers.

This article originally appeared in the June 2016 edition of INVISION.

Nicole, a talented young optical
apprentice from a small town in
Texas, had recently relocated to San
Antonio and after weeks of applications
finally secured a part-time job
in a corporate optometry practice,
located inside a busy mall. Her goal
was to become a full-time employee.


In her first weeks, however,
Nicole struggled to adapt the mall
clientele. In her hometown, where
she knew many of the patients,
people were polite and respectful.
While many of the walk-ins at the
mall were nice, there were several
men who behaved inappropriately
toward not only her but also her
co-worker, Faith. She would notice
men sitting on benches outside the
mall staring through
the windows at her in
a way that made her
uncomfortable. A few
men made comments
about her cleavage
when she would lean
over the dispensing
table to check frame
fit. Two even asked for
her phone number.

Nicole initially looked to Faith,
who was in her late 20s and vivacious,
for leadership. However, the
personalities of Faith and Nicole
were quite different. While the new
hire was conservative and no-nonsense,
Faith took these issues in
stride, seemingly accustomed to this
environment. Her smile and charm
helped her make sales, which meant she was valued at the company.

Nicole began feeling sick before
a shift, nervous at what the day
would bring, thinking about certain
men and hoping they wouldn’t visit
the shop. She felt conflicted about
sharing her feeling with manager,
Pam. Nicole really needed a fulltime
job, and she didn’t want to be
perceived as a country bumpkin.
Besides, she debated with herself,
what could Pam possibly do about
the situation? Nicole felt she had
the power to affect some change, so
she stopped wearing makeup and
dressed more plainly.

A month after her hire date Pam
scheduled a meeting to provide
Nicole with feedback and direction.

“Nicole, I want
to say first how impressed
I am with your
skill set,” Pam said.
“I can tell you really
enjoy frame selection
and patient education,
which is so important
in this field. Great



Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual eyecare businesses and people.


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


“Thank you,” Nicole said weakly.

“Now, I know you want to get to
full-time here. My suggestion is to
take some cues from Faith. Her sales
are impressive, and she really puts
her personality out there for people.
I’ve been scheduling you with her so
you can learn,” Pam said. “But the
dynamic you have with her is weak.
Can you help me understand what’s

For a minute Nicole’s chin had
twitched, and now big tears were
rolling down her cheeks.

“Sorry,” she said, “sorry, sorry …”
Pam found her a box of tissues and
waited patiently. Nicole pulled herself
together and started over.

“I don’t really like some of the
things the male customers say to
me,” she confessed. “I just want to
do my job.” She went on to describe
some of her encounters to Pam, who
listened sympathetically.

“I imagine this feeds in to the
next topic I wanted to discuss with
you, which is about presentation,”
Pam said. “Wearing business-casual
attire, looking professional …”

“I just don’t want to seem like …”
Nicole trailed off and looked around
the room, “… Faith.”

Pam’s eyebrow arched. “What
does that mean?”

“Faith just seems so flirty to me,
and I feel like when I work alongside
her it gives customers the impression
that I must be like that too,”
Nicole said.

Pam bit her lip. Faith was Pam’s
dear friend, and she firmly disagreed
with Nicole’s assessment.

“OK, Nicole, I’d like to discuss
your concerns with my supervisor.
Is that OK? I think we should meet
again soon to find a resolution,”
Pam said.


1. How would you resolve Pam’s dilemma?

2. Is it appropriate for Pam to
hire for personalities that she believes can handle this work atmosphere?

3. Is there a policy or practice the office can implement to protect staff
from harrassment? How should it be best presented to the public?




Pam needs to take Nicole’s feelings
into consideration. Flirting
to get sales may work for one, but
obviously in this case not for the
other. Maybe arrange for them to
work opposite shifts. Nicole is going
to have to put herself out there
and learn how to handle herself in
stressful situations. Being a young
female, this will include being hit on
by male customers. She will have to
learn techniques to change the subject
or sway the conversation into a
different direction.



Nicole should feel comfortable and
safe where she works. Customers
should not feel free to harass employees.
Nicole needs to come up
with a technique that will subtly let
the customer know she’s not interested.
Management needs to back
her up! If you tolerate harassment
of an employee, then what else will
you tolerate? People should not feel
afraid to go to work.



I would observe Nicole and Faith
to see what was really happening.
I would have asked Faith before
scheduling her to work with Nicole
if she was comfortable mentoring
her on her approach to customer
service. I would have then told
Nicole what to expect, and I would
have checked in with both of them
after the first after the first week. As
far as the inappropriate behavior on
the part of the client, Nicole should have brought that to Pam as it was
happening. A business dress code
would address some of this.



This may not be the office for
Nicole. Not every office and employee
are going to be a fit. The
optical sales should not suffer from
Nicole’s insecurities, and Nicole
should not compromise her values.



It seems a camisole and a top button
on a blouse would solve a lot
of problems here. Yes, you hire for
personality and work ethic. These
are always the hard qualities to find.
It is harder for a male supervisor to
correct a female employee wearing
too little rather then too much. A
male supervisor can’t be right in either
situation. If a female employee
is occasionally uncomfortable with
a customer, swapping her for a male
employee is an easy fix. If a customer
is being a leering jerk, ask him
to leave. Men outside the store on
a bench, you can’t do much about.
Move the bench, I guess. Everyone
eventually has to learn a way to deal
with the weird world out there.



Pam needs to be a manager first —
friendly but not close friends with
her staff. Pam has placed a halo on
Faith’s head, and it’s interfering with
her ability to effectively manage her
entire staff. Unwanted and inappropriate
attention from customers
should never be tolerated, and neither
should flirting to make a sale be
condoned. Pam needs to develop an
office policy covering both appearance
and behavior that allows every
staff member to be comfortable and


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