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Tales so bizarre we couldn’t make them up ... Not that we’d want to.




WE DARED ECPs to share their most astonishing, their weirdest — and their downright yuckiest — customer encounters. Boy did they come through! In the following pages you’ll read stories that will make you chuckle, cringe, and squirm in discomfort. Mostly, you’ll just count your lucky stars it didn’t happen to you.

1. Out of Africa… and Straight to The Optical

Duke Dye, OD | Riverside Eye Center | Columbus, OH

Once we had a patient scramble in to buy another pair of Maui Jims.

The transaction was so fast we had to ask why, since it had been less than a month since he’d purchased his last pair.

Turns out that the guy lost the original pair because he had to jump into a river to save himself from a swarm of killer bees while traveling in Africa! Yikes!

2. But Why Did He Have So Much Free Time?

Jeff Grosekemper | Casa de Oro Eyecare | Spring Valley, CA

I used to work for a doctor who always spied on us. He used the glass in picture frames hanging in the hallway to watch us from around the corner. He thought he was sly but we could see his reflection as well. Also we could see the tips of his shoes sticking out of the doorway when we walked to the other side of the dispensary. He listened in on our phone calls not knowing a little red light would come on when somebody else picked up a phone. Always be one step ahead.

3. Cradle to Grave

Christine Howard | Attleboro Vision Care | Attleboro, MA

I had to make glasses for a deceased patient. Their glasses broke, and although they could have been repaired enough to function well during the viewing, the patient’s daughter insisted on making a whole new pair, Rx and all.


4. That Isn’t A Real Thing

Angel Miller | Cynthiana Vision Center | Cynthiana, KY

We had someone who wasn’t a patient come in and ask if we had those colored contacts made of paper that dissolve in the eye. We told them there was no such thing. He then asked whether, since we didn’t have them (because they don’t exist), we would let him have them shipped to our address if he ordered them elsewhere. Weirdo.

5. What They Don’t Teach You At School

Frances Ann Layton | Eye Associates of South GA | Valdosta, GA

I don’t recall my teachers telling me about the disgusting side of opticianry. My favorite story to tell newbies is about a man who brought his semi-rimless glasses in with one of the lenses out. He puts them in my hands and then tells me “they fell off my head into the manure mound and the lens popped out. Could you fix that and clean them up for me?”

6. Tastes Like Chicken

Kim Riggs, OD | Kimberly Riggs OD | Ligonier, PA

I had a patient who admitted that he was too lazy to get up off the couch one evening to throw away his daily disposable contacts, so he ate them after he took them out.

7. Maybe She Just Likes Standing in the Rain

Nytarsha Thomas, OD, Visionelle Eyecare Zionsville, In

We hired an optician who was really nice and said her best quality was attention to detail. One day, after she had been there about a month, she was the first to arrive at work. She opened the door and instead of putting in her unique alarm code, she entered the address of the business. (Why would we ever make the most visible number on the building the code to the alarm system?) When that triggered the alarm, she thought if she left the building and closed the door, it would stop. When I arrived, the alarm was blaring, a police officer was knocking on the front door, and she had been standing outside the back door in the rain for 10 minutes despite her car being inches away. Just a one-off incident, you may be thinking. But the next day, she was standing in the rain again, saying her key (the one she used the day before) didn’t work. I immediately used it to open the door. The following weekend, she forgot to lock the front door when she closed and a patient walked in over the weekend setting off the alarm and alerting the police again. Needless to say, she didn’t last very long.

8. We’ve Always Wondered What’s under Those Lab Coats

Mark Perry, OD | Vision Health Institute | Orlando, FL

Years ago, I had to stop by the office for something on my day off. When I walked in, one of the technicians standing at the front desk spoke up and said, “It’s nice to see you with your clothes on.” (She’d meant to say with my casual clothes on. We all had a good laugh.)

9. If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say …

Kevin Proctor Springer | KP, Brooklyn Center, MN

Customer comes in and says: “Where’s that other guy? He was so nice and could really help me pick out new looks for myself. Darn, I don’t see him … I really don’t want you to help me. Where is he?” I finally said, “Margaret it’s me! I just got a haircut and gained some weight.” She smiled and said, “Well, you looked better before.”

10. There Are No Stupid Questions … Wait

Martha Downing | Advanced Ophthalmology Associates | Clawson, MI

I once had a patient call to say she had a stupid question. Our office response was always that there are no stupid questions … her response was, “Well, I think I put superglue in my eye. Is that a bad thing? It kind of hurts.” I told her to come in, the doctor would see her right away. She showed up an hour later, after getting her manicure fixed (the glue got on her fingers as well). Apparently, she kept both a bottle of eye drops and a bottle of superglue in her car for emergency use. While stopped at an intersection in LA, she picked up the wrong bottle and dropped it in her eyes. What saved her was her contacts, as most of the glue landed on them. She did end up suffering a corneal ulcer from the episode and couldn’t wear contacts anymore. She removed the superglue from her car.


11. That’s Awkward

Cynthia Sayers, OD | EyeShop Optical Center Lewis Center, OH

One of my employees was pretesting a teenage girl. We always come out and discuss the retinal photo screening option with the parents. The employee came out and asked the man who was with the girl if he wanted her to get the retinal photo. He said, “Sure.” I was witnessing this and couldn’t stop laughing. My employee had just asked the teenager’s boyfriend if she should get the retinal photo! In the employee’s defense, he did look very mature for his age, but not old enough to be the girl’s father!

12. That’s Not How It Works

Sarah Jerome, OD | Look+See Eye Care | Minneapolis, MN

I had a patient who, like many of our patients at the conclusion of the exam, asked about how her prescription had changed. She followed that by asking if her right eye needed a different prescription from her left eye. I explained that it is very common for the two eyes to be unequal, and that, yes, she had a slight difference in the strength of her prescription. I was a bit taken aback by the patient’s follow-up question: “Could this be why my left breast is slightly smaller than my right breast?”

13. Grossest. Thing. Ever.

Annie Corvo Poston | Gig Harbor, WA

A woman with open wounds/sores all over her forearms came in and left my counters covered in blood and ooze. She tried on a bunch of glasses and left. I sanitized 378 frames. I’m pretty sure she grabbed a piece of her own skin off the counter and put it in her mouth.

14. Be Careful What You Say

Kristy Smith, Eyeglass Wearhouse Reynoldsburg, OH

Patient came in to get an adjustment on his new pair and inquired as to why his glasses kept smearing on the top of the lens. He was told it was from the lenses touching his eyebrows (bushy). He asked if there was a way to make it stop? Jokingly, my optician said, “Shave them off!” A week later, he came back in for another adjustment — minus the eyebrows!

15. Fashion Over Function

Jocelyn Mylott | D’Ambrosio Eye Care | Lancaster, MA

We had a patient ask us to frost his other lens. One was already frosted for medical reasons as he isn’t using that eye and he wanted them to look even cosmetically … but if we’d frosted the other one he wouldn’t have been able to see with his good eye!

16. Maybe He Wanted To Sell You A Policy?

Heather Kaikuana | Eye Care Hawaii | Hilo, HI

On a Saturday back in January we had a green visitor … a lizard … in our office. He was crawling everywhere and the staff was all screaming, so one of our patients who had just finished her appointment whacked the lizard out with her slipper. It was just so funny the way the staff reacted and how calm our patient was. She is our Lizard Hero for sure!


17. And on the Seventh Day …

Paula Hornbeck | Eye Candy & Eye Candy Kids | Delafield, WI

We had a couple come in six Saturdays in a row and stay for two-plus hours looking at frames. We started referring to them as the “Saturday people.” All of my opticians, as well as myself, took their turn at helping them find what they were looking for. I finally got them to pull the trigger on the sixth Saturday. They bought frames only — one for her, two for him. The seventh Saturday they came back to return hers and one of his. Good Lord! We don’t do refunds, so then the credit sat there just waiting for it to start all over again. Sheesh!

18. Talk About Visual Learning


One day a mom came in and said her son was the most destructive person she knew. I showed them the Flexon frames and how they seem pretty indestructible. When we turned around there were eight to 10 frames lying broken on the frame counters. I don’t do that anymore.

19. Time Can Be Tricky like That

Fred Sirotkin, OD | Eagle Eye Care | Columbia, MD

Chief complaint recently from a patient was that her two-week contact lenses only lasted two weeks …

20. Think about the Children

Pablo E Mercado | The Eye Gallery | Woodstock, GA

A woman asked our doctor if having crossed eyes was genetic, because her son was dating a girl who had crossed eyes in the past, and she “did not want any cross-eyed grandchildren.”

21. Find What Motivates

Paul Londraville | In Focus Eyewear | Greensboro, NC

Once upon a time my old boss decided we would do a community eyewear drive to gather used glasses to send overseas. The response was tremendous and it took a lot of work to clean, sort and neutralize them all. A co-worker, famously penurious, considered the task beneath him and was not contributing to the project. Our lab guy said, “I’ll fix it.” He took a fiver out of his wallet and hid it in a case in the huge pile of old glasses to be gone through. When he knew the other optician was watching, he took that pair out of the pile and pretended to discover the fiver in the old case, snapping it briskly and saying he was getting a cheeseburger for lunch. The other optician’s eyes were bugging out as he watched the lab guy put the bill in his wallet with a flourish. You have never seen a quicker change of attitude in your life. Instead of shirking the onerous task, this guy became a paragon of industry and selfless dedication to charity. He plowed through the rest of the pile nearly single-handedly in the vain hope of another stray fiver.

22. And This Is Why We Have Yelp

Kevin Count | Prentice Lab | Glenview, IL

I once worked for an ophthalmologist in the early days of my career. He was known to be a bit of a hot head and the staff always treated him with kid gloves. A patient came in one day, complaining about his glasses for the umpteenth time. The doctor happened to be at the front desk as the patient railed at the receptionist. The doctor then calmly walked over, addressed the patient and asked to see the glasses. When the patient handed them over, the doctor carefully turned them over and over in his hands, then chuckled and said, “I see the problem.” Then he promptly threw them on the floor and stomped on them. We were all silent in disbelief as the doctor calmly walked to the manager’s desk and grumbled, “Write ’em a check and get them out of here,” as he went to his next patient.


23. Sounds Like She Needs a Referral

Ted McElroy, OD | Vision Source Tifton | Tifton, GA

When I was an optometry student at SCO (way before HIPAA issues, of course) we would all try to get a little bit ahead on the history of the patient by starting it on the way from reception to the exam room. So I would always ask, “So, what brings you in to see us today?” The response I got from one patient was, “I hear voices in my head.” All I could respond with was, “Is that with your glasses on or off?” My exam partner immediately stops, turns in the other direction and holds his laughter as long as possible. As I turned the corner I could still see him losing it in the hallway.

24. It’s a Trifecta!

Candy Crone | Wayne Optical, York, PA

It might be the woman who insisted Transitions gave her diarrhea — and made me call Transitions to discuss it with her. Or the woman who insisted the Rx fell out of her semi-rimless frame and she could no longer see out of her glasses, so she wanted a frame that went all the way around so it didn’t happen again. Then again it may be the woman whose glasses I scrubbed tons of hairspray and dirt off of while fixing them and she insisted I changed her frame. She swore she had never worn the frame I brought back to her.

25. ‘Oh, Magoo…!’

Jerry Ellis | BJ’s Optical | Framingham, MA

An elderly lady came in to buy glasses. She purchased a pair then left. She called me half an hour later and said I’d switched her old glasses with someone else’s. She came right down with her driver. I looked at her glasses and sure enough they were not hers. I explained to them that I had no idea what happened because I never left the table with them. The driver then said, “Wait” — and switches her glasses with the patient’s. “That’s better.” I was miffed she drove the patient home and back wearing the elderly lady’s glasses!

26. The Stuff of Nightmares

Cindy Henderson | Eyear Optical | Hixson, TN

Once when I first started working, I had a sweet old man come into our small dispensary and ask me to repair his glasses. The optician had stepped out to get coffee so I was by myself. He took off his glasses and his plastic artificial eye came with the frame. There was a large space where everything had been removed … with only gauze in the socket. The plastic “eye” which included the “skin” that covered the socket was coming loose from the frame and needed to be reattached. I got it done … I’ve been doing this for 40 years and I’ve never seen anything else like it.

27. What’s That Sound?

Susan Frick | Premier Eye Care of Eastern Idaho | Idaho Falls, ID

Once, I was trying to provide an explanation of benefits to a post-cataract eyeglass patient. He was very upset about what Medicare didn’t pay and I suddenly started hearing a clicking sound. It got even louder as he was explaining his disgust over the reimbursement, when suddenly his top teeth flew out and rolled across the floor. He didn’t miss a beat though … he retrieved his false teeth from the floor, put them back in his mouth and continued on with his rant about reimbursement.

28. Splitting the Cost

Steve Whitaker | Whitaker Eye Works | Wayne, PA

Patient: “My contacts are larger than my pupils. I’m the same in both eyes; can I tear them in half and have twice as many for the same price?”

29. She Worked Hard For Her Money

Tanya Rogers | Mountain Eye Clinic | Dahlonega, GA

I once worked at a clinic where a patient came in with an abrasion that just would not heal. By the fourth visit the doctor asked what had caused it (the young man would not say before). He finally admitted what had happened — he got a little too close to a high heel at a gentleman’s club!

30. Hair-Raising

Sherry Berry | Pascarella Eye Care and Contact Lenses | Newtown, PA

As I was dispensing eyewear, I accidentally knocked my client’s wig off. I was mortified but she just couldn’t stop laughing about it.

Since launching in 2014, INVISION has won 21 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INVISION's editors at




Profitability with Managed Care: It’s Real

In the first of this three-part series, Dr. Eric White, Complete Family Vision Care, talks about managed care, and how to put your practice on the path to profitability.

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Best of Eyecare

25 ECPs Share Their Elevator Pitches

25 ECPs put who they are and what they do for a living in a sentence or two… or three.




OK… You’ve slipped into the elevator just as the doors are closing. The woman on your left is wearing poorly fitting frames that are totally wrong for her. The gentleman to your right is squinting as he tries to find the button for his floor. You sense a golden opportunity, but the floors are already ticking by. You’ve got until those doors open again to tell these potential clients what you do and how you can help them. It’s time to dust off your “elevator pitch.” Our Brain Squad members are rarely at a loss for a few well-chosen words, so we asked them their best pitches. Here’s what they had to say to those future customers and patients on the subject of… you.

Hi, My name is Diana Canto Sims. I am an eyeball doctor turned eyewear designer for the diverse and the bold. What do you do? — Diana Sims, Buena Vista Optical, Chicago, IL

We help you create a look that is as unique as you are. — Doreen Erbe, Snyder Eye Group, Ship Bottom, NJ

I create complete custom eyewear by hand in Glenview. This includes the frames as well as the lenses. — Kevin Count, Prentice Lab, Glenview, IL

I am the owner and doctor at an eyecare office focused on pampering our patients.  — Nytarsha Thomas, OD, Visionelle Eyecare, Zionsville, IN

I can easily knock 10 years off your look and I promise people will notice! — Jennifer Leuzzi, Mill Creek Optical, Dansville, NY

We sell unique eyewear from all over the world.” (Then give a few specific examples of exotic materials. However, never oversell or seem pushy. Just plant the seed!!!)”  — Scott Keating, OD, Vision Trends, Dover, OH

You know the eyes are the windows to the soul right? Sometimes the windows cannot see; I help with that. I am an optometrist.” — Selina McGee, OD, Precision Vision, Edmond, OK

I refine one of your five senses. I give you vision and insight into your health, with a twist of style, all while having a good time in the process. — Cynthia Sayers, OD, EyeShop Optical Center, Lewis Center, OH

I explain that I run a practice for an eye doctor and that our goal is to make sure each patient sees well and is educated on the products and materials we wear ourselves. — Amy Pelak, Proview Eyecare Optometry, Corona, CA

I help people love their new eyewear, and owning 31 pairs of glasses and sunwear, I know I can find the right pair for you. — Kathy Maren Comb EyeCare & Eyewear, Western Springs, IL

I talk about the unique things our practice offers like sensory and vision therapy. We carry a variety of frames for the whole family. From durable kids, to the fun and funky for mom and dad. We’re not your average eye doctor.” Heather Nagucki, Brodie Optometry, Perrysburg, OH

I compliment someone on their glasses. I may ask them where they got them and always say something nice about their doctor or optician. I know everyone in town after 50 years in Sacramento. If the patient discusses a bad experience then I drop a business card.”  — Texas L. Smith, OD, Dr. Texas L. Smith & Associates, Citrus Heights, CA

I help people see and look better.  — Jason Stamper Eye Care Pavilion, Davenport, IA

I tell them I try not to look like an optometrist! — Dave Schultz, OD, Urban Optics, San Luis Obispo, CA

When I meet people I always try to tell them I’m like a pharmacist for your eyeglasses. — Bob Schmittou, New Eyes Optical, Wyandotte, MI

I’m an optician. Once the eye doctor is done with you I will help you with any optical needs whether glasses or contacts. Basically, I make you look good! — Scott Felten, Fox Valley Family Eye Care, Little Chute, WI

We get to help people see to their fullest potential. It’s the best job in the world! — Caitlin Bruno, Binyon Vision Center, Bellingham, WA

I’m like a pharmacist. I fill the prescription written by the doctor. But in Michigan, your optician doesn’t have to have a license the way your pharmacist does. That’s why there are so many people walking around in ugly glasses that can’t see.  — Dave Goodrich, Goodrich Optical, Lansing, MI

I bend light for a living. — Jon LaShorne, Kirkpatrick Eye Care, Madison, IN

I frame the windows to your soul with beauty. — Frances Ann Layton, Eye Associates of South Georgia, Valdosta, GA

I have no elevator pitch. I just let people know why I love doing what I do.” — Pablo E. Mercado, Mount Vernon Eyecare, Dunwoody, GA

Nice glasses! I bet they cost you a fortune. I’m an optician. Here’s my card. Next time you’re in the market for a new pair, give me a call and I’ll save you money.” — Mitchell Kaufman, Marine Park Family Vision, Brooklyn, NY

Everyone knows what a pharmacist does … so I equate my career as a licensed optician to that. I take a prescription from a doctor and I interpret that prescription. I advise and educate the patient on how to use the prescription written. I generate a product from that prescription and then dispense that prescription as a piece of medical equipment.”  — William Chancellor, Eye Can See Eyewear, McDonough, GA

We help people see the important things in life.” — John Marvin, Texas State Optical Inc., Houston, TX

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Cover Stories

18 Ways to Make Your Team the Happiest on the Planet

Sell more, produce more, be more creative, satisfy more customers… through happiness.




Traditional management theory has a lot to answer for. Don’t tolerate failure, keep workers emotionally at arm’s distance, discourage individualism, focus on remedying weakness as opposed to playing up strengths, frown at play, motivate workers by throwing money at them, or failing that, wielding a big stick … The list of prohibitions and negativity goes on.

It is perhaps surprising, then, that the realization happy workers also tend to be more productive workers was one of management theory’s earlier discoveries. As part of the famous Harvard study of the Hawthorne Works factory in Chicago in the mid-1920s, researchers observed that employee performance could be greatly boosted by influencing not only the physical environment but the social context within which they toiled. A worker was more than an input. He or she also had feelings. And when employees were in a positive state of mind, they did more, better work.

That finding set off decades of experiments in which bosses sought to boost productivity by trying to make workers more joyful. Yet the results were ambiguous. This was partly because they were measuring the wrong indicator of happiness — job satisfaction (something that can be guaranteed by a paycheck, but which doesn’t translate into improved performance over time) — and partly because happiness itself is such an elusive, mercurial target.

More recently, however, a consensus has started to form on what constitutes the kind of positive mindset that drives performance —and it’s not simply sensory pleasure that comes from a bowl of free M&Ms in the kitchen. It’s about inner well-being.

“Happiness isn’t just about feeling good every moment of the day, and it’s not just about pleasure,” says Dr. Annie McKee, director of the PennCLO Executive Doctoral Program and a co-author of Primal Leadership. “Happiness at work is a deep and abiding pleasure that is fueled by a sense of meaningful purpose, hope and friendships.”

McKee’s list reflects much of the PERMA acronym developed by Martin Seligman, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and one of the foremost experts on the study of happiness.
The acronym, which he sets out in his bestseller Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding Of Happiness And Well-Being, stands for just about everything you need to know about fostering happiness:

  • Positive emotion (optimism)5 Engagement (feeling in the flow at work, when workers are using their strengths)
  • Good Relationships (the importance of friends and feeling a part of the tribe)
  • Meaning (feeling that the work being done matters, including to the bottom line)
  • Accomplishment (the sense of making progress)

Seligman’s research suggests workers are happiest when they’re lost in a meaningful project, working toward a higher goal, or being helpful. Those factors also happen to be aligned with a productive workplace.
Happiness, then, should be light but not trivial. Get such a workplace ethos right, and the benefits are significant.

In a meta-analysis of 225 academic studies, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Laura King, Ed Diener and the Gallup Organization found that happy employees have, on average, 31 percent higher productivity; their sales are 37 percent higher; their creativity is three times higher. Other research has shown happy workers take one-tenth the sick leave, are more loyal, more likely to satisfy customers (who is not drawn to a happy worker?), and more likely to engage in safe workplace conduct. They deal with stress better, manage complexity better, are more engaged, motivated, resilient, energetic, and make smarter decisions.

“Every business outcome shows improvement when the brain is positive. I call this the ‘happiness advantage,’” says Shawn Achor, a Harvard researcher, in his book of the same name (The Happiness Advantage).

“It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive,” Achor says.

The reason is because unlike fear or anger or anxiety, which cause our nervous systems to close down and inhibit rational functioning, positive emotions that go along with being happy, like enthusiasm and excitement, joy, and pleasure, actually help us to think better. “Our minds open up; we can take in more information; we can process it more quickly. Ultimately, we can make better decisions. Those conditions allow us to be more successful at work,” says McKee.

With such a strong case for happiness, it is perhaps surprising that most workplaces are anything but joyful. According to surveys done by the Gallup Organization, upwards of two-thirds of employees are either neutral, which means they don’t care about their work, or are actively disengaged, which suggests they are hurting the interests of their employer.

In many instances, the lack of cheer in the office, on the factory floor or in the shop is because of an entrenched suspicion of levity, that it somehow signals a lack of professionalism. Or in the case of high-end retailers, a lack of sophistication (rich people don’t need to please anyone, so why smile?).

Even in cases where companies try hard to boost happiness levels by investing in happiness coaches, team-building exercises, gameplays, funsultants, or Chief Happiness Officers, the record is not great.
As such programs have found, the frustrating thing about positive emotions — happiness, but also awe, wonder and love as well — is that they can’t be forced. It doesn’t work when you tell yourself to be happy — and when the pressure comes from others, especially when it is top down, as in a business setting, it’s worse. There’s something in the makeup of happiness that requires it arise freely; indeed, focusing on happiness can actually make people feel less happy.

There is also a problem with workers themselves, actually with all humans; it’s as if we are wired to resist lasting happiness.

Pay someone more money or celebrate the completion of a big project and after a fairly brief period, their level of happiness returns to its less-than-satisfactory base. Psychologists refer to this as the hedonic treadmill — no matter the effort applied, we end up in the same place.

Evolutionary scientists theorize this tendency serves as protection against complacency in a world of risk, but for a manager in 2018, it’s just really annoying. (Interestingly, research shows that the one time money does make people happy on a lasting basis is when it improves their social rank (i.e., makes them richer than their friends and work colleagues). But that’s not a sustainable remuneration strategy.

So what to do? How to build an army of happy worker bees?

The first step is to hire for attitude. The idea that a happy demeanor is to a large extent genetically determined is one of psychology’s most firmly held beliefs. Harvard social psychologist Dan Gilbert estimates genetics account for about 50 percent of your workers’ disposition.

That leaves a lot that you can work with.
“The goals you set, the culture you foster, the habits you cultivate, the way you interact with workers, how you think about stress—all these can be managed to increase your staff’s happiness and your chances of success,” says Achor.

The good news is that the No. 1 factor that will lift spirits is progress in meaningful work. Help your workers do their jobs better and they become happier, thereby laying the foundation for even better business results. It’s called the progress loop.

“Understand that people matter, feelings matter, and it’s the No. 1 job of a manager to create a climate where people feel good about what they’re doing, where they’re happy, engaged and ready to share their talents,” says McKee.

Too fuzzy and warm for you?

Consider that even workers participating in the most serious work — from finance to nuclear submarine crews to firefighters — perform better when they are in a good mood.

Developing new habits, nurturing your employees, and thinking positively about stress are good ways to start (and next up we’ll provide more ways you can support a culture of happiness among your team).

But perhaps the best part about building a happiness culture is that managers needn’t fret about trying to read the psyches of their workers, or manipulate complicated incentive schemes.

Ultimately, happiness can be cultivated by setting a clear direction, giving people what they need to do the job, nourishing a spirit of positivity … and getting out of their way.


27 Ways to Make Your Business Happier

Research suggests we have a happiness set point we soon revert to after most events, happy or sad. So, aside from plying your staff with wine, is there anything that can be done to make them more content? It turns out quite a lot. We get you started with several here, but be sure to check out our online extras at

1. Set a positive morning routine

Employees’ moods when they clock in tend to affect how they feel for the rest of the day as well as their perceptions of customers and how they interact with them. “We saw that employees could get into these negative spirals where they started the day in a bad mood and just got worse over the course of the day,” says Ohio State University’s Steffanie Wilk. “That’s why it is so important for companies to find ways to help their workers start off the day on the right foot.” Get them anticipating something positive is one good way. Casa De Oro Eyecare in Spring Valley, CA, does this by getting to the office early every day, turning up the music loud and rocking out until it’s time to open the door. Dr. Selina McGee at Precision Vision in Edmond, OK, opts for something more digital. “We do fun quotes, pictures, etc., in a group text to start the day. Adding fun to our workday consists of what is authentic to us, we laugh, don’t take ourselves too seriously, we pop a champagne cork to celebrate when cool things happen.”

2. Deliver progress

In their book The Progress Principle, Harvard researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer make a strong case that of all the things that can boost motivation during a workday, the single most important is making progress on meaningful work. And the wins don’t have to be big. “Many of the progress events our research participants reported represented only minor steps forward. Yet they often evoked outsize positive reactions,” they write. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run. Amabile and Kramer say the best managers know how to activate two forces that enable progress: 1) catalysts: events that directly drive work, such as clear goals and autonomy, providing sufficient resources and time, helping with the work, using problems and successes as learning points, and allowing a free exchange of ideas — and 2) nourishers: interpersonal events that uplift workers, including encouragement and demonstrations of respect and collegiality and opportunities for affiliation.

3. Write a two-minute email

Achor recommends insisting employees take two minutes every morning to send a friend, family member or co-worker an email to say thanks for something. “We’ve done this at Facebook, at U.S. Foods, at Microsoft… What we find is this dramatically increases their social connection, which is the greatest predictor of happiness we have in organizations.” Texts work fine, too.

4. Count your blessings

The old saying is true: “What you have makes you happy. What you want makes you unhappy.” Yes, it can sound corny, but it’s hard to emphasize how powerful gratitude is. “Showing gratitude for the good things in life is the most powerful happiness boosting activity there is,” says Barker. And according to Seligman, the best way to build it is the “Three Blessings” exercise. Urge your workers to set aside 10 minutes before they go to sleep to write down three things that went well in the day, and — this is important — why they went well. “Your brain will be forced to scan the last 24 hours for potential positives,” says Achor. “This trains the brain to be more skilled at noticing and focusing on possibilities for … growth, and seizing opportunities to act on them.” Vision Solutions in Lamar, MO, does something similar with its end of day meetings. “We incorporate any funny or odd things from the day into our end of the day huddle, recognize staff who went above and beyond, and recognize any team members for outstanding work,” says Bryan Hartgrave.

5. Exercise

What makes people happiest? Sex, socializing and exercise, says Eric Barker, author of the Barking Up the Wrong Tree blog. As a business owner, it’s the last of these you can promote. A Finnish study of 3,403 people in 1999 showed that those who exercise at least two to three times a week experience significantly less depression, anger, stress, and “cynical distrust” than those who exercise less or not at all. Being in good shape also increases learning ability. Enter your store in a fun run, give staff 10 minutes at lunch to fit in a CrossFit class, or play in a social softball league.

6. Do fun things often

Here’s an interesting fact about happiness: frequency beats intensity. Lots of little good things make people happier than a handful of big things because they give people frequent, regular boosts. Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker says the findings lead to a really simple conclusion: The things that make you happy? Do them more often. “Focus on increasing the amount of good stuff in your life vs. reducing the amount of bad stuff,” she says.

7. Hire for a positive attitude

The “war for talent” is a myth, says marketing guru Seth Godin. It’s actually a war for attitude. “There are a few jobs where straight up skills are all we ask for. But in fact, even there, what actually separates winners from losers isn’t talent, it’s attitude,” he writes on his widely followed blog. And Achor’s research backs this up. “Seventy-five percent of long-term job success is predicted not by intelligence and technical skills, which is normally how we hire,” Achor says. Instead, it’s predicted by three categories: optimism, social connections, and the way people handle stress. In The Happiness Advantage, he recounts an experiment he ran with MET Life to hire people based on optimism. The optimistic group outsold their more pessimistic counterparts by 19 percent in year one and 57 percent in year two. They were also much less likely to quit.

8. Focus on strengths

Workers gain a boost in positive emotions the more they use their signature strengths — those qualities they are uniquely best at. “The more hours per day adults believe they use their strengths, the more likely they are to report having ample energy, feeling well-rested, being happy, smiling or laughing a lot, learning something interesting, and being treated with respect,” write the Gallup Organization’s Brandon Rigoni and Jim Asplund in a blog. As their manager, you’re probably aware who does what well. But UPenn happiness expert Martin Seligman says you should ask them anyway. “Identify their signature strengths and then make room to allow them to use their strengths more often,” he writes in Authentic Happiness. For workers, there is intrinsic satisfaction. For employers, a much higher state of performance.

9. Savor the Good Stuff

Old clichés like “stopping to smell the roses” and “it’s the little things in life” are actually profound and effective. Happiness researchers call such strategies “savoring” and have even put a hard figure on it — people who regularly take notice of things that are positive were 12 percent more likely to say they were satisfied with their lives. The point, says behavioral scientist Winifred Gallagher in her book RAPT, is that “you see what you look for. And you can train yourself to attend to the joy out there waiting to be had, instead of passively waiting for it to come to you.”

10. Hold happy meetings

Most managers are wary of allowing too much good cheer in meetings, apparently out of fear it will derail the agenda or distract the participants. But according to a study by psychologists from VU University Amsterdam and the University of Nebraska, humor can greatly boost the effectiveness of meetings, leading to long-term productivity gains. “Humor patterns triggered problem-solving behaviors (e.g., what do you think about this approach?), procedural suggestions (e.g., let’s talk about our next step), and goal orientation (e.g., we should target this issue),” reports Scientific American. “Humor patterns also promoted supportive behaviors like praise and encouragement, and led to new ideas and solutions.” Such humor works best when it is positive, as opposed to sarcastic, when it supports group rapport (joke, laughter, another joke) and when the workers have a certain level of job security. Jessica Brundidge at Clarity Vision in Clayton, NC, adds levity to their weekly meetings with “shout outs” and memes. “We do a weekly “shout out” that is a positive reinforcement to our staff. We go over any new items that may need to be discussed or reviewed and if a patient or another co-worker has complimented an employee we like to “shout it out,’” she says. “We also make some personal things in there such as a birthday or work anniversary etc. and then we always end the shout out with a funny meme of some sort.”

11. Encourage ‘me’ time

Allow workers to really clock off. Their weekends and evenings should enable them to recharge. And besides, people focused on nothing but work tend to be boring and lack common ground with customers.

12. Set them free

Why do business owners outrank just about every other occupation in overall well-being despite working longer hours and earning slightly less, on average, than many professionals? A lot of it has to do with autonomy. People are happier when they aren’t being told what to do. “Once employees have been trained, allow them, whenever possible, to manage people and execute projects in their own way,” says Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist at San Diego State University. In an article in the Harvard Business Review, he cites a 2014 Citigroup and LinkedIn survey that found nearly half of employees would give up a 20 percent raise for greater control over how they work. “Autonomy also promotes innovation, because different people try different approaches. Often, younger or less experienced employees — those you trust the least — will be your chief innovators, because they’re less constrained by what ‘usually’ works,” Zak says.

13. Create a fun environment

The traditional business environment isn’t often conducive to good cheer. Don Gibson, dean of management at Fairfield University’s Dolan School of Business, found that working professionals from multiple organizations felt more comfortable expressing anger than joy on the job (they reported expressing anger three times as often). Office décor and furnishings, too, may suggest what’s expected emotionally. Signs with lists of rules and consequences for breaking them reflect a culture of fear. Photos of employees laughing at social events or action figures perched on cubicle walls, Kleenexes stapled to potentially stressful memos, or chocolate kisses taped to boring ones signal a culture of joy.

14. Be a model

A long line of research on emotional contagion shows that people in groups “catch” feelings from others through behavioral mimicry and subsequent changes in brain function. “If you regularly walk into a room smiling with high energy, you’re much more likely to create a culture of joy than if you wear a neutral expression. Your employees will smile back and start to mean it. So consciously model the emotions you want to cultivate in your company,” says the HBR’s guide to Everyday Emotional Intelligence.

15. Celebrate with rituals

Sharing and celebrating successes is a time-honored way to drive performance, define best practice, boost team solidarity — and elevate pleasant emotions. Recognition has the largest effect on emotion when it occurs immediately after a goal has been met, when it comes from peers, and when it’s tangible, unexpected, personal, and public, says Zak. Be sure to celebrate small wins with almost the same fervor as the big accomplishments. Visionelle Eyecare in Zionsville, IN, does that with little competitions. “My squad loves competition so I will have a small competition once a month to see who can get the most reviews, or sell a second pair and they win a small prize like a gift card or movie tickets. We also have a daily and monthly goal,” says owner Nytarsha Thomas, OD. “We have a tradition of doing a happy dance at the end of the day when we make our daily goal and if we make our monthly goal, we’ll treat them to something more sought after like a massage or nice dinner.”

16. Ask for help

Realize that you can’t and shouldn’t be Superman. In fact, a boss willing to show vulnerability makes for a happier workplace. “My research team has found that this stimulates oxytocin production in others, increasing their trust and cooperation. Asking for help is a sign of a secure leader—one who engages everyone to reach goals,” says Zak.

17. Find meaning

Experiments show that having a sense of higher purpose — a sense that your work has meaning and is helping someone — stimulates production of oxytocin, the “hug hormone.” Meaning can be as simple as making a useful and high-quality product for a customer or providing a genuine service for the local community. It can be supporting a colleague or boosting an organization’s profits by reducing inefficiencies in a production process. It’s not hard for managers to infuse meaning into the work of their employees’ lives, but it’s also incredibly easy for them to undermine it. For example, Duke psychology professor Dan Ariely and colleagues conducted a study in which participants were paid to build Lego models, some of which were dismantled in front of them upon completion. People whose creations were preserved made, on average, 50 percent more Lego models than those whose models were destroyed, despite identical monetary incentives. Trust and purpose are as fragile as they are important.

18. Manage in micromoments

A mission statement is one thing; day-to-day work life is another. “It’s not enough to codify emotional culture; it must also be managed and enacted in the ‘micromoments’ of daily organizational life,” writes Andy Westmoreland on the productivity blog Elevator Up. “Small gestures rather than bold declarations of feeling; little acts of kindness and support adding up to an emotional culture characterized by caring and compassion,” he says.

19. Hug more

In the post-Harvey Weinstein era, this may be dangerous advice, but try to touch your workers more (handshakes and back pats work just fine). Research shows getting five hugs a day for four weeks “increases happiness big time,” says Barker. “Touching is incredibly powerful. We just don’t give it enough credit. It makes you more persuasive, increases team performance, improves your flirting … heck, it even boosts math skills,” he writes on his blog. Don’t want to risk it? Offer a massage as a spiff for good work. According to a review of studies by the University of Miami School of Medicine, massage appears to increase your brain and body’s levels of serotonin.

20. Get a light box

If you live in the north of the continent, get a light box. According to research from UBC Hospital in Vancouver, Canada, light therapy — it provides the kind of bright rays that elevate levels of happiness-boosting serotonin in your brain — is effective at combating seasonal affective disorder. If you live in other parts of the country, be sure your employees get outside regularly. A study from McGill University in Montreal has shown that by spending at least 30 minutes a day outdoors should be enough to offset your seasonal drops in serotonin.

21. Stress people the right way

People are happier when they are active. Don’t be afraid to push your people hard. “Frankly, a little bit of stress is a good thing. It pushes us to be innovative and to do things differently and to push harder,” says Annie McKee, director of the PennCLO Executive Doctoral Program and a co-author of PRIMAL LEADERSHIP. One of the most famous longevity studies conducted, the ongoing Terman Study, found those who work hard are healthier and happier.

22. Tough guys finish last

Gen. George S. Patton more your idea of an effective leader? Consider this: researchers found annual prizes for efficiency and preparedness in the US Navy are far more frequently awarded to units whose commanding officers are openly encouraging. On the other hand, the squadrons receiving the lowest marks in performance are generally led by commanders with a negative, controlling, and aloof demeanor. Psychologist Barbara Frederickson says her research into fostering a state of flow in workers has shown a critical three-to-one ratio is required; we need to have three positive interactions for every negative one in order to thrive.

23. Foster friendships

The brain networks that light up in response to social contact are evolutionarily old, implying that such behavior is deeply embedded in our nature. Yet at work, we often get the message that we should focus on completing tasks, not on making friends, even though science has shown repeatedly that when employees intentionally build social ties, their performance improves. People who care for one another give generously of time, talent, and resources. Gallup found that close work relationships boost employee satisfaction by 50 percent and that people with a best friend at work are seven times as likely as others to engage fully in their work. You can help people build social connections by sponsoring lunches, after-work parties, and team-building activities. It may sound like forced fun, but when people care about one another, they perform better because they don’t want to let their teammates down. “We love to blow off steam late in the day, that’s why our fridge is always well stocked,” says Jim Williams, owner of Eye to Eye in Mexico, MO. “On a recent Tuesday, we hung a sign in the window, and announced on Facebook that we had an ‘offsite staff meeting.’ We rented a big pontoon boat and spent the day on the lake with food drinks and fun. A day well spent!!”

24. Encourage staff to leave

Allow workers to really clock off. Their weekends and evenings should enable them to recharge. And besides, people focused on nothing but work tend to be boring and share no common ground with customers.

25. Remove hassles

While it’s true happiness comes from the small pleasures in life, it’s also the little hassles that are most apt to get people down. The same is true in the workplace where little hassles are a reliable predictor of job satisfaction. Make it a habit to ask your staff for tweaks than can be made to the way things are done around the store.

26. Set goals

Have staff set written goals. Writing about goals makes people happier and more likely to follow through with them.

27. Institutionalize fun

According to a case study of Vail Resorts in HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW, the culture of joy has been incorporated into the annual review, which indicates how well each employee integrates fun into the work environment and rates everyone on supporting behaviors, such as being inclusive, welcoming, approachable and positive. Management tactics, special outings, celebrations and rewards all support the emotional culture. Rather than asking people to follow standardized customer service scripts, they tell everyone to “go out there and have fun.” Resort managers consistently model joy and prescribe it for their teams. At an annual ceremony, a Have Fun award goes to whoever led that year’s best initiative promoting fun at work.

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Cover Stories

An Eyecare Pro’s Visual Guide to Making Better Choices in 5 Critical Categories

Making decisions is hard, we’ve made it easy.




RUNNING OR MANAGING a business means you are constantly making decisions. Some are easy, many are hard, and others are just plain messy. We thought we’d help you take a little bit of the work and stress out of it by creating some very scientific* decision trees for a few of the most common questions you may face running an optical business. By INVISION Staff

* By “scientific” we mean not scientific at all.




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