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Hiring and retaining good workers are clearly the top challenges currently being faced by eyecare businesses. Here they share how they are coping, while dishing on a few short cuts to getting the job done.

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What do you think is the main reason many businesses are struggling to retain staff right now?

It’s the people. They’ve gone soft/lazy.
30%
It’s the pay. New hires want too much.
16%
It’s the pay. Employers aren’t paying enough.
16%
It’s the labor pool. There aren’t enough workers.
14%
It’s the hours. People don’t want to work weekends
or evenings.
4%
It’s the job. It’s so sales heavy and no one wants to do sales.
3%
Other
17%
A common response among those choosing “other” was “all of the above.” A strong sense emerged that jobs in eyecare are perceived as requiring extensive training for less-than-stellar pay. “Employers expect an unreasonable dedication from staff when staff does not see any dedication to them from the employer. People cannot function with long hours and low pay,” wrote one. ““Staff roles (ABO, NCLE, etc.) are devalued,” said another. While there was some grumbling about an entitled workforce, for the most part respondents laid the blame at the feet of the industry’s expectations and management practices: “We are not developing our own people and are not delegating tasks responsibly,” said one. Others were blunter: “Pay and treatment.
You can’t treat staff that represents your business as a commodity,” wrote one survey taker. “Most employers see their team as an expense and not an asset,” chimed in another. The other main theme was the general nastiness of people nowadays. “It’s working with the public. People are C R A Z Y,” was a common view.

How would you rate the overall quality of applicants now compared to pre-pandemic times?

The Big Survey 2023: Management

Rank these challenges faced by you as a manager right now.

The Big Survey 2023: Management

If you consider opticians “sales staff,” where did you find your best-ever “salesperson?”

The Big Survey 2023: Management

About half the “other” replies mentioned hiring familyand friends. Some other memorable replies: “On the spot interview while hopping at a local retail business”, “bank teller” and “the bar at Olive Garden.”
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Do you do any of the following?

Probationary period — I always lease before I buy.
62%
Working interview — I like to test drive new employees.
39%
Hiring/retention bonus — I will make a down payment in a competitive job market.
9%
None of the above
24%

Have you done anything in the last two years to boost retention or make your business more attractive to prospective new hires? Check all that apply:

Increased salaries
52%
Boosted career development options (training, mentorships, etc.)
24%
Reduced hours
24%
Introduced more flexible hours
22%
Increased benefits
22%
Offered hybrid work arrangements
6%
Paid sign-on or retention
bonuses
5%
None of the above
4%
Other
6%

Among the more noteworthy or creative “other” replies were:

  • “We try to make it fun and provide food!”
  • “Increased incentives not based on sales. Instituted a bonus dollars bank for each employee where they can give dollars to co-workers to recognize them for anything they think is worthy of recognition.”
  • “More lenient with the absenteeism. New employees are not as dedicated and expect to be able to take off at a whim.”
  • “More trips for training, lunches, dinners…. This year we loaned three employees down payments for home purchases.”

If you’ve had problems with retaining staff, how have you responded operationally? Check all that apply:

Just doing more of the
work myself
38%
Hired more part-timers
20%
Tried to automate more
tasks
18%
We book further out
14%
Outsourced more tasks
13%
Scaled back growth plans
12%
Other
6%
The most common theme among “other” replies was cross-training staff to pick up slack where it appears or streamlining to cut out unnecessary tasks.

How do you pay your opticianry staff?

Hourly
59%
Hourly plus commission
20%
Salary
16%
Salary plus commission
4%
100% commission
1%

What’s your favorite interview question for teasing out whether a job candidate may be a good fit for your business?

The most common replies, in descending order, were variations of the following:

  • Why do you want to work here?
  • Why are you leaving your current job?
  • How would you handle this difficult patient situation?
  • What do you like to do outside of work? (Memorably expressed in one case as: “What’s the – most important thing in life to you? If they say ‘My career first,’ that is not a good answer.”
  • Sell me this pen/brand of eyewear.

Other interesting responses:

    • “What is a cataract?”
    • “What are the three levels of titanium?”
    • “What is your favorite eyewear brand?”
    • “‘How was your drive?’ Our office is annoyingly out of the way and their response tells me how they react to inconvenient things.”
    • “What would you do with $10,000?”
    • “What one word would a previous coworker use to describe you?”

What is one unusual perk you offer employees to motivate and retain them?

      • “Our employees work 36 hours; we pay for 40.”
      • “Shared profits.”
      • “I give them two paid mental health days.”
      • “$150 per month to spend on themselves for wellness.”
      • “We are closed every other Saturday.”
      • “Allowing staff to leave midday to pick kids up from school.”
      • “Cocktails 5:30 p.m.”
      • “Bonuses for their name mentioned in a 5-star social media review.”
      • “Family first. No matter what comes up your family needs are first.”
      • “Longevity bonus five years $500, 10 years $1000, 15 years $2000, 20 years $5000 (just gave one employee that).”
      • “Wednesday off.”
      • “We give an allowance to purchase eyewear (at cost) and offer vision care and eyewear at cost to immediate family members.”
      • “We buy them Costco memberships. In our survey of current benefits that was valued in the top consistently.”
      • “We have a big prize ‘wheel of fortune’ with different dollar amounts on it. We incentivize all kinds of things (beyond sales) where employees get ‘spins’ and all winnings are given on Amazon cards. Employees love it.”
      • “We pay for childcare.”

What is it like to work for you?

The Big Survey 2023: Management

Which of the following jobs do you outsource?

Accounting/bookkeeping
45%
IT
35%
Marketing/social media
21%
Recall
18%
Managed Care authorizations/ coding/insurance billing
9%
Admin tasks/general virtual assistant
3%
Training
3%
Scribing
1%
I don’t outsource
anything
23%

Name one of your beliefs about running an eyecare business that most of your peers may not agree with.

      • “I work up patients myself frequently.”
      • “It needs to be run as a business more than a clinic.”
      • “It’s just retail but with more ways to mess it up.”
      • “Hire on personality, not on experience. You can train, you can’t change personalities.”
      • “I don’t push add-ons that might not be necessary or beneficial to a patient.”
      • “The patient is our boss.”
      • “Not every business has to strive for million dollar revenue. There’s nothing wrong with chugging along at your own comfortable pace and prioritizing work/life balance.”
      • “Investing more relationship based time versus training based time is more effective on retaining.”
      • “You don’t need vision insurance.”
      • “Take care of the patient even if it means losing $ on the transaction.”
      • “We are 100% private pay and our inventory is way too large – by design.”
      • “That we are the product. We are at the center of eyecare and have to keep ourselves in the loop by trying and buying new technology and products. We are tricked by rebates and free, not knowing this tide is going to change and by us giving away our data for ‘free’ we are going to be in a world of hurt!”
      • “Staff should be able to get as many glasses as they want with great discounts; they sell what they wear.”
      • “Helping people is the primary goal and I won’t sell things or do tests that are not beneficial just for the sake of increasing revenue.”
      • “Second redo is still on us.”

Check off the benefits you provide to staff:

The Big Survey 2023: Management
The Big Survey 2023: Management

What is the average yearly income of your associate optometrists?

$128,963
NOTE: Most responses were clustered in a range from $105,000 to $150,000. Not surprisingly the highest salaries were paid in big urban markets with almost a half of the positions paying $130,000 or more, followed by optometrists in the suburbs and then those in medium and small-sized cities. Also not surprising, those in rural towns were paid the least but not by that much (two-thirds earned $125,000 or less). Salaries tended to be highest in the Southeast and the lowest in the Midwest.

What is the average yearly income of your full-time licensed or certified opticians?

$51,518
NOTE: Most responses fell in a range from $40,000 to $65,000 although for private practices with a strong focus on retail they tended to be more tightly clustered around $50,000 to $60,000.

What is the average yearly income of your non-licensed/ non-certified optician (other than yourself)?

$43,767
NOTE: Most responses were in a range from $35,000 to $50,000, with practices in the West paying the highest salaries.

What is the average yearly income of your optical manager?

$52,066
NOTE: About a third of respondents employed an optical manager. Most responses were in a range from $50,000 to $60,000, with a few earning as much as $105,000.

What is the average yearly income of your practice manager?

$62,648
NOTE: Fewer than 29% of the respondents employed a practice manager, with salaries in a wide range from $40,000 to over $100,000 although most were clustered around $55,000.

What is the average yearly income of your optometric technician?

$37,354
NOTE: Most responses fell between a fairly tight range of $30,000 to $40,000.

What is the average yearly income of your medical billing professional?

$42,533
NOTE: The highest paid medical billing professional in our survey was paid about $75,000 a year although 31% made less than $35,000.

What is the average yearly income of your receptionist?

$32,003
NOTE: The annual salaries of most of the receptionists (71%) in our survey topped out at $35,000, with a tiny handful making more $55,000.

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