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This Newly Promoted Office Manager Is Getting the Cold Shoulder From Staff

She’s even been frozen out of after-work drinking sessions!

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CO-WORKERS STEPHANIE and Will were seated at a restaurant around the corner from Hampstead Eye Care, waiting for their bill. Their lunch hour had just ended; the 20-somethings would be clocking back in late.

“…I mean, I literally wrote the training manual for the front desk, and Deb still acts like I’m new or something,” Stephanie was venting. “Just because she’s worked here a million years doesn’t make her better than me.”

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]

“Seriously!” Will agreed. “Hey, do you think Dr. Chapman hired anyone to replace Tim? We haven’t had a manager for like a month. I kind of love it!”

Stephanie looked away and shrugged. Just then the check came. “Let’s hurry back, I don’t feel like getting bitched at for another long lunch,” she said.

The next morning as staff members logged in to EMR they received a high-importance message from Dr. Chapman announcing Stephanie’s promotion to office manager, effective immediately. It went on to recognize Stephanie’s achievements as a paraoptometric and administrative assistant before expressing confidence in her leadership potential.

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Her first day was filled with congratulations, but relations with coworkers quickly strained. Her normal banter was met with guarded smiles. When she entered the break room conversations would awkwardly segue or stop completely. To make matters worse, Deb started behaving like a supervisor, encouraging the staff to come to her for help instead of Stephanie.

Friendships also got complicated. She didn’t realize she was playing favorites with the optical team until a frame stylist complained about Will slacking off. Hoping to win back the department, Stephanie wrote him up for clocking in late and included the whole month’s data on the document … even the lunches he had with her. This left everyone on edge.

Several days after the promotion Stephanie interviewed replacements for her position as tech. The most qualified applicant, Mindy, was twice Stephanie’s age. “You’re pretty young for a manager,” Mindy had commented ambiguously during the interview.

Stephanie provided Mindy’s on-boarding, but soon after she saw Mindy going to Deb for help. She spoke privately to Mindy.

“Deb is always close by at the front desk, and she said you are still learning your new job,” Mindy explained.

“I know Dr. Chapman’s wishes better than she does,” Stephanie huffed. “She still makes a lot of mistakes in EMR, and I need you to learn the right way from the beginning.” The comments got back to Deb and she ramped up her behavior.

After a few weeks of struggle she met privately with Dr. Chapman. “The staff don’t like me anymore. I’m miserable.”

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“This is the job, Steph,” said Dr. Chapman. “You already know everyone; it shouldn’t be this hard for you to get along. Fairly enforce office policy and procedure and give people time to adjust.”

She hit a new low when she overheard several staff making plans for after-work drinks. She waited all day in vain for someone to invite her and cried bitterly in her car on her way home.

The Big Questions

  • Stephanie entered management unprepared in a few key areas. Does Dr. Chapman own any of this failure, or are new managers expected to self-study?
  • Long-term staff members can be a management challenge to new supervisors, especially with internal promotions. What successful team-building strategies have you witnessed or implemented in your own practice?
  • If you were Stephanie, what would you immediately start (or stop) doing to improve the office culture?
Chris D.
Central Florida

The doctor owns this. More could have been done to open the job, see who was interested, and address anyone who wouldn’t be the best fit. Second, the doctor should have had a team meeting to make the announcement and set expectations and offer support publicly. Stephanie can turn this around. Have a team meeting with a defined agenda to go over successes and opportunities. Have an open forum to find out what the team needs from her. She needs to immediately address Deb and her potential to undermine her position. Have a heart to heart and uncover what is affecting Deb. Show appreciation for her wanting to help. Give her a valuable assignment to make Deb feel appreciated and respected while encouraging her support, not her undermining. Stephanie can’t start off by writing people up, especially if she was part of the issue. Lead by example. And follow with consistency any performance management process they have or create one if they don’t have a process. Keep positive and ask for regular feedback.

Yen N.
Dallas, TX

It’s truly a double-edged sword for Stephanie and Dr. Chapman. Did the doctor prepare the candidate for the promotion and all the changes it would include, especially with current work friendships and how the position could cause friction? From the start of this article and how it reads, maybe Stephanie did not take it very seriously if she’s taking late lunches with her colleagues. Her lack of management skills is clear; she wasn’t ready. The greatest team-building strategy starts with open communication and conversation. The team is only as great as their weakest member, right? Inclusion is very important in building trust and creating a healthy work environment. If I were Stephanie, I would reconsider my own actions around my colleagues and act more professionally and not so much “emotionally.” Leading by example is key.

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If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. eyecare business serving the public, you’re invited to join the INVISION Brain Squad. By taking one five-minute quiz a month, you can get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting eyecare professionals. Good deal, right? Sign up here.

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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