Onboarding is an important part of bringing new staff members into your practice, whether they are an optometrist, optical assistant, or fully qualified optical dispenser. Unfortunately, too few independent practices put enough thought into devising an effective onboarding process.
Why is Onboarding Important (And What is It, Actually)?
Onboarding is the process of integrating your new staff member into the business, introducing them to the practice culture and equipping them with the knowledge and tools they need for them (and subsequently, you, as the practice owner or manager) to succeed.¹,²
Putting together a well-considered onboarding process helps your new staff member to feel more engaged and less lost in those first few weeks on the job. A stronger sense of belonging helps new staff feel more loyal to the business and can even give their performance a boost by as much as 62%.³,⁴ Successful onboarding practices also play a role in retaining new employees as it helps to minimise the stress of starting a new job and seeks to actively integrate the person into the community of your clinic.
Many of your new staff members are likely to be older millennials (born between 1980 and 1988), and young millennials and Gen Z (1989 to 2001). It can be enlightening to understand the factors that workers from these generations prioritise in their employer. Exact rankings of these expectations vary depending on the specific poll but one survey by Gallup found that both millennials and Gen Z most value an employer that cares about their wellbeing as number one, with ethical leadership as the second most important. Coming in as the third priority for older millennials was transparent leadership, while for young millennials and Gen Z, it was a diverse and inclusive culture.⁵ Therefore, once you’ve attracted these employees (and presumably you intend to keep them), your onboarding process should also demonstrate how your business incorporates these values.
In short, a well-trained, committed employee can only be a benefit to your practice, resulting in a happy boss, cohesive relationships with other colleagues, and (hopefully) many returning satisfied patients. Smooth onboarding plays a part in achieving this.
5 Steps to Effective Onboarding
Many optometrists or optical dispensers open or take over an optometry practice with little training or experience in managing a business (or in managing people). While some practices may have benefited from coaching and training programs, other independent clinics may simply need to learn through trial and error. To save you from some of those errors, here are 5 steps to include when you onboard a new staff member.
1. Pre-boarding before the first day on the job.
Pre-boarding is the part of the onboarding process before your employee arrives in person for their first day. Doing this part well can help your new staff member to feel connected to the practice before they’ve even started. In addition to the necessary paperwork, such as signing contracts, non-compete agreements, and filling in payment forms, think about setting them up with a company email and maybe even sending them a little welcome package, such as a pen or notepad with your practice logo. Another thoughtful idea would be to send some information about them their new colleagues, such as a photo and a short biography.
2. Clarify the expectations and responsibilities of their role.
While this may seem like a no-brainer (the role of an optical dispenser is to dispense optical things, isn’t it?), it can be surprising how many other little tasks and responsibilities you may have just assumed the new employee would know are part of their job. For example, does the optometrist or the dispenser (or someone else) look after restocking contact lens trial kits? Who needs to be available when a frame rep wants to make an appointment? Who gets the last say in which frames are chosen from said frame rep? In addition to these responsibilities, any key performance indicators you intend to monitor should be made exceedingly clear. No one likes to be told they’re below sales targets a month into the job when they didn’t know they had a target to begin with.
3. Define (and explain) your company culture.
In one survey, company culture ranked number one in the most important aspect when millennial optometrists considering a prospective employer. By the same token, a negative culture was the main reason people of this cohort cited as a reason to quit their job after only two years.1 The ideal company culture is one that is inclusive, respectful of everyone’s ideas and opinions, and has clear, communicable goals and values.
4. Define and explain your company’s brand.
Slightly separate from culture but still related, your practice brand is how you’ve positioned your business. Is your brand a high-end practice selling premium frames and lenses, or a store catering to those looking for budget options? Do your patients expect to interact with quirky, outgoing staff or is your patient demographic one that responds better to a refined, dignified manner? Other things to think about when defining your brand is your company’s participation within the community and whether you’d like to present your practice as being specially equipped to manage certain conditions, such as dry eye or myopia control.
5. Assign a buddy.
In a small business such as an independent optometry practice, the selection of potential buddies might be small. However, it can still be worth making it clear who the new employee’s go-to person is for any questions, whether it be the senior optometrist, practice owner, practice manager, or a dispenser. Even if this person doesn’t have all the answers, they will have a better idea of who might, and makes it less overwhelming for the new staff member to find their footing in the practice. It’s also important for this buddy to be proactive in checking in on the new hire, ensuring they’re comfortable and clearing any confusion about procedures and processes.
A formal onboarding process may not be forefront of the mind when hiring a new staff member, but doing this well has significant advantages for getting the most out of your new employee and keeping them for the long run. As every optometry practice is unique, you can choose to structure this process in a way that works best for you. The trick is to have a structure in the first place!
- Eyes on Eyecare. The Optometry Practice Guide to Hiring, Retaining Staff, and Building Culture. https://eyesoneyecare.com/. 2021. Available at: https://eyesoneyecare.com/resources/the-optometry-practice-guide-to-hiring-retaining-staff-and-building-culture/. (Accessed October 2023).
- Forbes. 14 Onboarding Best Practices (2023 Guide). https://www.forbes.com/. 2022. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/advisor/business/onboarding-best-practices/. (Accessed October 2023).
- Eyes on Eyecare. The 4 Essential Steps to Onboarding a New OD. https://eyesoneyecare.com/. 2019. Available at: https://eyesoneyecare.com/resources/onboarding-optometrists/. (Accessed October 2023).
- WorkRamp. 5 Effective New Hire Onboarding Strategies. https://www.workramp.com/. 2022. Available at: https://www.workramp.com/blog/new-hire-onboarding-strategies/. (Accessed October 2023).
- Gallup. 4 Things Gen Z and Millennials Expect from their Workplace. https://www.gallup.com/. 2021. Available at: https://www.gallup.com/workplace/336275/things-gen-millennials-expect-workplace.aspx. (Accessed October 2023).