Both Financial and Interpersonal Skills are Essential in Leading a Team
In healthcare, management often does a fantastic job of letting employees, like nurses, medical assistants and support staff, know that they are replaceable. While this is not true for every medical office or hospital setting, almost every eye care setting I have worked for has made this a central theme in how administration disciplined subordinates and as a scare tactic to attempt to whip employees into working harder.
A prime example of this was when I worked for a large-scale ophthalmology practice with multiple offices in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Though employees had to sign an agreement stating that they would be responsible for traveling to any of the offices within the three states, my home office was the central Delaware location and my manager, who I shall refer to as L, oversaw operations at the site.
Some of L’s responsibilities included budgeting the location’s expenses, scheduling the appropriate amount of technicians per doctor working and ensuring that we were compliant with the company’s mission while providing great customer care—all while filling in and performing the tasks her subordinates did when needed on the floor. At first, having a manager who worked beside us in the trenches of patient care was amazing. She understood the hard work we did and had an appreciation of us that many other practice managers could not understand. Of all the offices in the practice, L would consistently earn accolades for carrying the office under budget month after month.
After a few months of working in this practice, the novelty of my boss working beside me began to wear off and staff morale was at an all time low. The manager would pencil herself in on the daily work schedules but would not be able to perform her role as a tech, as she had paperwork and managerial duties to tend to. Six technicians were doing the jobs of seven or eight and it was exhausting. We all worked because we did not know there was any other way, until a visiting tech from another location came to help out during a day when we were short staffed.
Not only did this technician tell us that our manager was scheduling herself for daily roles to have to pay one less body on the floor, but she told us how much she was getting paid an hour. This tech, who we worked much harder than to keep our office afloat, was making $13 more an hour than me and $ more than the girls who trained me. Our lead tech was even making $10 an hour less. To make matters worse, she was getting paid roughly the same amount as the other techs in her office. Needless to say, the employees got upset.
We called a townhall meeting with our manager and the CEO of the company to discuss how unfair we had all been treated. While the CEO agreed that we had all been working too hard, because the manager should not have been scheduling herself to raise money, we were all told that we were getting paid “Delaware Pay Rates” and that the “Pennsylvania Pay Rates” and “New Jersey Pay Rates” were about $10 an hour more because of the difference in the states’ cost of living. Outraged, we fought back, siting that some of our employees live in those states. “There are plenty of people who need jobs right now and would love to work here”, L told us. “It doesn’t sound nice, but that’s just the way it is. We’re all replaceable.”
Our manager was great at keeping under budget because her staff was over-worked and under paid. Her financial skills were fantastic but heading a team requires people skills, which she clearly lacked. Within a month of telling her entire team that we were replaceable, five of the six of us left the practice and took better paying jobs and have more respect from our direct reports that we could have ever imagined having at our old job. To this day, I still receive emails from headhunters asking if I would be interested in working at that office every few months. If L were to given us the respect we deserve as individuals, let alone employees, this office would not have nearly as many staffing problems. True leaders lead while bosses boss. Good managers need to know the time and the place for both.