How to Hire and Retain Staff in a Competitive Labor Market

Dr. Dave Anderson says flexible work schedules, custom-tailored incentives, and building value through training can help ECPs avoid turnover and hire the best and brightest to their team.


The new hire scenario for optometric practices used to be a boilerplate process. Prospective employees would arrive at the interview by ad or referral, and then the eye care professional (ECP) would narrow down the best candidate from a robust pool of applicants. Ask almost any ECP who’s hired a new employee in recent years, and they’ll likely tell you this approach has since turned on its head since COVID.1.2 

Since then, employers have often ridden a hiring rollercoasting, including the #QuitTok and “Great Resignation” trends,1,-3 and while some experts are now projecting a slight cooling in the fierce hiring climate, they also anticipate the labor market will remain tight.1-3

Dr. Dave Anderson, of Miamisburg Vision Care and the Optometric Management Group, shares his expertise on how ECPs can retain and hire staff in any kind of labor market. 

How challenging is it for ECPs to hire staff in the current labor market?

Over the last several years, hiring staff has been very challenging.  With the challenges of COVID also came a significant reset in the labor market.  When so many were forced to stay home, the workforce began to change its focus and priorities.  Those nearing the retirement stage of their life often chose that option earlier than they may have before the pandemic.  Employees with families started to change their work-life balance, and those entering the workforce began to enjoy the flexibility that working from home offered. Add to that, individuals working in healthcare started hitting a level of burnout and fatigue not seen in years. With this shrinking workforce, businesses that were hiring found a critical shortage on their hands.  As a result, the opportunities for employees increased, as the demand exceeded the supply.  Fast forward to today, employers need to meet the challenge and adapt to the new labor market by being creative and flexible with hiring. 

How can ECPs remain competitive and set their practice apart when hiring?

An ECP can set themselves apart when hiring if they understand the labor market.  When placing an ad for a position, it should reflect what the market wants.  Employees want flexibility at work, they want better pay, and they want to have a purpose. 

An ECP may have trouble finding two or three fulltime staff members, but they can fill their practice’s needs with numerous part-time staff if they are willing to adapt. 

Additionally, if a portion of an employee’s daily work can be done at home, this can significantly expand your employee pool.  For example, some easy tasks that could be done from home in the age of Cloud EHR include ordering contact lenses or glasses, scheduling appointments, and billing. Finally, offering incentives, profit sharing, and other additional perks have become somewhat necessary to attract the right employees. 

What strategies have you implemented at your practice to retain staff? What have you found to be most effective?

Because the market is so challenging, it is critical that you work hard to retain staff.  There are so many things that I have tried over the years, but the honest truth is that not one strategy will work for each individual staff member.  Some prefer having more time off for vacations. Others want opportunities for growth or advancement at your practice. And then there are those individuals who prefer increased pay.  One strategy that I’ve found to be helpful is to better understand the values of the people I hire.  In this way, I can tailor the specific motivator and reward for each person. 

With that said, a clear and equitable option needs to be offered for each staff member to avoid fair labor issues.  This can be done easily by having a set of options which employees can select based on their preferences.  It’s important to make sure the options are relatively even. For instance, an increase in pay amounting to one-week of pay vs. one additional week of time off is fairly equitable.

Is training important to staff retention? If so, do you have advice on how ECPs can best adopt an impactful approach to staff training?

Training is another area that can help retain staff.  A sense of worth and value is created when staff continue to learn their trade, and in turn, better perform their jobs.  Staff in ECPs’ offices become more independent and feel more empowered when they continue to learn.  Every day in my office, I share something, even if it is small, to at least one person. Just yesterday, I explained and showed pictures of a BRVO (branch retinal vein occlusion) to a staff member who worked extremely hard to facilitate an urgent referral.  She now has a greater understanding of why some ocular conditions and issues require different levels of urgency. 

There’s a philosophy to hire on personality, not skills, the latter of which can potentially be taught later. Do you think this is a good approach, and if so, why?

I have always hired based on personality or a set of personal skills.  I would always prefer to have someone on my staff who fits into my core values.  Someone who is very skilled at adjusting glasses but can’t show up on time is not a good fit for me.  I would prefer someone on my team who can’t wait to help someone, shows up on time, and is excited to learn, compared to someone with experience. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

The job market has changed, but if you’re smart and adapt to the needs of the market, you can hire successfully and retain great staff.

Dr. Dave Anderson of Miamisburg Vision Care is a 2004 graduate of The Ohio State University College of Optometry. He is preceptor for an Advanced Practice Extern site for OSU College of Optometry and continues to serve on many committees at the state- and national-level.  He is a former instructor at the Ohio State University College of Optometry in Ocular Disease Clinic and has been an investigator in clinical trials for contact lenses and ocular pharmaceuticals.

1. Schneider H, Sarah Slobin S. The Post Pandemic Workforce. Reuters. June 12, 2023 (accessed Nov. 1, 2023).

2. Rendell L, Sheiner L, Stock J. Why haven’t workers returned to the labor force after COVID-19? The Brookings Institute. May 25, 2023 (accessed Nov. 1, 2023).

3. Moss J. From #QuitTok and #RageApplying, viral trends are changing workers’ behaviors. Leaders are not listening. Fast Company. Fast Company. June 28, 2023 (accessed Nov. 1, 2023).

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