Balancing Work and Family—Right in the Office

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By April Jasper, OD, FAAO, and Katie Gilbert-Spear, OD, MPH, WO Professional Co-editors and Co-founders, Distinctive Strategies and Leadership

We both have the privilege of working with family members. That means that we have built our practices on a strong foundation of trust. The positives far outweigh any negatives—but it is important to consider and plan for the unique circumstances that working with family brings into the practice. The cover story in this issue of Women In Optometry focuses on this, but our perspectives are slightly different from theirs—and from each other’s.

Dr. Gilbert-Spear: Like many ODs, I am married to my business partner. Working with Carl Spear, OD, MBA, is wonderful. But it can also be challenging when you are married to someone who is as strong-willed and controlling as you are. We make it work by playing off each other’s strengths. I know his and he knows mine, and they are different. He is the big-picture person, and I am the detail person.

Dr. Jasper: My mom was working at a local school as an administrative assistant, and I begged her to work with me as my office manager. I found that it gave me peace of mind to have someone close to me to work with customers/patients while I was secluded in the exam room caring for patients. A year later as our office grew, my husband, David, who has a background in engineering and business finance, joined our team. It made sense for him to take care of all internal things, as well as bookkeeping and accounting. Now with all of our traveling and speaking, he has become invaluable in keeping us organized and fiscally sound. The latest addition to our team is my daughter. She has grown up in the office and learned how to use all the instrumentation with my staff, and we finally decided to put her to work this past year. Patients absolutely love talking to her, and the kids look forward to seeing her when they come in. It is fun to have multiple generations in the workplace, and it helps our office to understand all of our patients better and communicate with them better.

Respect the abilities

Dr. Gilbert-Spear: I have a lot of respect for my husband. He’s by far the smartest person I know, and it’s helpful in some ways to our relationship to be involved in business with him. It renews my respect and strengthens our relationship consistently.

Dr. Jasper: I feel that there is no one better to work with me than family members, whom I know, love and share values with. I proudly tell my patients that my family works with me. I am open about who I am, who my family members are and that our number one goal is to change our patients’ lives for the better.

Set expectations

Dr. Gilbert-Spear: In the end, it’s all about boundaries. We cut off work-talk at home after 9 p.m., and we still have fun together, going to concerts and traveling.

Dr. Jasper: It’s important to treat your family the same as your other staff. Everyone has to follow the same rules and expect the same consequences for not following them. That goes both ways, though. Don’t assume because it is your family that you, as the boss, don’t have to communicate with that person like you do with your other staff. If there is a problem, it must be brought out into the open and dealt with. Don’t avoid the problem.