“A positive working environment is created through happy colleagues and a happy team”

Bennett & Batty Opticians practice manager, Sarah Hodgson, shares with OT  her experiences of creating a positive working environment across different teams

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I followed my sister’s footsteps into optics 28 years ago. Originally from Anglesey in North Wales, I spent the early part of my career at an independent opticians, before relocating to Liverpool in 2001 to work at a large multiple. I started as an assistant store manager and worked my way through the ranks to manager of its fourth largest flagship practice, managing a team of 47 clinical and non-clinical staff.

In 2022, after 21 years with the multiple, I became a practice manager at Bennett & Batty Opticians, an independent group of six opticians that is part of Hakim Group.

During my career I have worked within teams of all shapes and sizes, and have learnt about the importance of adapting to those who work within a practice and its requirements. For me, a positive working environment is created through happy colleagues and a happy team who work in harmony to achieve the same goal.

The positive and happy culture is created by the team, my role is to contribute, facilitate and develop the individuals and the team as a whole. Being a present and a connected manager really helps in building a happy team.

Creating a positive working environment

As a practice manager, I encouraged a close-knit relationship with every member of the team. This is built around simply being open and honest, and communicating daily to ensure we are meeting the business’ and the patients’ needs. I have seen first-hand the benefit of regular check-ins to ensure we are aligned and feeling happy and motivated by what we are doing and always implement this across the teams I work within. I am a hands-on manager who is very present, and I have found that this helps to build trust in teams as well.

A key principle that I work by is leading by example – being approachable and showing a genuine interest in the team, both professionally and personally, is key. You have to strive to get the best out of your people which builds mutual trust and mutual reward. As a result, I will be found rolling up my sleeves and getting involved with my practice team daily. That is also what I value about working in a small independent group – it’s much more personal and is less about delegation.

The personal touch

Having moved to Bennett & Batty Opticians around a year ago now, it’s very much the same job, but on a different level to my previous position. It was quite difficult at first as I adapted. Working with a smaller team in a relaxed environment has given me even more determination to make good things happen in and for the team and the store.

During my career, I have learnt that staff value knowing that they are appreciated. Giving feedback and acknowledging great work is key for building a team’s confidence and encouraging personal growth. Letting someone know that they are doing a good job and giving them credit where credit is due is paramount.

On the spot feedback is really important too, while small gestures such as buying someone a thank you/well done coffee let them know they are appreciated and valued – that goes a long way.

For me, a workplace needs to provide employees with a fun environment, balanced with one where you can get the job done. I like to create a warm, inviting atmosphere within our practice to ensure our customers have the best experience and care. As a result, I check in with all my team before the day starts to ensure they are feeling ok and ready for the day ahead. We rota a team huddle in every week, once a week, but we also have a gathering every morning to run through what is needed and happening that day, what was achieved yesterday, what was great and what needs to be worked on.

While we have clinical policies in place in order to maintain the best customer care, being part of Hakim Group also means we have effective HR policies in place which help ensure that the team regularly comes together as one.

Training and mentoring play an important role in ensuring you are able to get the best out of people too. Optics is such a dynamic profession with new and changing products, so we make sure the team has regular training sessions to ensure they stay informed and knowledgeable. This can be internal training as well as training with our suppliers. Training keeps the team motivated.

Reflecting on my own experiences in my career, it’s important to acknowledge and promote the importance of the work-life balance. As a result, we have flexible rotas to make sure that staff have a fair working patten. At the end of the day we also all leave together. After a difficult day leaving together helps you all box it off and leave it at the door.

About the author

Sarah Hodgson is a practice team manager at Bennett & Batty Optician, a Hakim Group independent practice.

• As told to Emily McCormick