All in the Family: When Spouses Work Together in the Office

Today’s guest post comes via Jill Fahy. Jill is a marketing writer for a pediatric software company. She wrote this piece about spouses working together. This of course touches home. For those that don’t know, Joanna, my wife is the senior doctor and owner of our medical practice. I manage the practice.

How do we make it work? Well, Joanna does all the heavy lifting taking care of children and I just pay a few bills here and there.

Actually, it does take some work. And Jill’s post has some very good examples from other physician’s offices that are managed by spouses.

Enjoy Jill’s post.

Doctors Teri Perryman and Michael Kaplan are pediatricians whose practices, in many respects, are very different.

Dr. Perryman has been a solo practitioner in Texas since 1998. Dr. Kaplan has been a partner at Reichman, Brown & Kaplan – an 11-provider practice in Long Island, N.Y. – for 45 years.

What they have in common, though is having spouses who manage their offices. Kevin Perryman, who specializes in computer systems management, has worked as his wife’s office manager since she opened her first practice. Dr. Kaplan’s wife, Gloria, took over as RBK’s manager some 20 years ago, when the wife of a previous partner left the position.

This husband and wife team dynamic shared by the Kaplans and Perrymans is not uncommon in the world of small business

“experts say more than 80 percent of all companies in the U.S. are family owned in one form or another.”

It also has its advantages. One of the biggest pluses – touted by both couples – is knowing you’ve got your office’s biggest cheerleader working for you.

“The manager whose spouse is a partner has more of a personal interest in making sure the practice is running correctly and that the patients are happy,” Dr. Kaplan suggested. “Otherwise, it is often a 9 to 5 job for another employee.”

Kevin Perryman agrees. When his wife opted to launch a solo career – a risky financial venture for any primary practitioner in today’s economic environment – Perryman stepped up as the natural choice for office manager. “We knew that the only way to work in solo practice would be for someone who would manage the practice in her best interest,” Perryman said.

Combining marriage and business can work well, even strengthen a marriage, when things run smoothly. But there are inherent risks to such an arrangement. Experts say it’s important to first consider how will office roles be handled, who will be “in charge,” how conflicts will be resolved, and how will you separate your personal and business relationships?

Drawing boundaries between work and home life may seem like a no-brainer, but leaving the office at the office is often easier said than done. Says Dr. Kaplan, allowing work to bleed into the couple’s home life is both an inevitability and the chief downside to the arrangement.

“Of the pros and cons, it’s one con that is easy, because that’s what you’re taking home with you at nighttime,” Dr. Kaplan said. “Reviewing the office at suppertime is not always the best. It’s just usually going over the headaches and hashing over the insurance and patient nonsense.”

To the Perrymans, reviewing the day’s billing and other insurance-related minutia over dinner is not a big deal in the Perryman household, says Dr. Perryman. “It’s 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week,” she says, “but that’s medicine in general these days, and it’s not a strain on the relationship.”

A husband/wife team works well when the duties and expectations are clearly defined, and when each spouse is given the chance to work to their strengths, say experts.

While Gloria Kaplan specializes in the day-to-day management of the practice, leaving her husband to the clinical duties, the couple tend to share equally in overseeing the office’s financial matters. Whatever their roles, says Dr. Kaplan, at the office, they are strictly co-workers.

“It’s important to maintain a business attitude,” said Dr. Kaplan. “Otherwise, it can lead to issues.”

By “issues,” Dr. Kaplan refers to office unrest that can crop up when a managerial employee happens to be a partner’s spouse. Creating a standard management system, in which there is a transparent organizational structure, is key to a environment in which married people can work well together, says Jeffrey Blumberg, whose company, CEO of Management Experts, Inc., provides seminars and training for health care professionals.

Also to that end, the Kaplans remain vigilant about not showing favoritism in the office or displaying their status as a couple.

“Gloria uses the maiden name so that she is perceived as being separate from the physicians,” Dr. Kaplan explains. “For instance, if she’s having a discussion with a patient, maybe on an outstanding bill, it’s important that it’s not viewed as a Kaplan doing the calling.”

Some 95 percent of patients at RBK do not know the Kaplans are husband and wife, says Dr. Kaplan.

The Perrymans neither hide nor flaunt their marital status while at the office. Dr. Perryman, for practical purposes, does not wear her wedding ring. And Kevin Perryman, out of professionalism and respect for his wife’s position, refers to his wife only as “doctor.”. While a few patients are in the know, most aren’t, the couple said.

For the Perrymans, decision-making at the office is no different than it is at home. Decisions, they say, are built from a foundation of respect, communication and flexibility.

“If there were a secret to doing it, it would be to take life light-heartedly,” Kevin Perryman said. “Don’t let life stress you out to the point where you’re not only ruining the business but the marriage as well. You can’t put one above the other.”

2 thoughts on “All in the Family: When Spouses Work Together in the Office”

  1. I don’t know—the biggest concern I would have, is the reaction of the other staff to the non-doctor spouse. I have seen too many dental practices where the wife say, is the “office manager.” They often have no training or real experience, other than that they have an obvious vested interest in the practice and may have majored in business in college.

    The other staff members can be intimidated by the spouse/manager. Even if the spouse is not a manager, the staff will treat them differently than a non-spouse employee. Spouse office managers may be good at what they do, but many times they are not. The doctor owner often does not realize their spouses are not doing as good a job as they could. The doctor may not see the internecine battles going on behind his back. Plus, I am actually glad not to have to talk about work all the time once I get home.

    1. Managers that are not competent should not manage a practice. That has nothing to do with whether it is a spouse or not.

      Second, there needs to be trust involved. If other people in the practice don’t trust the spouse, regardless of his or her position, that is also a different issue. The truth is mistrust can also occur in non-spouses workers, and I’ve seen a lot of that as well. Thus, trust issues need to be resolved immediately, otherwise they will fester and create bigger problems down the road.

      Each situation is different of course. We can each find examples where this is the best option and other examples where the decision to bring the spouse in was catastrophic.

      The goal should always be to bring the best possible person into a position. If that is the spouse, great. Make it work. If the spouse is not the best person, then don’t bring them in.

      The article was to show how these couples have been able to make it work. But as with most things, it isn’t for everybody.

      As always, thank you for reading and commenting.

      Brandon

      Sent from my iPad

Comments are closed.