Published 6/1/2010
Dale A. Reigle

Show staff you care

Inexpensive “thanks” provide a big return

A recent post to the American Association of Orthopaedic Executives’ list serve reads: “I have a physician who has a difficult time showing staff appreciation and doesn’t want to spend money to do it. He believes that if you tell someone they’re valuable, they’ll ask for more money. This philosophy is affecting morale.”

Unfortunately, this physician’s viewpoint is not unique, and similar attitudes are especially pronounced during times of economic uncertainty. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that valuable—and appreciated—staff members can be a tremendous asset to a practice during difficult economic times.

Patient loyalty to physicians, especially to specialists who treat episodic ailments, has diminished in recent years. To attract and retain patients, the modern specialty practice must deliver outstanding service, a significant portion of which is provided by staff.

Consider, for example, a new patient with a fracture who spends 31 minutes with staff members and only 6 minutes with the physician (Table 1). Staff has nearly 5 times the opportunity as the physician does to influence the patient’s perceptions of the practice. When you add the time that the patient is in the reception room observing the interactions between staff and other patients, that influence is even greater. It’s vital, therefore, to have the right people with the right attitudes in place. Showing your appreciation for these dedicated staff members is equally important.

A step-by-step approach
Keep in mind that even during a recession when jobless rates are high, top-notch employees can find new jobs. Those who feel that they are not fairly compensated and appreciated by you will move on, leaving behind lesser skilled and lesser motivated workers who are unable to find other employment. Eventually, the only people representing you will be those that other practices do not want.

It’s important to review your staff compensation program on a regular basis. Remember, you will likely be competing with other local companies for most staff positions within your office. Organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, local business incubators, medical societies, and state Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) organizations can often provide relevant compensation and benefit information.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has chapters in many locations and can be a good source of both written and anecdotal data specific to your area. Even if your practice does not have a dedicated human resource person, someone in your management structure should be a member of SHRM.

Patients are perceptive and will easily pick up on the dynamics between you and your staff. Patients will notice staff loyalty and admiration for you; conversely, if your staff members do not like or respect you, patients will notice that as well.

Money is not the only way to show appreciation and engender loyalty. A verbal thank you to your staff at the end of the clinic day will be greatly appreciated and takes only a few seconds of your time. Keep in mind that your medical assistant is not the only staff member that helps make a clinic run smoothly.

Praise must always be genuine and sincere and should not be reserved for outstanding performance only. Acknowledgement of simple successes and improvements can help motivate staff to better performance. Keep a box of thank-you cards in your desk so you can write a quick note to a staff member who has been especially helpful or thoughtful. A single wrapped chocolate will make your thank you more meaningful when you tell the front desk receptionist that one of your patients gave her a nice compliment.

Several easy-read management/motivational books are available to help you find ways to reward and motivate your staff, especially if you are not a particularly demonstrative person. For example, books such as The Invisible Employee: Realizing the Hidden Potential in Everyone, Fish Tales, and Make Their Day!: Employee Recognition That Works may help.

Finally, remember that your staff is the vehicle transporting you on the road to professional success. Ultimately, it is the journey that will provide the greatest satisfaction. Why not make it a smooth ride?

Dale A. Reigle is chief executive officer of Rocky Mountain Orthopaedic Associates, PC, and a past president of the American Association of Orthopaedic Executives. This article is adapted with permission from his weekly blog.