Medical practices are painfully in need of keeping their top employees. The time, costs and dangers of recruiting replacement personnel are just part of the issue. Loss of key team members negatively impacts patient care, practice profitability, and staff morale. All administrators agree the retention of a trained, well-performing and mutually cooperative staff is a key to success in medicine. How do you increase your prospects of keeping your “keepers” so that you lose only the ones who needed to go anyway? There are three secrets to success in this area and none require pay raises or bonuses.
Most important is to show them that you respect them. Make them feel valued by your praise of their efforts and character. Try to “catch” them doing something good. Take an employee to the office of another physician in the group and praise some special thing they did recently. Prompt the physicians about special employee efforts and send them off to find and praise the staff member. Write key staff notes of thanks for their sacrificial efforts. Set aside time each week to praise one to three members of your team. Conduct “stay interviews” with select team members. Also, the physicians and practice leadership should be aware of the circumstances in their life. Do they have a child excelling at academics or athletics, are they planning a special vacation, are they approaching empty nest status, are they caregivers to parents or other family members, do they have a special hobby they enjoy discussing, are they saving for a major purchase like a vehicle, boat, or home?
Caring about the lives of your team affirms their value to you. Giving them a $500 bonus deposited into their joint checking account is a currency over which they may have limited control and when it is spent, it is forgotten. Giving them a handwritten note or sincere verbal praise is a “currency” they can keep for their very own and use again and again as they replay the message in their minds. The praise costs your practice a little of your time and a modicum of empathy.
After a culture of merited praise is established, it is easier to correct or discipline them when necessary. Ignoring mistakes or poor conduct is a sign of not caring about the person. Think of the influential family members, teachers and coaches in your life. Weren’t they candid with you about times when your efforts were not your best? If the staff rest in the certainty of your gratefulness for them, they can handle the truth about poor performance from you better. Always praise their character and criticize their actions. In other words, speak to the actions, but don’t attack their character. Avoid a “compliment sandwich” where you say something nice, slip in the problem, and then end with another positive. Be brief, be clear, be firm, but be nice.
New employees need some corrective discussion as early in their employment as possible. Not only is there usually an area for enhancement, but it establishes that you will exercise the right to address them when you deem necessary. For the millennials in your office, this discipline may come as a great shock. They were raised in an era when every child received a participation trophy just for showing up, and as children, they were assured they could be anything they wanted to be. If there were problems at school, their parents went to the school and took care of it for them. Now you are telling them they are special but not in a good way, and their only trophy may be dismissal if the behavior continues. This might be a difficult message to absorb, but you owe it to the great staff to communicate it in a timely manner.
At a recent practice management roundtable, we discussed the fact that some medical staff members underperform until the leadership assigns part of their duties to the better performing staff, so that things get done. Permitting this transfer of work, is unfair to all staff and must be remedied.
With a balance of praise and discipline in place, have some fun at work! Every holiday is a good time to have fun. At Christmas, let them have a contest to decorate a door. For Thanksgiving let them write something about each member of their work area for which they are thankful. Compile the results and share with the staff in a lunch meeting. Halloween, the start of football season, Groundhog Day and anything else is a reason to celebrate. Have each bring a baby photo of themselves, and let the team guess which baby is the staff member, let them send in photos of what they did this summer and have a collage review in the fall of the pictures with narrative by each staff to share the joy, take them bowling, have a new baby “pool” where all can guess the delivery details of an expectant mother on the team, and select secret pals among the staff with a low limit on any expenditures. The point is to permit them to have fun at work. You do not have to entertain them, just give them permission to entertain themselves.
It is essential medical practices provide a fair salary and benefit structure to their staff. Underpaying your people is not compensated by the provision of a good work environment. However, remember people accept a job for the initial pay and benefits, but they remain in a position because they feel appreciated, know their best efforts are expected, and they are encouraged to have fun at their work. Make your practice a place where these three things are true, and you will have a stable, patient-caring and happy staff. It will make everything else you have to do so much more enjoyable.
Article contributed by Sae Evans, Maddox Casey and Jim Stroud, Members, Warren Averett Healthcare Consulting Group. Warren Averett is an official Gold Partner with the Medical Association.