Boosting Your Workplace Morale
The holidays are over and winter has made its presence known with a vengeance across much of the United States—what with polar vortexes, the snowpocalypse and coldmageddon striking from North Dakota to Alabama. Meanwhile schedules are getting back to normal and most of us are settling in for what can often be one of the more difficult periods of the year, both personally and professionally. Many people suffer from seasonal depression exacerbated by short days and the relative bleakness of the long winter months. Likewise, the post-holiday period can be a blue one for many.
These external factors, combined with the financial and logistical struggles many practices are facing, can be a recipe for sagging workplace morale. While most doctors and practice managers would love to give their staffs substantial raises year after year, the reality is that for many practices facing decreased reimbursement and an overall decline in revenue, such may not be possible. Some of you may have even been forced to make the difficult decision to cut staff in recent months.
But even under good circumstances, even if your practice is doing better than ever, attracting new patients, and thriving in the fiscal department employee morale is not something that just takes care of itself. Every manager or employer has to put thought and intentionality into keeping morale up if the practice is going to continue to be the kind of place where people look forward to coming to work (and where patients look forward to interacting with your staff!).
So what can you do to keep your staff’s morale up? Well, every practice is different, and some things will make certain employees feel valued and appreciated that might make others feel patronized. But there are a few things that seem to be fairly universal principles for keeping morale high.
- Communication – This is the granddaddy of them all. Without good communication, any environment will become toxic—a home, a business, even a friendship. Communication is vital, and yet it’s not always easy. Here are a few key aspects of communication to work on:
- Listening – Employees and staff need to know that they can be and are being heard by those in management. This means everything from staff meetings where people feel free to speak, make suggestions, and critically engage with problems to just asking people how they are doing, how the family is getting along, etc. It also means listening at those moments where you are not the center of the conversation. Listen to your employees when they are just chatting, in the break room, around the proverbial water cooler. I’m not saying eavesdrop, but just pay attention, be engaged. Do they sound happy? Are you hearing repeated complaints about the same thing? This gives you the opportunity to preemptively engage problems before they boil over and it also just helps you get a pulse on the general mood of the office.
- Feedback – Feedback is the flip side of listening. Listening is perhaps primary, and what comes least naturally, but feedback is crucial too. After all, how will anyone know you are listening to them if they don’t get responses that show real engagement? This means creating an environment where ideas and suggestions are welcomed and, if good acted on, and if not still interacted with. If ideas that won’t work are simply shot down employees will stop engaging. But if they are interacted with critically, if you explain why the idea might not work then at least the employee feels that he/she was being taken seriously and it may even spur them to sharpen or come up with a better idea. Feedback also entails the little things. If someone tells you that their nephew has been sick, make a note of it and ask about him in a week. That kind of thing means a lot to most people, especially from someone in authority over them. Likewise, if you have repeatedly overheard a complaint about a new policy, address it in a monthly newsletter or a staff meeting—not defensively but with an aim to either explain the policy better or to get ideas on how it could be changed or modified to be more suitable.
- Finally, the third prong of communication is praise. Yes, praise is feedback, but it’s important enough to mention separately. Publicly and intentionally thanking people for work well done is one of the most important things you can do as an employer. The fastest way for morale to go south is for people to feel that what they do either isn’t appreciated, or worse, just doesn’t matter. And people will feel that way if you don’t tell them otherwise. Sure, some people are self-motivated and have a natural sense of the significance of what they do, but most need affirmation. So offer it consistently but sincerely, taking note of genuinely excellent work or service and praising the person for it, ideally both privately with a word of thanks and publicly at a staff meeting or some other venue. It’s really common sense, people like to be thanked and validated, so be intentional about thanking and validating your staff.
- Servant Leadership – If communication is the foundation of keeping morale up in the workplace, servant leadership is what you build on that foundation. Servant leadership is just what it sounds like—modeling leadership through service. What you want from your staff is good service, right? You want them to serve the clients with grace and competence. In a sense you want them to serve you to. You hired them to do things for you, to serve you and your practice. Well, the worst way to achieve that goal is to model the exact opposite. If employees see you as a dictator and themselves as peons then think of what is being communicated. There is no role model for service and apparently the way to get to the top is to give orders, not take them. Genuine leadership, the kind that fosters loyalty, trust, commitment, and hard work is servant leadership. When employees see you serving your patients with grace and competence, when they see you truly serving them, caring about their needs, offering them options, listening, then they will respect you, they will want to model your behavior, and they will appreciate their work environment. It won’t solve every problem, and there are employees who are going to be a problem no matter what, but open communication and servant leadership in the office will go a long way toward building and maintaining good morale.
The rest of these are more specific and will have to be tailored more to your specific situation, but I think they are all worth consideration.
- Flexibility – Be flexible. Work with the employee whose kids’ school schedule changes from time to time. Can you offer a shortened lunch in exchange for leaving half an hour early? People want to feel that they are being treated like adults. Most will understand if you just can’t make an adjustment they ask for, but if they feel like they are being held rigidly to rules for rules’ sake they are likely to feel disrespected and unappreciated.
- Advice – This goes with communication, but be willing to take advice. And make sure that you are fostering an environment where people know they can give advice. As with servant leadership and not domineering, true leaders don’t think they know everything. They know that they work better with the help and advice of a competent and trusted staff.
- Charity – Find ways to get your practice involved with charity. Sharing together in a worthwhile cause creates a bond between people, and gives them a connection that transcends just work.
- Fun – It may sound like common sense, but keep things fun. Have parties, celebrate birthdays, get together for happy hour or a date night with staff and their spouses (preferably on you). No matter how much you love your job things get boring sometimes. Little things like decorating the office for Christmas or having snacks and dessert on Valentine’s Day give people something fun to participate in.
- Perks – Finally, if budget constraints have meant salary freezes or minimal raises, try to find little perks that you can offer at minimal cost. Maybe you can provide some extra time off or greater flexibility with schedules? Perhaps you could negotiate a matching or discount program with a local college that would allow you to offer some educational opportunities? Or maybe it’s as simple as giving out gym memberships, of offering everyone AAA. If your practice is struggling to pay people the way you would like in addition to communicating that clearly let them see that you are trying to find ways to show your appreciation.
These are just a few suggestions. I’m sure some of you have come up with others, but hopefully this will be both a source of fresh ideas as well as a reminder to be intentional about paying attention to staff morale amidst all the other duties that running a practice entails.
This post was written by Justin Donathan.
Justin at Google+