Motivating employees: Tips that work

March 1, 2008

Motivating employees and fostering a happy, healthy work environment requires a little extra effort. Let employees know your expectations and let them know they are appreciated for a job well done.

Key Points

Let's consider some proven ways to get your staff into high gear.

Hire right

Hire for personality and aptitude. Eager, hard-working, service-oriented people are motivated from the day they enter your office. The effort to teach them how to register, schedule or use your telephone system pales in comparison with trying to change their personality.

Set expectations

Your dermatology practice may have job descriptions, but do they provide specific directions about how a function should be performed?

All too often, expectation-setting is left to the person who is exiting a position. How many times have I heard a departing employee quip to the new one, "This is what the doctor wants you to do"?

Sure, you can't sit next to your medical assistant or telephone operator every day, but you can take the time to outline your specific expectations for their tasks in a checklist.

For example, the checklist of expectations for a medical assistant may include:

Engage your employees in the process by asking them to help you develop the expectations. Once you set expectations, you can hold employees accountable. The best employees welcome expectations, because they can prove they're doing their jobs; the mediocre employees will falter - and you'll know early on that they may fit best in another organization.

Get rid of the virus

Often, dermatologists who complain of a lack of motivation among staff are really victims of a "virus" started by one employee. Even in a large office, one person can bring everyone down.

Consider the employee who arrives late or leaves early from work, gossips incessantly, takes a two-hour lunch every day and displays borderline rude behavior to patients.

This person may be clearly incompetent - or even worse, may be stealing money from you.

If you look the other way, your staff takes note of it. If you ignore bad behavior - often with an excuse of "the employee's been here forever" or "the employee's been loyal to me" - your high-performing employees will leave. The staff that stays will start demonstrating poor behavior themselves. Don't be the victim of one employee who drags down your entire office.

Employ a great manager

There's nothing that can be less motivating than a supervisor who is considered unfair, unsupportive, uncaring or incompetent.

Creating expectations will help the supervisor, but the supervisor must also be visible (not stuck in an office behind closed doors every day).

Effective supervisors must be respectful and fair (not playing favorites with some staff while ignoring the competent performance of the rest).

They also must be able to work with employees to identify what resources are required, and how to overcome barriers to good performance that their employees may encounter.

Show appreciation

You can hand out fat bonus checks, but most employees will be motivated by fair pay and a good working environment - if they feel appreciated.

Send a bouquet of flowers and a thank you note to your employees' homes, approve a day off for an employee to get additional training, purchase gas or grocery store gift cards as rewards for a particularly busy day or right after a computer conversion - or simply take the time to say "thank you" directly to your employees.

If you consider employees the resources that support your productivity as a dermatologist, you'll make a little extra effort to nurture and keep the good ones and let the others go.

Ms. Woodcock is a professional speaker, trainer and author specializing in medical practice management. She has focused on medical practice operations and revenue cycle management for 16 years. In addition to her popular weekly e-mail newsletter, "Physicians Practice Pearls," she has authored several best-selling practice management manuals and textbooks, and published dozens of articles in national healthcare management journals. Ms. Woodcock is a fellow in the American College of Medical Practice Executives and a certified professional coder. She holds a B.A. from Duke University and completed her M.B.A. in healthcare management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.