We have all been suffering. The economy has patients scared, staff scared and even physicians are starting to panic. Many offices have stripped away increases and staff incentives this year. Others are forced to reduce staff all together. It is important to let staff know, their work is valued and you are doing all you can to keep them employed during truly tough times. Too many changes will give your staff the message that it is time to move on. Here are a few messages you can send back to let them know that you want them to stay.

Simply say, "Thank You." It seems so obvious, but it is something that all of us overlook. It takes no time and it is always appreciated. It may not come back to you tenfold but it will make an employee who would normally run out the door at 5 o'clock stay late. It will be the difference between an employee who goes home with a chip on her shoulder and one who goes home and feels validated. It doesn't always have to be for a specific task or event. At the end of the day when you are walking out or passing people in the hall take a moment to tell employees thank you.

Set a staff plan into motion. If someone has a great idea ... try it. Sometimes the best time savers and motivators are the ones that come from the people who perform the task all day long. Your staff will be the best gauge for what is getting done, what isn't getting done and why it is not happening. Looking to your team for the answers is a great way to find out who is motivated and involved. Implementing staff suggestions will express support and confidence to your employees.

Staff incentive program. Do you have poor attendance? Do you need to improve optical sales? Are your phones not getting answered? Have your collections dropped? An incentive program for staff will motivate each team member to work towards a goal. Employees will keep track of who is frequently absent or underperforming.

Establish a clear time frame for the incentive. There must be an end line with a definite reward. Perfect attendance for a month, optical sales that increase by 5 percent over the next quarter, or all fee-for-service charges collected at time of service for one month.

Re-running the programs will continue to motivate staff. Constantly having programs will reduce staff efforts to meet program goals. Staff lunches, continuing education credits and extra paid time off are incentives with high returns on investments.

Make it personal. Not every employee will always perform satisfactorily. There is no need to give everyone the same recognition when there are overachievers. When you recognize employees who have performed above and beyond, make sure they are acknowledged.

Dollars. Never underestimate the power of cash rewards. Even in a tough economic climate make sure to reward staff members who have truly made a difference. A bonus rather than an hourly salary increase is a great way to give recognition to staff members without setting higher hourly salaries. A modest bonus recognizes strong effort and still allows for salary adjustments in the future.

Keep the perks. Do you supply coffee for the office? Are there cakes to celebrate staff birthdays? Maybe you host lunches for the staff monthly? Even if you cannot offer additional perks to your staff right now, it is important to maintain the incentives that they do have. A birthday cake or supplying coffee may seem trivial. Eliminating small perks will have negative impacts on staff performance and retention.

Physician involvement. Take time; be involved in the everyday life of your office. Administrators have a very different connection to the staff. They are involved in day-to-day operations in a way that doctors aren't. If there is a staff meeting, be sure to be involved. Go around the room and ask everyone by name if they have any questions or concerns you should know about.

Acknowledge that you see how hard they work. It is important that the staff hear from a doctor that the team is performing as expected and there is no reason to worry about current employment positions.

Times are tough. Showing confidence in your staff and empowering them are strong motivational messages. Staff members who sense their position is in jeopardy will search for other employment opportunities.


Dr. Cohen and Ms. Hutensky are the founding partners of HC Consulting Group. Contact them at http://ehutensky@ thehcconsulting.com or (312) 972-3488.