How Do You Motivate Office Staff?

Lynn Homisak, PRT

Rewarding Employees With What They Really Appreciate

During a visit to one client’s office, I was excited to learn I would witness the doctor presenting his long-time receptionist, Carly, with an “award” for meeting a collections goal they both had set earlier in the year. His intent in presenting her with this reward was to thank her and at the same time motivate her to continue similar excellent efforts throughout the next year. He remembered how much his office manager, Anita, had enjoyed the opera tickets he had given her the year before so at the very last minute, he jumped online to purchase two of the best opera tickets he could find, thinking what worked for Anita would surely work for Carly.

   When the time came, with misplaced excitement, he handed her two of the finest tickets to see La Boehme with a “thanks” and a pat on the back for her hard work. When presented with the tickets, she was visibly underwhelmed. Not wanting to appear ungrateful, she thanked him out of politeness but barely cracked a smile in the process.

   Carly later revealed to me that while she appreciated his desire to reward, she was disappointed because while his actions meant to compliment her work efforts, it also spoke volumes of his lack of interest in her as a person.

   “Honestly, I didn’t expect anything,” she said. “I met that goal because it gave me a personal sense of accomplishment. If he knew me at all, he’d have known I’m not at all a fan of the opera. In fact, we even laughed about how the opera was not my cup of tea when he gave Anita her tickets. I know so much about him. You would think I would after 10 years of working together. But I never realized he didn’t have an ounce of interest in my life. If he did, he’d have known that I would have been thrilled with two tickets to see a ballgame.”

   This doctor’s attempt to motivate Carly failed and, in fact, left her hurt and disappointed. Had he taken the time to get to know her, the right incentive would have made a wonderful difference. It is so much harder to make things right than to get things right.

   One of the characteristics of an excellent manager is taking a healthy interest in the staff’s lives outside of the office. That doesn’t mean managers have to live with them or be their counselor. It means making attempts to increase employee engagement by tuning in every now and then to special events that are meaningful to them and/or their family. This social interaction allows more personal insight into not only who they are but also how to be more responsive to their needs, which in turn strengthens the employer-employee work relationship.

   According to Jack Canfield, a leading management authority, a recent management study revealed that 61 percent of surveyed employees said their bosses don’t place much importance on them as people and that has a negative effect on employees.1 Treating employees more like people also means valuing their ideas, feedback and decisions involving practice improvement. The more employees become invested in the practice, the more they are motivated, creating a cycle of improved productivity. Any employer would be foolish not to tap into that very present and influential resource.

A Little Personalization Goes A Long Way

I sat down with Pat, the office manager for a multi-doctor, multi-location practice. I had heard she was a good business manager but a little rough around the edges and not well liked by her 28 employees. My job was to help make her a more effective leader.

   Pat’s resistance was evident. She didn’t feel she needed my help and blamed the “the uncooperative, unmotivated staff” for all the difficulties that had recently been occurring. When I asked for specific examples, she informed me that a management strategy recommended to her (letting the staff know you appreciate them) worked in reverse and actually turned them against her.

   “I thought I’d follow the advice of the ‘experts’,” she said cynically, “so I wrote a really nice letter of appreciation and sent a copy to every staff person’s email box (all 28 of them).”

   I stopped her for clarification. “You mean, you sent the same exact letter to each staff person and let them believe that they were the only one to receive it?”

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