How Do You Motivate Office Staff?

Lynn Homisak, PRT

   I explained that there is usually a deeper reason for things we only sometimes see on the surface. While it did appear that the staff looked at the bonus as an expectation of their employment rather than an appreciation, the much bigger issue revolved around a lack of communication and understanding. You have heard it said many times before: It all starts at the top. Maybe if Dr. Joe had conveyed his gratitude when giving the bonus, the staff would have attached relevance to his actions.

   “If you’ve given bonuses out of resentment,” I told him, “chances are they’ve sensed that. Now if you take them away completely with no explanation whatsoever, it will have a serious negative impact on their attitude and consequently, it will threaten their work performance. The bottom line is they could easily misinterpret your rationale and think you were punishing them for their work, which is the furthest thing from the truth.”

   In order to keep their motivation (and work effort) high and intact, I suggested that he keep the bonuses in, but take a different approach in how he presents them. “Instead of just passing out envelopes and waiting for their response, make an event of it this year. After shouting, ‘drum roll, please!’ ask for their attention and in an impromptu leadership speech, convey your appreciation to them. Talk about the value that each one of them brings to the practice and tie it to the reason for the bonus. Then call each staff person up, hand them the bonus and thank them for their efforts over the past year. In the end, you won’t only get your verbal ‘thank yous’ but a lot of smiles and maybe even a standing ovation as well. If you make a deliberate point of tying this bonus ‘reward’ to their importance to the practice and make a big deal out of it, there is a good reason to believe they will too.”

   Dr. Joe explained he was never really against handing out bonuses. He was merely jaded by their thankless reaction. Truth is, the distribution of bonuses was something he really enjoyed and always thought it was partially responsible for the high morale of the practice. At the same time, he also acknowledged that his staff rarely gets a verbal “thank you” from him and decided he was going to make more of a point of saying it. Had this “what if” of discontinuing bonuses happened, it could have had an irreversible impact on this very dedicated staff but because he turned it around, it opened the door to overall renewed staff enthusiasm.

Final Thoughts

These stories are real (names have been changed to protect the guilty) and yet, many doctors remain skeptical that appreciation can motivate their staff. They still hold tight to the fact that money is the only real “reward” that will catapult ordinary employees into superstars.
I will be honest. I have never met a person who refused more money in his or her paycheck so on some level, money is indeed a factor in increasing levels of excitement and productivity. However, these incentives are short lived. They are no different than a crash diet. Both fail because the commitment necessary to achieve a lasting and improved outcome is not there and without real sustenance, old behaviors soon return.

   Good wages have their place and although they cannot buy motivation, their absence leads to dissatisfaction. This is understandable given that wages are what employees use to measure their worth. If you are familiar with the theory of “wage efficiency,” you understand that offering a higher than market-clearing wage attracts an improved applicant pool and results in a better than average worker, one with increased output and morale.

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