Early on in medical practice I learned a maxim that has always stuck with me: Your staff will treat your patients as well as you treat your staff.
I have done my best to live by these words in running my office, and I attribute a large part of our success to the fruits of that philosophy. I am not working alone toward a goal; I am leading a team.
There are four distinct areas where your day-to-day actions will influence -- either positively or negatively -- the morale level of your staff:
- Lead by example
- Set clear expectations
- Pay fair salaries
- Offer extras
In this article, I will cover the first two areas.
If you are not willing to work hard, how can you expect your staff to do so? Certainly, you can only demand of your staff what you’re willing to give. Nobody wants to work for a hypocrite.
Here are ways to “practice what you preach:”
- Be willing to do the small jobs. Nothing defeats a team more than a prima donna. The one most likely to do this is the physician in charge. By doing small tasks, such as taking vitals if things get behind, you encourage an atmosphere of cooperation and decrease pressure on your staff. You are letting them know “We’re all in this together.”
- Don’t bad mouth. Never speak ill of other patients, staff, or doctors in the office. Doing so in front of staff not only invites them to do the same, it makes them wonder what you might be saying when they are not present.
- Be sensitive to other people’s lives. Your staff wants to get home on time just as much as you do. Sometimes, of course, that’s just not possible -- it’s the nature of the business. But make it your goal to honor schedules as much as possible (while still doing everything that needs to be done, of course).
- Acknowledge good work. People don’t want to be taken for granted. If they work hard, recognize it. Thank them if they have done well -- even if what they’ve done is simply what is expected of them.
- Set clear expectations
Be careful to set expectations up front. This is important for both staff and management, as this makes clear whether or not someone is doing a good job. Some important steps to take include:
- Construct an employee manual -- and use it. This sets general expectations for all staff (e.g., tardiness, HIPAA violations). When situations arise (and they will), crack open that manual and follow the procedure you’ve set forth. Newly hired employees should sign a statement saying they have read and understand your written policies.
- Define each position with a job description. These are the expectations for the various positions in the practice. Be as specific as possible. If you have three different roles for nurses in your practice, then you need three different job descriptions.
- Conduct regular performance reviews. Even long-term staff should get at least yearly reviews. New-hires should get more frequent feedback. In these reviews, acknowledge as many positives as you can.
- Address any performance issues promptly. This is at least as important as giving good feedback to good workers. A bad worker drags the other staff down, and not addressing this will inevitably undermine morale. Make it clear that you’re interested in finding solutions, not just criticizing. Then put your heads together to develop an action plan.
Robert Lamberts, MD,
is a primary care physician with Evans Medical Group in Evans, Ga. He is board certified in internal medicine and pediatrics in the care of adults, pediatrics, diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, preventative medicine, attention deficit disorder, and emotional/behavior disorders. Dr. Lamberts serves on multiple committees at several national organizations for the promotion of computerized health records, for which he is a recognized national speaker. He can be reached at rlamberts@EvansMedicalGroup.com.