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The Care and Feeding of Your Staff, Part 2


Salary is one of the great pitfalls that can undermine any goodwill you’ve garnered.

In part one of my discussion on staff morale, I discussed the maxim I try to follow as a boss: Your staff will treat your patients as well as you treat your staff. To a large extent, this is all you really need to know to keep your employees happy. If you respect their needs, trying to meet them in a fair way, they will be much easier to motivate.

But trouble can occur when you get down to the details. Salary, in particular, is one of the great pitfalls that can undermine any goodwill you’ve garnered in other ways. Specifically:

  • Underpaying -- Office-based nurses will always earn less than hospital-based ones. The reasons nurses choose the outpatient setting are predictable: better hours and lower stress. Still, it’s important to pay enough to keep nurses motivated.



  • Overpaying -- Paying too much can make you reluctant to give raises and bonuses, both of which can raise morale. It also lowers your profit margins significantly, forcing you to cut corners in other areas -- perhaps even cutting into your own compensation.



  • Varying salaries -- People who work together will find out what others earn; it’s impossible to hide this for any length of time. Even if one staff person consistently outperforms others and perhaps deserves more pay, having a large disparity between salaries will create tension in the workplace.



  • Bonuses -- If you want to reward your employees with money, do it with bonuses. Bonuses are a very important tool to help motivate. They come in two forms: expected and unexpected. Expected bonuses are those given at the same time every year, usually around the holidays. They are important, and often worked into staff holiday spending budgets. However, keep this bonus moderately and consistently sized from year to year, if at all possible. Hard times can befall any business, which can, of course, affect holiday bonuses. Make sure you clearly explain such circumstances.


For high performers, consider giving unexpected bonuses. These may come at any time of the year. They are a “thank you” gift for helping to make a profitable year. Unexpected bonuses are very good morale-boosters.

Here are some other ideas that can raise morale:

  • Give gift cards for gas -- We gave $50 gas cards unexpectedly to all our staff. Gift cards work well, as they are not taxed in the same way as regular income and they are also very practical.



  • Hold a staff appreciation day -- Every summer, our office closes for a day to let the staff gather at a local lake for an afternoon of relaxation. This sends an important message: The doctors are willing to lose money for the benefit of the staff; it also serves to bond the staff together via a mutually enjoyable activity.



  • Host a holiday party -- If you decide to have a party, do it well. Having your practice doctors plan the party for the staff can send a strong message to the employees that they’re worth this effort.

Of course, you’ll never please everyone all the time. But the successful office is the one that can give just the right amount of reward and create the best community to make it difficult for your staff to decide there are better jobs elsewhere.


Robert Lamberts, MD, is a primary care physician with Evans Medical Group in Evans, Ga. He is board certified in internal medicine and pediatrics, and specializes 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

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