How ‘Bout Them Gas Prices?

May 22, 2008

Just one metric of an economic downturn, increased fuel prices not only translate into higher commuting expenses, but they also fatten up food costs due to greater shipping expenses and the need to divert food stuffs to use for fuel.

Just one metric of an economic downturn, increased fuel prices not only translate into higher commuting expenses, but they also fatten up food costs due to greater shipping expenses and the need to divert food stuffs to use for fuel. As a proactive manager, it is important to consider these factors both when hiring new employees and in providing staff recognition/incentive programs.

Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? This states that there are various levels of needs that all humans have. The developmental model identifies a pyramid of five levels, with the most basic of needs starting at the bottom:

  • Self-actualization -- Morality, creativity, problem solving;

  • Self-esteem -- Outside recognition of accomplishments, self confidence;

  • Belonging -- Being part of a family, making friendships;

  • Safety/security -- Shelter, having a roof over your head and gas in the car; and

  • Physiological -- The basics (food and sleep).

Interesting, you’re thinking, but why bring it up?

The reason is to encourage you to think about what your employees are experiencing at home right now, considering the current state of the economy. The increasing financial demands of home mortgages, gas prices, food, to name a few, are causing essential changes in how people live and work. And lots of stress along with those changes.

You may already publicly acknowledge your staff’s contributions to the practice and regularly proffer a pat on the back for a job well done. You may feel confident that this is sufficient to motivate your employees to do their best. Don’t get me wrong -- those are wonderful habits; keep them up.

But … it’s hard to sustain being a health professional if you’re, say, a single mother who is preoccupied with paying her mortgage, having enough gas money to get back and forth from work, paying for daycare, or any of the basic needs identified by Maslow. Ask yourself: Is there anything you or your practice can do to help mitigate these worries for your staff so they can concentrate on their jobs?

Make your appreciation tangible and useful, if at all possible. How about recognizing excellent work by awarding a gas or grocery gift card instead of one for the movies? In other words, find small, meaningful, and proactive ways to offer to assist employees, without them having to ask for help and without them suffering embarrassment for needing help.

As for hiring a new employee, it’s more important than ever to abide by the maxim, “You hire with wages and retain with benefits.” Assure your applicant that you recognize and appreciate her experience by explaining your wage-scale program, and indicate that you try as much as possible to maximize a starting wage. You want to make a new employee feel part of the team with a big welcome while also keep an eye out for any signs of problems with job happiness. Poor staff retention makes for a poor practice.

These kinds of ideas are important, as they ensure a sense of job security. Now is the time to recognize, congratulate, pat on the back, and indicate that the people who work for you are doing a great job, but do so in ways that will truly make a difference.

Times are indeed tough right now, which calls for a reflection on what you can do as a healthcare leader to make certain that your practice’s mission of providing high-quality patient care is achieved with secure, stable employees.

Owen Dahl, FACHE, CHBC, is a nationally recognized medical practice management consultant with over 24 years of experience in consulting for and managing medical practices and author of Think Business! Medical Practice Quality, Efficiency, Profits. He can be reached at odahl@comcast.net or 281 367 3364.