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How to Deny a Raise Request from Medical Practice Staff


You know your medical practice staff member deserves a raise, but the timing isn’t right. Here are some alternatives experts recommend.

The long-deserved holiday break is over. Are you tiptoeing back into the office hoping not to hear, “Do you have a minute?” from your staff, worried that it’s about a raise?

It’s not that you don’t value your staff: They’re the best. But what if your practice’s profit margin has been just a little too low lately? How can you be more than simply polite when saying, “Sorry, but no”?

First, it helps to know that studies indicate people are actually motivated more by other things than money, even if they think otherwise.

Author Dan Pink calls it “freaky,” but true. The age-old motivation models - believing that more reward equals better performance - no longer hold up under rigorous testing.

In his 2009 book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” Pink explains one of the eye-opening findings: If the task at hand is purely mechanical in nature, the old motivational incentives (such as higher pay) win, but add more than rudimentary cognitive processing to your employee’s task, and performance actually drops as rewards rise.

Still, you understand how tough times are, and you care about your staff. When asked by Physicians Practice how to break the news to staff that there are no raises on the near horizon, business consultant Roxi Hewertson echoed famous cosmetics mogul, Mary Kay Ash: “Two things people want more than sex and money are praise and recognition.”

In her book, “Lead Like It Matters, Because It Does,” Hewertson cites the O. C. Tanner / Towers Perrin Global Recognition Study, which focused on determining worldwide drivers of engagement and the role employee recognition plays in contributing to it.

The study concluded that well-demonstrated appreciation improves engagement (measured as discretionary effort or more “want to, don’t have to” at work) and likewise, engagement occurs when staff feels valued.

In his book, Pink says it’s important to be clear that what you, the employer, are looking for from your employee is not compliance, but engagement. Three key factors that lead to employee engagement (and satisfaction) are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Even the freaky studies now seem simple:

• Hire individuals who have a sense of purpose. You and other leaders of the organization are to highlight that purpose and make it shine at every chance.

• Allow your purpose-filled employees to have a sense of autonomy. Get out of their way enough to let them be creative problem-solvers.

• Orchestrate tasks in order to facilitate mastery by staff. Getting better at something feels satisfying.

It is true that not paying employees enough is a sure-fire way to decrease motivation. The turning point, Pink says, is when you start paying people just enough that their minds and energy are focused on their tasks and not on money.

So when staff asks for more and you must say no, Hewertson’s top recommendations will keep you in the "Good Guy" seat and maintain their motivation:

• Catch them doing something well, and applaud them out loud. A letter of commendation feels good; being commended in front of their peers and supervisor can feel better.

• If possible, give away some time off: birthdays, an unexpected three-day weekend, even a couple of hours at the end of the day.

• Approve flex hours for go-getters.

• Allow positive workplace changes.

• Remember: Corporate tickets to sporting or art events, or lunch with the boss, can be meaningful gestures.

The key, Hewertson said, that makes these ideas motivating and not merely lip service, is that the offerings are meaningful to the receiver, authentic, timely, and specific.

Whatever you do - even if none of the above are possible in your practice - be accessible, give staff your attention, and extend sincere thanks as often as possible.

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