How to Engage Your Medical Practice Staff

September 24, 2014
Bob Levoy

Employees who are "engaged" have greater commitment to the practice, and often go above and beyond their basic job descriptions.

Employees who are "engaged" have greater psychological commitment to the practice at which they work, often go above and beyond their basic job descriptions, and put more discretionary effort into their work. Engaged employees are also more motivated, productive, and likely to stay with the practice than the average employee.

According to Gallup's 2013 employee engagement survey, only 30 percent of U.S. employees are engaged in their jobs, while 18 percent are actively disengaged - meaning they are uninvolved and unenthusiastic about their jobs, and tell others how bad things are. In-between those two extremes, employees are sleepwalking through their workday, putting time - but not energy or passion - into their work.

Fortunately, physicians and office managers can take steps to improve the level of employee engagement in their practices. Here are three of the ways it can be done:

1. Don't hire clock watchers

As simple as it sounds, start with the hiring process. If you simply look for skills and experience, you'll often miss the signs of intrinsic motivation that identify candidates with a high probability of being fully engaged. To refine your selection, include interview questions such as the following - the answers to which (or lack thereof) can be most revealing:

• In your last job, in what accomplishments did you take most pride?

• In your last job, when you finished your work ahead of schedule, what did you usually do?

• In your last job, if you were asked to do something that wasn't part of your usual duties, how did you feel about it?

• Do you prefer a job where you are given a lot of responsibility or a more highly structured job with more supervision?

2. Utilize participative management

Another way to foster engagement is to give staff members a voice in the decisions that affect them - often called "participative management."

Physicians and office managers who use participative management consult with their staff before making a decision that affects them - not only to get their input, but also to tap into their self-motivation.

Sharing decision-making demonstrates respect for employees and their expertise and increases the likelihood of better decisions. It also helps employees develop a sense of ownership in their jobs which makes their work more motivating and satisfying and results in higher levels of engagement.

Equally important, when employees feel they have some say in the decisions that vitally affect their work, they're more highly-motivated to perform with distinction, than if they feel they're merely being told what to do.

3. Care about your staff

Staff members who feel cared about and appreciated are invariably more engaged, productive, and loyal.

This point was driven home by the medical assistant who told me, "My first job was in a practice that focused on efficiency and financial performance. Employees were only a 'means to an end.' This practice," she said, "is totally different - one that puts people first - and manages from the heart. I love working here."

Action steps:

• Take an interest in the lives of your employees outside of work: hobbies, family events, graduations, and the like. These discussions needn't be lengthy. Even a brief remark, such as, "I hope your daughter does well in tonight's gymnastic competition," lets the person know you cared enough to remember it. (Asking employees, "How's it going?" or, "How's the family?" doesn't do it.)

• Provide training. Give employees the skills they need to advance their careers and increase their value to the practice. Such training sends the message that your employees are valuable enough to invest in.

• Give time off. Time off, particularly around the holidays, is highly appreciated. If your practice is especially busy during the holidays, arrange if possible, alternative work schedules to give people additional time for holiday-related tasks and responsibilities. Your employees will be grateful all year long.

• Share the love. When you tell an employee why you're glad he is on your team, that person is what I call, "emotionally rehired." For example, when you say, "Amy, your incredible attention to detail makes a huge contribution to our efficiency and patient satisfaction. I'm glad you're here," - you have emotionally rehired Amy in 15 seconds. The statement is sincere and Amy knows it and it will contribute noticeably to her level of engagement.

By focusing on these efforts, physicians and office managers can create an atmosphere that promotes engagement; where employees want to come to work; where they spend the time to make sure things are done right; and where they have the passion and energy to go that extra mile.

Bob Levoy is the author of seven books and hundreds of articles on human resource and practice management topics. His newest book is "222 Secrets of Hiring, Managing and Retaining Great Employees in Healthcare Practices" published by Jones & Bartlett. He can be reached at blevoy@verizon.net.