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Keeping Medical Practice Staff Happy


Well-deserved praise not only induces your staff to work harder, it can make patients happy, as well.

I hear many physicians complain that their staff members do not focus enough time and attention on making patients happy. Often, at the root of patient satisfaction problems are employee satisfaction problems. So as the leader of your practice, it is just as important for you to care about your staff as it is to care about your patients.

Want a quick and easy strategy to boost employee morale? Catch them being good! It is human nature to notice people doing things wrong and then criticize them for it (ourselves included). Criticism, even when well intentioned, creates a threat state in the brain, triggering the limbic system. The more the limbic system is triggered, the more difficult it is to think clearly, collaborate, and make effective decisions. Criticism (or what some call, constructive feedback) often causes people to lose self-confidence and self-esteem, which can negatively impact their work satisfaction.

By providing positive acknowledgement to your employees, you not only make them feel appreciated, it helps with their self-confidence and their motivation to do a good job. Research has found that feeling good is associated with improved thinking, decision-making, and short-term memory. Interestingly, the brain hears positive feedback as a signal to do more of that behavior. It is a great way to lessen mistakes and improve performance without focusing on the negative. (Of course sometimes, you do need to provide corrective feedback.) The goal is to tip the scale so that you are providing more positive feedback than corrective feedback.

Here are the steps you can take to provide effective positive acknowledgement for your staff:

1. Look for positive staff behaviors and outcomes.

2. Make your acknowledgement genuine. No false flattery, because people see right through that.

3. Make it specific. Point out what the person is doing well; the more specific you are, the more believable it is for the person, and the more likely the person is to know what to keep doing.

4. Make it timely. Try to provide the acknowledgement as close to the event as possible.

5. Give it in person. It feels more heartfelt when the acknowledgement is given face to face.

6. Do it often. Aim for at least five times a day where you recognize one or more employees for something they are doing well and/or something you really appreciate.

Finding opportunities to recognize employees helps them feel valued and appreciated, and creates a reward state in the brain. That feels good for people - making it more likely that they want to do a good job. When you are on the lookout for positive behaviors, they get easier to observe.

Here are some examples of opportunities to acknowledge others (and examples of what you might say):

• When they have accomplished something:

You really helped put Mrs. Smith at ease by explaining what she could expect from the procedure.

• When they have learned something - a new skill or expanded their knowledge:

I can see that you have taken the time to learn that new procedure - it makes a big difference to patient care.

• When they have made a positive change:

I know you were working on taking more time to answer patient questions and I can see it is really paying off. Thank you.

• When they have struggled with and resolved a dilemma or challenge:

I know it has not been easy to help our new employee learn the front office procedures. I can see that she is getting better every day, thanks to your help.

• When they have provided valuable input:

Your suggestion about how to improve efficiency in the back office has resulted in me being able to see more patients.

• When they have had a positive impact on the practice:

I have received several patient comments about how friendly and courteous you are with them. That makes a big difference to the reputation of the practice.

• When they have made a patient or family member feel well-cared for:

Thank you for spending extra time with Mr. Wilson's wife today - she is now able to help make sure he follows through with the discharge instructions.

Follow the steps above and within a week or two, you will observe a noticeable improvement in employee motivation, morale, and initiative. It is a great, no-cost strategy that can have a significant impact on your practice.

Catherine Hambley, PhD,is an organizational psychologist who leverages brain science to promote effectiveness and positive change in her work with organizations, teams, and leaders. In addition to her extensive background in healthcare, she has worked across a wide array of industries, from Fortune 100 companies to non-profit organizations. She may be reached at catherine.hambley@gmail.com or Leapfrogconsulting.net.

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