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Physicians Practice Pearls: How ’Bout Them Gas Prices?


Your employees are facing a raft of new bread-and-butter economic problems. Here’s how you can help, without breaking your bank.

Here’s 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 possess, with the most basic at the bottom.

I’m sure you’re thinking, “Well, that’s interesting, 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 paying the mortgage, gassing up the car, buying food, and the like 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. How about recognizing excellent work by awarding a gas or grocery gift card instead of one for the movies? Find small, meaningful, and proactive ways to offer to assist employees, without them having to ask for help - and suffer 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 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 keeping an eye out for any signs of problems with job happiness. Poor staff retention makes for a poor practice.

Times are tough right now, so recognize, congratulate, pat on the back, and communicate that the people who work for you are doing a great job, but do so in ways that will truly make a difference.

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

This article originally appeared in the October 2008 issue of Physicians Practice.

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