How to reward employees for a job well done

October 1, 2009

Here are some tips for developing an incentive plan that will keep your medical staff motivated.

Staff incentives have long been the subject of debate. Some physicians endorse them and some fear them; others simply feel they’re already paying staff to do the job right. Whether staff should get incentives, and whether such incentives should be monetary, will continue to be a source of discussion for medical practices, even in a good economy.

Here are some practical tips for developing an incentive plan that will help keep your staff motivated.

The fear of giving incentives comes from the concern that once you pay staff extra, it becomes an expectation down the road with very little gratitude for the doctor who's paying it out. This fear will become a reality if you have the wrong staff or if the incentive is not well thought out.

Incentives don't work for employees with a bad attitude or poor work habits. They become suspicious and may even think you are trying to buy their loyalty. Their behavior must be addressed separately by setting goals for improvement and taking punitive action if there is no change.

Incentives do work for the right staff if the incentive is reasonable, well executed, fair, and communicated effectively. The goal behind the incentive must be clear and achievable.

Whatever you decide, it is important that the urologists and the manager agree on what is to be accomplished and what the reward will be-and make sure it doesn’t break the bank. Will you be setting one-time goals or goals that evolve each year, so there’s always an opportunity to achieve bonuses?

Beyond its purpose to express appreciation to loyal employees, the bonus program should be based on specific goals that honor employees' contribution to achieving a particular goal. One example is establishing a shared bonus for receptionists based on improving collections at the front desk and reducing errors in patient registration in a measurable way. Another example is rewarding the schedulers if they reduce the missed appointment rate by a specific percentage within a certain period of time.

Practice incentives for the entire staff could be based on patient satisfaction, increased new patient referrals, or hitting a specific number of patient visits each quarter.

Cash incentives can be a bit tricky. Everyone needs to understand that these bonuses are based on a specific goal and will not be repeated once the goal is achieved. Even then, some employees have short memories. In addition, if you ever eliminate a cash bonus, expect a negative reaction.

Non-cash incentives
Incentives don't have to be big, and they don't have to be cash. Even when employees are paid very well, there are times when they need a pat on the back. If an employee had to deal with a difficult situation with an antagonistic co-worker or had a challenging week because you were short-staffed, a simple "thank you" from the boss will let her know you noticed and appreciated it. Too often, a nurse ends up working late because the doctor got behind. Even though she'll get overtime pay for it, it's important to say "thank you."

Some practices have Kudos bars on hand to be passed out by managers and physicians when they see a staffer going out of her way to help a patient or co-worker. Others put names in a hat for a quarterly drawing. Each practice must decide for itself what works best.

Are 'social' bonuses appropriate?
How social should a bonus be? Several years ago, a practice asked me how to reward staff for an unprecedented and exceptionally profitable year. The physicians were thinking about taking everyone to a ski lodge for a 3-day weekend. I asked them a few pertinent questions:

  • Do these people spend time with each other outside the office?
  • Do you really think they want to spend their time off together or with the physicians who employ them?
  • Will the cost of doing this really be appreciated?

It's one thing to have a pizza party after work on a Friday, but a 3-day weekend? Most staff members would rather have you give each of them a vacation gift certificate so they can make their own decision about vacation time.

For most accomplishments, you don't have to spend a lot on a team reward for something everyone contributes to, such as a computer conversion or relocation to a new office. Once it's behind you, close the office early on a Friday and pay the staff for the entire day. A bottle of champagne or movie tickets for each member of the team would be an added expression of appreciation for a job well done.

When a team pulls together to accomplish something extra and works hard to do so, a reward does a lot to keep the team united, motivated, and appreciated.