Staff morale: Keep an eye on it

May 1, 2010

The two biggest issues that come to mind in light of the current economic climate are how well you're communicating within the urology practice and how the economy might affect staff performance.

Employees want and need to hear messages that assure them the practice is on a solid, economically sound foundation. It is too easy in difficult times for practice leaders to fall into a sort of business paralysis where they don't want to talk about the negative impact of the economy. Sometimes the manager and physician(s) become less visible to staff when they are concerned about the future. This will not go unnoticed by staff members, who are seeking reassurance and watching to see whether the boss is calm and confident about the practice's position. Employees may be worried about their jobs, and your silence will cause anxiety.

It's important to keep employees in the know. If there are changes in practice finances that may result in broken promises, such as buying equipment that employees are awaiting, let them know there will be a delay in those purchases due to the economy. You also may need to address issues that are personal to them, such as reduced hours, terminations, or not replacing an employee who leaves. It is important to communicate with staff in an honest way.

Monitor changing attitudes

Stay in tune with staff behavior and overall morale. Recognize that you could be sending messages that the practice is not on stable ground. If employees begin bickering and their enthusiasm, customer service, production, and dependability wane, you need to get to the bottom of it.

Employee attitudes are certainly affected by circumstances at work, but there could be external factors as well, such as a spouse losing his job. This makes your employee the breadwinner and possibly not feeling terribly secure. By failing to communicate, you may be inadvertently contributing to these concerns, resulting in staff imagining that things are far worse than they really are.

Address performance issues

Regardless of the source, a change in attitude and job performance cannot be ignored. It simply will not go away until you address it.

If the performance factors are more isolated to different staff members or a specific department, then it's time for individual meetings to discuss your observations, impressions, and the objective performance factors that have emerged. Perhaps it is increased errors or an unwillingness to properly serve patients or assist a co-worker. Be willing to probe to find out what is on an employee's mind that is contributing to the performance decline, and what improvement issues are involved. You need to get a clear understanding of how the practice might help him or her improve.

Prepare a formal performance improvement plan (PIP) that addresses:

The goal is to have the employee meet practice performance standards, but if this does not occur within the boundaries and time set in the PIP, practice leaders are faced with the more difficult decision of termination. This, of course, is never pleasant and must be handled appropriately to ensure the employee's rights are not violated and the practice is protected from a potential legal issue.

Keep in mind that if your urology practice does not provide a desirable work environment, performance will suffer, and some of your strongest employees will look elsewhere for the security and reassurance they seek. It's all about communication, sensibilities, consistency, and fairness, while realizing that it is management's job to set the tone for the practice.

ModernMedicine NETWORK

NEWS & UPDATES
A recent survey found that most Americans agree that financial stress can negatively affect one's health. Read: http://www.urologytimes.com/moneywoes

EDUCATION
Learn how the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act affects your practice. See http://www.urologytimes.com/HITECH

Judy Capko is a health care consultant and the author of Take Back Time–Bringing Time Management to Medicine. She can be reached at 805-499-9203 or judy@capko.com
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