4 Low-Cost Ways to Motivate Your Practice's Employees

Ryan Gray, MD
Ryan Gray, MD

Ryan Gray, MD, is a former Air Force Flight Surgeon. He is now helping premed students overcome obstacles on their journey to become physicians at the Medical School Headquarters.

At one point or another, every medical practice will have to deal with unmotivated employees. Unmotivated staff members can cause all sorts of problems, from a slowdown in productivity to decreased profits, poor morale and patient dissatisfaction.

At one point or another, every medical practice will have to deal with unmotivated employees. Unmotivated staff members can cause all sorts of problems, from a slowdown in productivity to decreased profits, poor morale and patient dissatisfaction.

The right motivation strategy can boost employee productivity while being cost effective. Although many practices tend to rely on cash bonuses (and cash equivalents, such as gift cards), research has shown these enticements are the most expensive to offer and don’t necessarily improve motivation in the long run. So, how does a medical practice go about finding a strategy that not only works, but won’t break the bank?

First, it is important to understand that employee motivation typically has little to do with money and everything to do with management’s relationship with the staff. Studies have shown that when it comes to long-term motivation on the job, people respond better to genuine praise, acknowledgement and interpersonal engagement than they do to extra money.

Here’s the bottom line: If your staff feel that you value them, they will work harder for you.

Before you give up all hope of improving staff motivation or start spending boatloads of cash on ineffective initiatives, try these free (or cheap) strategies:

1. Ask questions … and listen to the answers

Asking questions of your staff will show that you appreciate and value their opinions. Find out what you can do to help them or make their jobs a little easier. Invite staff members to participate in decision-making (at an appropriate level, of course).

However, if you are going to ask questions of your staff and encourage them to be actively involved in office happenings, it is very important that you are prepared to listen (and maybe even act upon) what they have to say. Paying lip service to suggestions or concerns will only worsen an existing motivation problem.

Your staff may have very good reasons for doing things a certain way, even if it seems illogical to you. And, if they feel that you are interested and willing to help, they may even be able to fill you in on some office problems and provide ideas for how to solve them.

2. Challenge your staff

Although there is a fine line between challenging staff members and overloading them, it is good to offer opportunities to learn new skills and try new things. Reshuffling job duties now and then, encouraging qualified staff members to seek promotions and offering the opportunity to take on higher-level tasks breaks up monotony and demonstrates your trust and confidence in your workers.

High-performers, who are more likely to become bored more quickly, will especially benefit from this motivational strategy. Encourage those employees that need some extra motivation to develop a creative solution to an office problem or allow them to cross-train on some new job duties. Failure to tap your employees’ potential is not only wasteful, but it can also cause them to leave for other, more challenging jobs.

3. Acknowledge milestones

Employment anniversaries, birthdays and family events (new babies, graduations, etc.) are important to your workers. Recognizing your staff members for these special occasions can show that you care—and that you are interested in them on a personal level. To execute this strategy effectively, all you need are a box of blank cards, a calendar and a few minutes of your time to hand write a brief note.

However, this strategy can easily backfire if you forget to acknowledge someone or recognize different people for different things in different ways. You have to be very careful that you do not show favoritism… perceived or otherwise. Decide at the outset what occasions you will recognize (birthdays and employment anniversaries only, for example) and how you will recognize them. Then, be vigilant about following through.

4. Set a good example

Encourage your employees to be engaged in their jobs showing them that you are engaged in what you do. That’s not to say that you aren’t ever allowed to have a bad day, but you should attempt to demonstrate your expectations to your employees and, hopefully, inspire them to follow your lead.

Employee motivation can be tricky to address, but the more you encourage creativity, communication and participation, the easier it will be to keep your workers’ productivity high and your office humming like a well-oiled (and profitable) machine.