With the holidays approaching, this is normally the time of year when many medical practices would be throwing a staff party or planning a fun group outing to recognize employees for their hard work and dedication. But, of course, 2020 is anything but a normal year. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made it far more challenging to celebrate staff and boost their morale—precisely at the point when many of them need it most.
So what’s the best way to help staff recharge and feel appreciated in time for the holidays?
In-person parties and other get-togethers are off the table in most organizations because of the risk of spreading COVID-19, although virtual “parties” are an option. Bonuses are another possibility, although the financial strain that many groups have experienced during the last 10 months could make that challenging.
In an October poll by Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) asking its members how they plan to promote staff morale during the holidays, nearly half of the 618 respondents said they would give a bonus of some kind, 19% said they would give a non-monetary gift, and 11% said they would host a party, which could include virtual events. Respondents also provided additional suggestions, including buying lunch for staff, organizing a gift exchange or hosting an outdoor, socially distanced event, if weather permits.
According to Joe Mull, M.Ed, CSP, an expert on healthcare leadership and employee engagement and author of the book, Cure for the Common Leader: What Physicians and Managers Must Do to Engage and Inspire Healthcare Teams, employee morale is, at its most basic, people feeling good about where they work and the people whom they work with.
For that reason, Mull, who is also the host of the podcast Boss Better Now, advises leaders to begin any virtual get-together by openly acknowledging how hard employees have been working and the stress that they have experienced. While leaders might want to distract staff from that stress with a virtual happy hour or other activity, Mull says “filling up employees’ tank” really needs to start with acknowledgement of the challenges they have faced in recent months.
Mull says staff recognition becomes powerful when it’s hyper-specific and mentions actions that a particular employee takes that are truly valued.
“The more specific the feedback, the more impactful,” he explains.
Successful recognition should make an employee feel good about the difference they have made in the lives of others and it should show them their boss put time and thought into planning it, he adds.
For instance, one of Mull’s clients recently planned virtual staff-appreciation event, complete with ugly holiday sweaters, games and prizes. The most impactful portion of the event by far, though, Mull says, was a 12-minute video montage that he helped them create containing short clips from each manager sharing what they appreciated most about their team and recognizing their individual employees and their contributions by name.
“It was incredibly powerful,” he says. “It was genuine, it was specific and it showed effort, and that makes people feel valued—even more than a gift.”
Another client of his, for example, created alternative pay stubs for all of their patient-facing personnel that included things like the number of times they greeted walk-in patients, the number of complaints they successfully managed and the number of phone calls they answered. “It was a very creative and personal way to say ‘This is what you do every day and we are grateful for it,’” Mull explains.
Being able to create a line of sight from any employee’s role to the difference they make is tremendously important, he says. “You want every employee, no matter what they do, to feel connected to the mission of your organization.”