November 21, 2014

Employee Appreciation: It’s the Gravy

Employee Appreciation figurines

With Thanksgiving almost here, I think there’s a natural theme for this article: turkey and gravy. Then again, maybe I meant to talk about gratitude and appreciation – specifically, employee appreciation – for our teams as a whole, and for each and every employee on those teams.

For most doctors and their office managers, winding up with a team you’re thankful to have often takes putting quite a lot of time and effort (not to mention blood, sweat, and tears!) into that team, in terms of rigorous, careful hiring, deft problem-solving, and the day-to-day work of management. But whether your own office staff is a work of art or a work-in-progress, few team-building tactics on your part are more powerful game-changers than sincere gratitude.

After all, you’ve been in your employees’ shoes before – nobody likes to do a thankless job. In fact, feeling appreciated is one of the top drivers of employee engagement and retention. So, aside from scattering thank-yous like flower petals as you walk through the hallways, what can you do to make sure each employee on your team feels appreciated, supported, and valued for their unique contributions? Quite a lot, in both words and actions – and whether or not you’ve got any money to spend.

Specifics mean a lot

It goes without saying that pleases and thank-yous are important parts of your average day. After all, no employee feels appreciated if their doctors or managers are constantly rude, abrupt, or walking around under a permanent thundercloud. Daily grind aside, though, remember that it’s extra nice to be noticed for your efforts when you’ve just dealt with something extra rough, or when you’ve truly gone above and beyond.

Small things are meaningful, too

Incentive bonuses can work wonders when they’re frequent and attainable, and nearly everybody loves cash and PTO. However, smaller bonuses or gifts can provide an element of fun and/or surprise, and can help make employees feel appreciated out of all proportion to the size of the perk. Whether it’s a pair of movie tickets in an employee’s work anniversary card, an impromptu pizza party after a rough week, or a few sincere words at your morning team huddle, don’t overlook the little stuff.

Don’t ignore a work in progress

Being thanked for a finished project is great, but sometimes telling someone you appreciate how hard they ARE working on an ongoing task can provide extra motivation to get them through the slog. If a team member has been doing a good job with especially difficult clients or exceeding your expectations with a particular task, make sure they know their efforts are not being overlooked. This is especially important when an employee is working on improving in an area you’ve discussed together, but they’re not quite there yet.

For example, say you talked to your medical assistant Marta last week about arriving ten minutes late every morning, and you set an expectation that she would self-correct the issue moving forward. This week, she’s shown up just when she is supposed to every day so far. While this new good habit isn’t fully formed yet, it helps to let your employee know that you are taking note and appreciating their taking responsibility.

Careful with consistency

Admit it: you’ve got your secret favorite(s)…an employee or two who are always on the ball, a breeze to manage, always arrive on time, or are always willing to train or help out. Now that you’ve admitted it, don’t admit it to anybody else. Thank them for their good work, yes, but also take care to notice and appreciate those who are struggling but trying, who are making progress at self-correcting an issue you’ve previously discussed, or who just did something great. Building up your team as a whole means treating all employees fairly.

And, take extra pains to avoid this all-too-easy mistake: In a small team, any time you’re singling employees out one by one to recognize their efforts (in a practice-wide email or mini-newsletter, for instance) be extra careful not to leave anyone off the list.

Going beyond employee appreciation: Be the boss they’ll be thankful to have

Now that you’re focusing on making each and every employee feel appreciated, you may be thinking that you could use some appreciation yourself. And if you want to take a minute here to pat yourself on the back, it’s OK by me. Few people work as hard as doctors and office managers from day to day. CEDR appreciates you!
After your moment of happy-time, remember that the more supported and appreciated your employees feel in all the work that they do, the more likely they are to appreciate you as their doctor, team leader and/or manager. But there are also specific things you can do to be the type of boss that you would wish for, and that they’ll be thankful to have.

Learn what matters to your team

This helps you establish a rapport with each individual team member, which can make your overall management stronger. You don’t want to involve yourself deeply in extracurricular drama or commit to listening for hours – it’s OK to redirect when you both have work to do. But get a feel for what’s important to each employee, both at work and in life. This helps you manage with sensitivity.

Pay attention to what’s bothering team members

For the most part, if you’re paying attention from day to day, you’ll find this out. Just keep an eye out for what can easily be fixed, what can gradually be improved, and what needs to become a delegated problem (perhaps even to someone who is complaining!).

Every once in a while, consider taking a survey, asking each employee which task, process, or work issue is their least favorite and soliciting suggestions for how it might be improved at no or minimal cost. Conversely, find out what employees’ favorite task or part of their day is, and what they think is going great at your practice.

Create visible change

It’s up to you to let team members know that you need them to bring you suggested solutions (not all involving money) along with problems. But once you have those suggestions, let them see that you’re always working to improve their work environment. Whenever you can, and especially when there’s no money involved, pick a feasible idea, champion it, and carry through on it. You’ll be amazed at how much street cred you’ll gain.

I said at the beginning of this article that we were going to talk about turkey and gravy, and maybe we did. After all, working a thankless job is a lot like a giant plate of very dry turkey. It’s unpleasant and not fulfilling. But add a bit of gravy to the plate and you have yourself a great meal.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your practice!

Friendly Disclaimer: This employee appreciation information is general in nature, and is not intended to replace good counsel about a specific issue with either your attorney or your favorite HR expert. Questions or concerns about your own team or situation? Contact CEDR Solutions at 866-414-6056 or email us at

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.

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Please note: CEDR Solutions specializes in providing expert HR support to owners and operators of independently owned medical and dental practices.