Happy employees mean satisfied patients

Recognition programs should be specific

Amazingly, with all of the technological and clinical advances of the past 25 years, the most critical component of a facility’s success is a motivated, enthusiastic staff.

Unfortunately, low employee morale is significantly higher than previous years. Not only is low morale discouraging for managers, but it also results in high turnover rates, dissatisfied patients, and a real threat to your financial health.

Low employee morale is one indication that your employees are not motivated to take pride in their jobs and assume responsibility for the program, says Scott Halford, a Glendale, CO-based consultant who helps organizations with morale, motivation, and work place performance.

"It is a myth that we can motivate others. Motivation must come from within the person, but we can inspire other people to see possibilities within their lives and their jobs that will motivate them," explains Halford.

An important step in building a motivated staff is to hire right, Halford says. "If people don’t like the work they are hired to perform, they will never be inclined to do a good job," he says.

Diana Procuniar, RN, CNOR, nurse administrator of the Winter Haven (FL) Ambulatory Surgical Center, says, "I talk to candidates about my philosophy that physicians and patients are our customers and we have to make both groups happy or we go out of business," she says. "When I see their heads nodding in agreement and a look of understanding on their faces, I know that they will be right for my program."

Before you can make sure you hire the right people, examine the values of your organization, Halford suggests. "If your organization is only interested in profits to shareholders, employees will know it and feel left out," he explains.

There are three organizational values that are essential to building a happy work force, says Halford. Surprisingly, pay is not one of the motivating factors for employees, he says. If your pay scale is lower than other facilities, pay is a de-motivator, but if your pay is equal or higher than other facilities, it is simply accepted as the paycheck the employee expects, he explains.

The factors that can create a motivated staff are:


Make sure you treat all employees fairly, Halford says.

"If people feel like different rules apply to different people, you’ll hear them complaining about the hours they work, the location of the parking lot, uniforms, or any number of other complaints," he says. "These complaints show that people are not focusing on their jobs but on minor irritations that have taken on a greater importance than their jobs."

Fair treatment includes recognition programs with clearly defined parameters that apply to everyone, Halford says. Recognitions such as gift certificates and pizza parties are great if the recognition is sincere and is connected to a real achievement, he says. For example, perfect attendance is not an achievement worth a special recognition, but a significant decrease in OR turnaround time is a true achievement, he explains.

At Winter Haven Surgical Center, staff recognitions are driven by peer recognitions, Procuniar says. An ongoing employee-of-the-month and employee-of-the-year program recognizes not only the employees being praised, but also those who offer the praise, she says. 

Proper tools.

Another key to maintaining employee morale, especially with increasing volume and reduced staff, is to make sure employees have the tools to handle their jobs, Halford says. With staff costs representing a significant part of any facility’s expense, it is logical to cut staff during a budget crunch, he points out.

"Just make sure that you have the tools in place that enable the remaining staff to handle the workload," Halford says.

Use the latest, greatest tools to help staff members with their jobs, and be willing to pay overtime if it is needed to get the job done, he says. Computer programs that simplify medical records entries, the proper number of instruments so staff don’t have to disinfect or sterilize between every case, and up-to-date equipment that is always working properly are just a few ways to make sure the remaining staff can handle the job, he says.


Perhaps the most basic way to let employees know that they are appreciated and inspire them to motivate themselves is to ask what they need, Halford says. The most important part of asking, through formal or informal survey methods, is to make sure you follow up on any information employees provide, he adds.

An employee survey at Winter Haven Ambulatory Surgical Center uncovered dissatisfaction with the center’s paid time-off policy, Procuniar says.

"We don’t have separate vacation, sick, and holiday time," she explains. "Everyone accumulates hours of paid time-off each pay period, and it is used for holidays and other time off," she says.

Employees didn’t believe the time was comparable to other programs in the area, so Procuniar surveyed other programs, compiled the data, and presented a recommendation to the board.

"The number of hours we increased paid time-off was not as much as employees wanted, but I was able to show employees the data I collected that demonstrated that the new paid time off policy was fair and comparable to other programs," she says.

Employees who are happy are good workers, Procuniar says.

"Taking time to make sure your employees are satisfied with their jobs pays off in terms of patient satisfaction and low turnover," she adds. Procuniar speaks from experience because not only does she rarely have employees leave her program, but she also adds, "I’m one of the fortunate managers who has a waiting list of nurses who want to work for me full time."