It’s a passion for Mike M. Harkins: how to make patient access employees feel recognized on a tight budget.
“We have to be good stewards and be creative in doing things that promote morale,” says Harkins, manager of registration at Norfolk, VA-based Sentara Leigh Hospital and Elizabeth City, NC-based Sentara Albemarle Hospital.
Harkins created a class called “Reward and Recognition on a Shoestring,” and she presents it in two formats. One is a two-hour presentation. The other is a lunch-and-learn that’s offered online. “The class is chock-full of games, fun, and ideas. It’s open to all Sentara leaders who want help with improving employee reward, recognition, retention, and attitude,” says Harkins. Here are some of her low-cost solutions:
• Harkins is flexible with employees, whenever possible.
“We do have a business to run. But where you can be flexible with people, it’s great to be able to do that,” she says. Harkins fully supports employees in their educational endeavors. “If they can’t work mornings Tuesdays and Thursdays for a period of time because they’re taking a course, we always try to adjust their schedule.” Once registrars voice any type of scheduling problem, Harkins makes every effort to accommodate them. “We’ll work something out,” she says.
• Harkins works alongside staff members during volume surges.
Harkins monitors volume in registration areas on her computer. When she sees a surge in volume, she rushes to the area to offer some assistance.
When 15 or 20 people show up to register at the same time, even the cheeriest registrar can become stressed. “Sometimes it looks like a bus just pulled up and dropped everybody off,” says Harkins. “That’s when I jump in and say, ‘What do you want me to do?’” Because staff members know they’re faster at registration, they typically ask Harkins to call patients’ names, so they don’t have to leave their workstation, or transport patients to their next destination.
• Harkins gives staff “real-time” compliments.
If Harkins overhears a nice exchange between a registrar and patient, she isn’t shy about saying so. “Don’t wait for a staff meeting six weeks later,” advises Harkins. “Tell them right then, right there: ‘That was a great interaction!’”
• Harkins sends several handwritten notes to employees each year.
In addition to birthday and anniversary cards, Harkins writes a note just to let the employee know he or she is appreciated, at least once a year.
“People don’t get handwritten notes anymore. After getting one, people will beam for a week,” says Harkins. Some notes simply state, ‘Thanks for being on my team.’” Other notes refer to a specific incident, such as, “I didn’t get a chance to tell you today, but I saw you having a great interaction with a patient.”
• Harkins gives staff members a reason to check in with her.
Harkins keeps a large basket full of candy on her desk and encourages staff to come in to get a sweet treat whenever they’d like. Usually, when they do so, they also tell her something useful. “They’ll always drop a tidbit,” she says. “I’ve learned more over this candy dish than any sit-down yearly review.” At times, an exasperated employee makes a statement such as, “Doesn’t anything work around here?” This type of comment leads to more questions from Harkins, and eventually, some solutions.
A recent example involved the department’s dress code of navy blue slacks and vests. “Someone stopped in one day and said how tired they were of the uniform, saying they wish I would consider a dress-up day,” says Harkins. “I started hearing from several ‘candy dish regulars’ that they thought that would be fun.” Harkins announced that the last day of the month was Dress Up Day. “For extra fun, we wear crazy Christmas sweaters, or Hawaiian shirts on a cold winter day,” says Harkins.
• Harkins is consistent when recognizing employees’ milestones.
If one registrar receives a cupcake and card for her birthday, other registrars will expect the same thing. “You can do as much damage by doing something good and not sustaining it, than not doing it at all,” warns Harkins.
For this reason, Harkins doesn’t attend employees’ out-of-office personal events, such as family members’ graduations, weddings, or funerals. “Staff have long memories,” says Harkins. “If they know you went to one employee’s mom’s funeral, but you didn’t go to their mom’s funeral, it causes hurt feelings.”
• Harkins nips infractions in the bud.
If employees complain about their colleagues, such as inappropriate attire or lateness from lunch breaks, Harkins observes the behavior firsthand at her earliest opportunity. Then, she quickly takes action. “Otherwise, other employees will say, ‘Why is she getting away with that and I can’t?’” she says. “Consistency is a great satisfier.”
- Mike M. Harkins, Manager of Registration, Sentara Leigh Hospital, Norfolk, VA/Sentara Albemarle Hospital, Elizabeth City, NC. Phone: (757) 261-8962. Fax: (757) 995-7070. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.