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What Does Your Staff Expect?

Sept. 1, 2007
How do you attract qualtiy employees? And more importantly, how do you retain quality employees?
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The Intangibles.

Tim Twigg and Rebecca Boartfield

How do you attract quality employees?
And more importantly, how do you retain quality employees?

Understanding what staff members expect and want is an important first step. Interestingly, while salaries and the generally accepted benefits (vacation, holidays, sick leave, etc.) certainly count, statistics from numerous employee surveys indicate that many other factors figure into staff satisfaction. In fact, many of them rate higher than pay and basic benefits.

Motivational factors

Consistently, employee surveys show similar rankings for the following motivational factors related to job satisfaction:

  1. Interesting and challenging work
  2. Recognition, acknowledgement, and appreciation
  3. Ability to contribute, make a difference, and be included
  4. Sense of job security
  5. Compensation and benefit package
  6. Opportunity for promotion and/or growth
  7. Positive working environment and good working conditions
  8. Personal loyalty and commitment to employees by employer
  9. Consistent, fair, and tactful disciplining and management
  10. Support, care, and help with personal problems

The importance of intangibles

Note that many of the items listed above are intangibles. Note also how the majority of the items are more related to leadership and basic management principles, as well as communication and people skills, rather than financial costs.

The bottom line is, your employees want and need to be recognized for the work they do.

These studies, coupled with the ever-changing world of business, require employers to rethink how best to manage their employees for performance and retention. In the past, if you offered an employee job security, good pay, and an excellent retirement, you created a lifetime employee. Today is different. And with a reasonably good economy, the competition for quality employees is fierce.

To many employees, the concept of “long term” seems to matter less and less. Generally speaking, employees change jobs about every two years or so. While this is in part due to the mobility of today’s society, a large contributor is the employer’s failure to understand what motivates employees and how to manage more effectively.

Employees believe that what they can’t get from one employer, they can get from another, so they move on. Complicating matters is that compensation and retirement, while still valued, rank further down the list of importance.

Compensation and benefits need to be competitive and commensurate to the job duties, performance, and service provided. Employees tend to view compensation as a right, but they take a more emotional position to benefits. To employees, benefits - particularly the intangibles - represent how much employers care about their employees.

Less common, but more important

Benefits such as vacation, health insurance, holidays, sick leave, disability insurance, retirement plans, life insurance, and dental insurance are the most common. But there are also a number of less common benefits that can support employee satisfaction and contribute greatly to camaraderie and team development:

  • Direct deposit of paychecks
  • Wellness-related plans (fitness, smoking cessation, stress reduction, etc.)
  • Discounts on products or services
  • Business cards and job titles
  • Community/volunteer service hours - with recognition through quality representation within the community for a volunteer event in which the employee is participating
  • Education reimbursement to encourage employees to keep pace with various changes occurring within their position
  • Bonus and incentive plans

Effective leadership and management must recognize and reinforce desired performance attributes and accomplishments to help ensure that employees will continue to perform them. Recognition can be as simple as a compliment, which ranks very high with employees. A myriad of other options are available: gift certificates, a note about the employee’s great work, extra paid time off, etc. All of this should be done sincerely and sensitively, and not as a substitute for fair pay.

Performance reviews

Performance reviews, or continuous feedback, are a key communication vehicle too. Evaluating job performance, providing employees with constructive feedback, and jointly addressing areas for improvement are essential for a team member’s success. Equally important is having a true picture of each person’s performance or lack thereof.

Use performance reviews as an opportunity for positive dialogue with your employees. Focus your attention on ideas for improvement by using current job descriptions as an objective guide to duties and responsibilities.

Nothing in a formal performance review should come as a surprise to the employee, so don’t wait until the review to provide feedback. Use ongoing opportunities to advise employees of their progress and share compliments and constructive guidance.

Throughout the year, keep notes about each employee’s performance. This will help you prepare a comprehensive evaluation consisting of compliments, feedback, and a more accurate analysis. When appropriate, compare evaluation comments to those from prior years.

New employees should receive two performance evaluations in the first 90 days: one after four weeks and a second after 11 weeks. This approach compels employers to observe the new employee’s performance closely. For legal and managerial reasons, it’s better to let someone go during the orientation and training period rather than later.

For consistency and ease of preparation, use specific performance evaluation forms, covering items such as quality and quantity of work, job knowledge, and staff and patient relations. Resist the temptation to give everyone high marks. Be fair and honest in your analysis.

Bonus and incentive programs

Another great way to reward team members is through a bonus and incentive program. Bonus plans are not a tool to highlight those people who aren’t doing their jobs, but rather a way to encourage people to work together to accomplish more, thus sharing in the growth and financial success of the practice.

A good incentive program contains certain essential elements:

  • The plan needs to enlist and include all staff to stimulate and foster teamwork, business awareness, and a sense that by working together everyone will achieve more.
  • The plan needs to be easy to use, understand, and administer.
  • The plan needs to protect the practice’s cash flow and overhead. In other words, no bonus is provided without the money to pay for it and cover expenses.
  • The plan, as bonuses are achieved, should drive increased profits.

A good bonus and incentive plan removes the arbitrariness of raises and allows staff to know exactly what it takes to make more money. A goal with any plan is to help team members think and work more like entrepreneurs, understanding that there is more money to take home only if there is more money in the pot.

Besides providing psychic ownership for the staff, a good bonus incentive plan allows you to enjoy freedom from worry, as well as the benefits of reduced negative attitudes and behaviors, management uncertainty, and salary indecisions - all of which erode productivity and consume time and energy.

Successful bonus plans are built around comparing the practice’s level of business to staff costs. The level of business is technically the collections (known as revenue or gross income), but to promote team cohesiveness you can include production as well as collections. A simple way to relate the two is to average them together. Rather than just average each month, average two to six months together to minimize seasonal ups and downs.

By incorporating staff-related expenses, your team is encouraged to participate in the success of the bonus plan and the overall success of the team. If the actual staff expense on a percentage basis exceeds the established acceptable percentage, then a bonus should not be paid and will not be paid until the percentage is back within acceptable limits. Thus the practice can realize growth (higher production and collections) and be able to pay bonuses, while at the same time protecting overhead and increasing profits.

A team environment

One of the best things an employer can do is foster a team environment. Organizing employees into self-managed teams in which the group has authority over certain matters is ideal. However, most practices are too small to create that environment. If that’s the case, then as much as possible, allow employees to work together, share ideas, and learn from each other. Create opportunities for cross learning and diversity of ideas and approaches to completing job tasks. When employees work together, so much more can be accomplished.

Furthermore, employees can be a rich resource for valuable information. Listening and involving employees is critical. To do this, dentists must become “participative managers” - managers who reach out for employee ideas instead of waiting for suggestions to materialize. Find opportunities to have direct conversations with team members about what can be done to improve effectiveness.

Freedom for them, freedom for you

Once you have established task boundaries, give employees freedom to operate and make changes on their own that are commensurate with their knowledge and experience. Freeing competent people to do their jobs as they see fit can be a powerful motivational tool.

Strong leaders/managers not only delegate, but they also allow for mistakes. Recognize that mistakes are an opportunity for everyone to grow and learn.

Dealing with poor performers

Another component to leadership is dealing with poor performers. Lack of motivation can occur with top-performing employees when employers condone poor performance with other employees, affecting the success of the whole team.

In addition, employers who choose not to decisively deal with those lower-performing employees essentially make the statement that no one’s performance gets adequately recognized. In these situations, take a disciplinary action approach and terminate if necessary.

The power of communication

Finally, communicate fully with your employees. Unnecessarily restricting the flow of information can be damaging. One of the most negative findings expressed in employee attitude surveys is the absence of adequate communication. There is a strong need to be open and honest; employees can see through bluff. Start by asking employees what they want or need to know, and then follow up to ensure the message has been understood. This is a powerful sign of respect, and it helps employees do their jobs more effectively.

Enjoying a stress-free work environment

Effective management of staff can seem complex. It is more than just throwing money at employees and expecting that to cure everything. Employers need to take the necessary steps to learn what motivates their employees and apply those principles to influence them. Bear in mind that intangibles - such as recognition, compliments, and acknowledgement - have a significant impact on staff satisfaction and retention. Keep in mind, too, that so much can be gained from eliciting employee feedback and communicating openly and honestly. Combine that with an effective recognition or bonus program, and you can start enjoying a more stress-free work environment.

Tim Twigg is the president of Bent Ericksen & Associates, and Rebecca Boartfield is a human resources compliance consultant with Bent Ericksen & Associates. For more than 25 years, the company has been the leading authority on human resources and personnel issues, helping dentists successfully deal with the ever-changing labor laws. To receive a complimentary copy of the company’s quarterly newsletter or to learn more, call (800) 679-2760 or visit

What motivates your team and keeps them satisfied?

  1. Interesting and challenging work
  2. Recognition, acknowledgement, and appreciation
  3. Ability to contribute, make a difference, and be included
  4. Sense of job security
  5. Compensation and benefit package
  6. Opportunity for promotion and/or growth
  7. Positive working environment and good working conditions
  8. Personal loyalty and commitment to employees by employer
  9. Consistent, fair, and tactful disciplining and management
  10. Support, care, and help with personal problems

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