Every good dental practice manager knows that the customer experience is only as good as the employees who run it. The time and other resources it takes to help qualified employees feel appreciated for their contributions is significant; however, the payoff is worth it and it’s not as hard as one would think.
Owners and managers are acutely aware that they’re in a highly competitive environment, with less discretionary spending and fewer customers to compete for. It’s more essential than ever for dental practices to retain quality employees. High employee turnover has plagued the industry for a long time – and one of the retention barriers cited consistently is “lack of trust in leadership.” When employees don’t feel appreciated, there is not only a high turnover rate, but tardiness, absenteeism, and conflict go up, while trust, productivity, quality of work, and customer service ratings go down.
What to do?
Many business owners want to pay their staff more, but the money just isn’t there. These leaders know their team members are stressed, but they don’t know what to do to encourage them.
The incompetent ‘knight in shining armor’
Over the past five to 10 years, leaders have looked to one “savior” they hoped would resolve the issue and help employees feel better about their jobs – employee recognition programs. In fact, employee recognition programs have proliferated in the private sector (80% of the largest corporations have them), even within nonprofit and government agencies.
The problem is, employee recognition programs don’t work, at least in the global way they’re being implemented. In fact, employee engagement (the degree to which an employee is emotionally committed to their job) and job satisfaction are declining, while cynicism, lack of trust, and resentment are growing in many organizations.
Realization: Recognition isn’t the same as appreciation
It’s important to understand that recognition isn’t the same as appreciation. Recognition, as it is practiced in most organizations, focuses primarily on external behavior, and specifically, on employee performance. So team members receive a verbal compliment, or possibly some tangible reward, when they are seen as doing well in the behaviors or results desired by the company.
Employees typically do not view employee recognition programs positively. I hear the same complaints repeatedly: “It is so contrived,” “They just want to get more out of us,” “They don’t care about me personally, they just want me to perform better,” “The ‘rewards’ they give us are lame. Who cares about parking closer to the building?”
Over time, resentment, anger, and a lack of trust build.
Key components for employees to truly feel valued
Fortunately, in working with groups across the nation, we’ve been able to identify four key components for team members to actually feel valued by their supervisors and colleagues.
For team members to truly feel valued, appreciation must be:
•Communicated regularly – Once or twice a year at an employee performance reviews or monthly awards at the “team member of the month” ceremony don’t get it done. People need frequent feedback that they’re valued (the frequency will differ according to the individual and the setting).
•Individualized and personal – A blast email to the team saying, “Good job, team, way to get the project done” is typically not as effective as managers think. Focusing on each individual and their specific contributions is far more meaningful.
•In the language and actions that are meaningful to the recipient – Do you realize that 20% to 25% of people don’t want to go in front of the group to receive a reward? Did you realize that going to an unstructured, social gathering with a group of people they don’t know well is closer to torture for many introverts? We’ve identified five “languages” of appreciation for the workplace – words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, tangible gifts, and appropriate physical touch.
•Perceived as authentic – The biggest complaint about employee recognition programs is that they feel contrived, “they don’t really mean it, they’re just doing it because they are supposed to.” If the message isn’t believed to be genuine, the person or organizatio) is wasting their time.
Foundational fact: Not everyone feels appreciated in the same way
Just as individuals feel loved through different actions, team members have different languages of appreciation, and unique actions within each language that are more meaningful to them. Believe it or not, not everyone likes verbal praise. Some people don’t trust words. Others have been manipulated in the past, while others believe “actions speak louder than words.” For some, time is the most important message you can send.
Good things happen when employees feel appreciated
Leaders can make their organizations more likely to survive these difficult times by paying attention and investing in showing how they value their team members. The key is to communicate authentic appreciation in ways that are meaningful to each team member. A few simple, consistent, and intentional actions can go a long way in creating a healthy dental team.
Paul White, PhD, is coauthor of “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People.” Dr. White is a psychologist, speaker, and consultant who “makes work relationships work.” For more information visit www.appreciationatwork.com.