10 Ideas for Boosting Surgery Center Staff Morale — Without Giving Raises

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Lori Martin, administrator of Summit Surgery Center at St. Mary's Galena, says her facility has been unable to grant raises since the ASC started operations in 2009. In a down economy, it can be tough to boost employee morale while communicating the financial reality of your center. Here, she gives 10 tips for keeping employees satisfied while working on a tight budget.

1. Make the decision to be positive every day. Ms. Martin bases part of her leadership strategy on "Taking the Stairs: 7 Steps to Achieving True Success," by Rory Vaden. Mr. Vaden tells his readers, "Happiness is not a mood. It is a decision." Ms. Martin tries to live by that philosophy every day; she says that if a leader chooses to be positive, they inevitably spread a culture of positivity throughout the organization.

She says she greets her staff at the beginning of every work day, making sure to smile and say everyone's name. "We're all going to be here for eight or 10 hours, so let's make it good," she says. "I walk in every day and smile, because when you're at work, you've got to put your game face on." She says rather than walking into the ASC and "taking the temperature" of the staff, the administrator should set the temperature upfront.

2. Take on responsibilities outside the administrator role. Staff members will respect the administrator if he or she is willing to pick up extra tasks, Ms. Martin says. For example, if the administrator takes out the trash regularly, staff members will see that everyone is committed to the facility's success — no matter how menial the task at hand. "Leaders should think about what they actually do as a leader," she says. "Do you come in and help the staff? As long as they see you doing what they do — and doing it with a smile — they will keep up that morale."

3. Ask staff to speak to each other about interpersonal concerns first. Surgery centers are small facilities, and staff members can easily get into conflicts about someone's tone of voice or a misunderstanding about a job responsibility. Ms. Martin says when staff members come to her with interpersonal problems, she generally asks the complaining team member to talk to their colleague first.

"If they're comfortable talking to the person, I want them to handle the situation with respect for each other," she says. "Once people get over that first hurdle of confrontation, it can be a great team-building experience to bring up an issue." She says this also helps morale, because employees don't feel that their colleagues are "telling on them" to Ms. Martin. "Let the two of them deal with it if possible," she says. "At the end of the day, we're all here for the common goal of patient care and don’t' want anything to interfere."

4. Choose an "employee of the month." If you can't afford to give raises, it helps to reward employees in other ways. Ms. Martin's ASC has an "employee of the month" program that rewards a team member nominated by the other staff members. The peer nomination process builds morale, because everyone wants to be respected by their peers and doesn't feel that leadership is "picking favorites." The winner receives a gift card from the center — a nice way to reward someone financially without giving a bonus or a raise.

5. Hold regular gatherings. If you want your employees to get along, give them a chance to socialize outside the operating room. Ms. Martin says her surgery center holds monthly potlucks, where every staff member brings a dish. They also host an annual Christmas party. "Sometimes, if we have a really busy month and hit a volume record, we'll have a pizza day so that everybody doesn't have to bring something," she says. The center also holds an optional "secret Santa" gift exchange during the holiday season.

6. Give every staff member additional responsibilities and job titles. To help every staff member feel involved in the center, Ms. Martin recommends giving everyone some added responsibility outside their regular roles. For example, at her ASC, one person is in charge of the CTQ patient satisfaction process, while another heads up medication management for the center.

"Everybody has a full-time responsibility other than their day-to-day job," she says. "When they have downtime, they can work on their project." She says this means every staff member is fully invested in the center and can see their part in the facility's progress. She adds that every staff member enjoys having an additional title, such as "infection control officer" in addition to "pre-op nurse."

7. Build relationships between physicians and staff. Sometimes barriers exist between physicians and staff members, who may find physicians intimidating or aloof. Ms. Martin says her center has built a healthy rapport between physicians and staff by inviting physicians to the center's social gatherings. "The potlucks are a huge mixer, and the physicians also come to the Christmas party and any of those receptions," she says. She also has a front-office staff member who works closely with the physician offices. Every time a patient visits the facility, they have a point of contact from their experience with the referring physician.

8. Ask, "How are you?" When Ms. Martin conducts her rounds at the center, she asks her employees for feedback on their day. "I say, 'How are you? Do you have everything you need? Is there anything going on?'" she says. If the staff member does need something, she makes sure to get it done as soon as possible. She says it's important to instill a sense of trust with your employees.

Follow-up is a major factor even if the answer is not what they want to hear. "If I can't get it for them, I follow up on that conversation and explain why," she says. "I'll say, 'This is a great idea, the cost is X amount of dollars. Does this item has a major impact on your ability to do your job?' If not, I explain why we can't put it in the budget right now." This closes the loop of communication.

9. Don't overlook the simple things. Ms. Martin says her employees frequently mention problems that she would never have noticed. For example, a staff member might say they lost their name tag, or that the facility's soap irritates their hands. Encourage staff members to speak up about these small things, since they may feel that they're inconveniencing you. Most of the time, the changes will be easy and cheap to implement and will cause a significant boost in staff satisfaction. "They come in and they're so excited and happy that you cared enough to handle it," Ms. Martin says.

10. Be honest about your inability to give raises. If you can't give raises, give a reason, Ms. Martin says. If you don't explain why you can't give raises, staff members may think that they're the only ones being left out — or that leadership is keeping the money.

Ms. Martin has a meeting every year where she gives a presentation about the center's budget and explains why raises are infeasible. "I'm very honest, and I tell them, 'Look at what we've created, and look where we're going,'" she says. "We have this great place to come to every day. I focus on that."

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