Change your practice environment for the better
Custom care relates not only to the treatment we provide our patients, but also to how we relate to our staff members. As many who have worked in chiropractic practice can attest, some clinics provide excellent care for their patients but treat their employees poorly.
Staff burnout, low morale and high turnover are an increasing problem in most health care professions, and chiropractic care is no exception. Good employees are not easy to find, develop or keep in any environment, but it has been especially hard in the current economy since the Great Resignation of 2021-2022.
Interestingly, most managers and clinicians feel they are doing a decent job of recognizing their employees. In fact, one study found that 58% of managers believe they do a good job of recognizing team members for good work. But unfortunately, only 29% of the employees under those managers agreed with the managers’ self-assessment.1
While 94% of all companies have some form of employee recognition program,2 only 65% of employees report receiving any recognition in the past 12 months for work well–done.3 How can this be? We believe the key is they have not received the recognition. That is, the communication did not really influence them. Most recognition is generic and impersonal everyone gets the same certificate and gift card and is often done in front of a large group, which makes some employees uncomfortable. Additionally, employee recognition has drawbacks: It primarily focuses on effective performance and does a poor job helping employees feel valued as individuals.
The truth is the workplace environment can change for the better. Unfortunately, many recognition efforts by managers are misguided and wind up being a waste of time and effort. This is because they ignore the core principles needed for appreciation to be effective.
Five keys for communicating authentic appreciation
The following five core conditions help employees feel truly valued.4
- Communicate appreciation regularly.
What does regularly mean? It varies depending on the work setting, the frequency of interaction between coworkers and the nature (length, history and closeness) of the relationship. However, “regularly” clearly implies more than once a year at a performance review or when someone receives a “Staff Member of the Month” award.
- Use the language and actions most important to the recipient.
Most people tend to show appreciation to others in the ways they prefer being appreciated; for example, if you like getting face-to-face compliments and praise, you will express appreciation to others in the same way. But it is critical to “speak the language” most important to the recipient.
Some employees do not value verbal praise. In fact, in our research with more than 350,000 employees across the world, over 50% want to be shown appreciation in ways other than words.5 So, if leaders only use words to communicate appreciation, they are missing the mark for over half of their staff.
In fact, using the wrong appreciation language can backfire. One leader learned this the hard way. Since he valued words of affirmation, he assumed everyone else did as well. To recognize a team member for the outstanding work she was doing, he frequently praised her in meetings with other team members. But to avoid public attention, she would actually shut down and seemingly try to do less. We have found 30%-40% of employees don’t want to be praised publicly.
- Make praise specific and personal.
The most common mistake managers make is sending communication that is general and impersonal. Sending a generic blast email that congratulates everyone on the team for a job well–done may not be as effective as letting each person know you value them individually for the specific work they did. It is better to use the employee’s name and tell them specifically what they do that makes one’s job easier.
Well-intentioned recognition from one leader fell flat for this exact reason. Using generic praise for the whole team at a staff meeting led most people to get a “glossed over” look because, for many, the message wasn’t about them. One phrase employees repeatedly report they don’t like to hear is “good job” because it is too vague. They want to hear specifics about what they are doing well.
- 4. Use genuine, authentic appreciation .
Don’t overstate it. People want appreciation to be genuine, not contrived. Your tone, voice, posture and facial expression should match what you say, or it will sound insincere. Your employees also will question your sincerity if you act one way in public and differently in private, or if you only give praise when you want something in return.
When less than real authenticity in communication occurs, employees lose trust, and damaged trust can take an extremely long time and significant energy to restore. Trusting relationships are foundational to a healthy practice.
- Show that appreciation is not just a “top down” effort.
Anyone in a chiropractic practice can communicate appreciation to anyone else at any level, from receptionist to therapy assistants to DCs. Employees often report they want to know how to encourage one another, not just to recognize an employee or be recognized by a supervisor. Every team member, regardless of their position, can positively impact workplace culture.
Languages of appreciation
Here is a simple but foundational truth: Not everyone feels appreciated in the same ways. Not everyone likes public recognition or social events. For many introverts, going to a “staff appreciation picnic” is more like torture than a reward for doing a good job. We’ve identified five different appreciation languages which people value.
Some people highly value words of affirmation, which can be a simple compliment, communicated in writing or orally. (“Jill, thanks for getting the report completed and to me in time for the presentation.”)
However, other individuals don’t value verbal praise because to them, “words are cheap.” For these employees, quality time with those they value communicates appreciation. For some, this
may mean minutes of a supervisor’s time and undivided attention, without distractions. However, younger employees tend toprefer time with their colleagues and peers more than individual time with their supervisor (like going out to lunch together).
Another language of appreciation is “acts of service.” This is not rescuing a low–performing colleague, but rather helping out when they are working to complete a project before a deadline, or when all of a sudden they are swamped with a number of patients to serve. As one team member shared, “It’s not that encouraging to me to get a bunch of praise for all the work I’ve done. A little practical help would be quite encouraging.”
For some individuals, a small tangible gift can be quite meaningful. This is not the same as bonuses or additional compensation. Rather, it could be a small gift to show you are getting to know your team members and what is important to them in their life outside of work. It can be something as small as one of their favorite cups of coffee, or a magazine about a hobby they enjoy.
Appropriate physical touch is the final language of appreciation that can be utilized in the workplace. While it is critical that any physical touch is appropriate (not being sexualized or unwanted), physical touch is actually common in many workplaces and cultures. The following are examples of appropriate physical touch in work-based relationships:
- “High five” when a patient reports treatment is helping them
- “Fist bump” when a problem is solved
- Congratulatory handshake when an important event comes off smoothly
A key component for effective appreciation is to find out what language and actions your staff value and communicate in that language. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, there are resources6 to help identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. Encouraging colleagues to show appreciation to one another spreads the responsibility and empowers every team member to be involved.
The truth is, workplace environments can always change for the better. Unfortunately, many recognition efforts by managers wind up being a waste of time and effort because they are not built upon the core principles needed for appreciation to be communicated effectively. But when team leaders learn how to apply the languages of appreciation practically in daily life, a new, positive, healthier culture begins to develop and your team members begin to feel truly cared for.
PAUL WHITE, PhD, is a psychologist, speaker and leadership expert who “makes work relationships work.” He has been interviewed by the New York Times, BBC News and other international publications. He is the coauthor of the best-selling book “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace,” which has sold more than 550,000 copies (with Dr. Gary Chapman, author of “The 5 Love Languages”). For more information, go to appreciationatwork.com.