Why a simple 'thank you' matters

January 15, 2012

Employee retention is probably one of the top five concerns on most managers' minds.

Key Points

Employee retention is probably one of the top five concerns on most managers' minds. When you have strong, quality technicians in your group, the thought of losing any one of them to life (having a child and deciding to stay home, moving to another state, or heaven forbid, having them be poached by another office) is enough to keep any manager sleepless and loaded up on antacids.

I have spent many nights staring at the 3 a.m. Minnesota sky, looking for a northern lights show when I should be sound asleep, and fretting because I heard through the rumor mill that one of my technicians may be testing the waters on the outside. It's a deeply seated fear we all have: Am I going to lose a technician today?

System of incentives

I admit sneaking into the meetings with my sunglasses and sitting in the back frantically taking notes, trying to glean any new ideas to keep staff from roaming. Some retention ideas have been creating health plans that give employees a discount at a health club; shopping trips as a group, with each employee receiving a dollar amount as a thank you for a solid fiscal year; and appreciation supper cruises with a band and open bar.

Then, there are the ideas that were better off being smiled at, but avoided. More than once in my life I have been accused of being slightly cynical and I chide myself for thinking that I have the ability to know what is going to make someone else happy. Or secure. Or feel that they have self-worth.

My mother, pundit of oneliners, often told me: "No one can make you feel guilty, or make you happy, or make you feel badly. Those are all things you control. Don't give someone else that power."

So, why do we give this power to employees? Fretting that someone will leave is actually quite irrational because I have no control over whether someone stays or leaves. I could pay a technician $100 an hour, give that person 8 weeks of vacation a year, allow that person to use the ski chalet fully stocked for 3 weeks in Vail, and permit that person to bring a pet beagle to clinic everyday-and he or she still could leave.

On the opposite hand, I could have a technician who is not made to feel part of the family, berated by the doctors and staff, and left out of future plans for the practice, and he or she will stay forever because he or she does not believe there is anywhere to go.

An old friend of mine who worked at the exit desk in the back of clinic summed it best one day in a tear-filled pity party she was having after a particularly hard retina day:

"Every Friday when he [the doctor] leaves the clinic, he thanks all the technicians and the nurse for doing a good job. But he never thanks me. [insert quivering lip] I ran myself ragged all day: sharpened all his retina pencils so he could draw blood with them if he wanted to, loaded his rooms, even though it's not my job, before he asked so he didn't have to wait, and I always say goodbye to him.

Why can't he say 'thank you'-just once?!"

I agreed. His behavior was poor, and I think at times he knew how much this upset her and continued his behavior. One day I mentioned to him that she was a hard worker and often bypassed when praise was handed out. His response: "I find it hard to applaud people simply doing their jobs."

While at first blush, free health club memberships and employee staff cruises can appear appealing and just what the staff wants, we should probably realize that to some of staff these perks become expected, especially when they become grumbly about changes/additions to the workday. It becomes a situation of this is what we think they need to be happy, but what they really need, and want, is not being fulfilled.

They need and want to feel respected for their skills and the job they perform. What they are looking for is something you can' the buy. But it is something that you can do. Have the doctor thank them for a job well done. Be sincere and mean it.

Don't just thank the technicians or the same people they always joke around with, thank the people in the background that seriously think (and know) that the doctor probably doesn't even know their names.

Thank all the staff. It won't cost you a thing, but it will turn out to be the best gift you can ever purchase for your practice's future.

Dianna E. Graves, COMT BS Ed, is clinical services manager at St. Paul Eye Clinic PA, Woodbury, MN. Graves is a graduate of the School of Ophthalmic Medical Technology, St. Paul, MN, and has been a member of its teaching faculty since 1983. She can be reached at dgraves@stpauleye.com

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