Boosting Morale: Tips for Lifting Your Employees’ Spirits

Vol. 15 •Issue 12 • Page 20
Boosting Morale: Tips for Lifting Your Employees’ Spirits

Even in prospering times, employee morale should be top priority.

“Oh, you hate your job? Why didn’t you say so? There’s a support group for that. It’s called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar.”

–Drew Carey

Sick of low morale? That’s funny, because it makes us sick. A 2004 survey conducted by CCH Inc. showed that unscheduled absences are at a 5-year high–up 2.4 percent from 1.9 percent in 2003–and companies with morale problems suffer significantly higher rates and expenses–up to one-third or 35 percent higher–than companies without morale problems (see

“It creates illness,” agreed Terri Levine, MCC, PCC, MS, CCC-SLP, CEO of The Coaching Institute in North Wales, PA. What’s more, “There’s very low productivity when people don’t feel good about coming to work.” Citing findings from Robert Hall International, she added that 2 months of the average worker’s year is wasted in a low-morale environment. Needless to say, this impacts productivity and profits. HIM departments may have their unique issues, but there are things directors can do to improve the situation. Here are some common complaints, along with a few uplifting ideas:

• Why bother? Acknowledge accomplishments, stressed Levine. “When people feel unappreciated and don’t get a lot of acknowledgement for what they do, it creates low morale,” she said.

Little tokens count, according to Cheryl Canchola, RHIT, manager of HIM at Flaget Memorial Hospital in Bardstown, KY. “I use small gifts—pens, balloons, signs, etc.—to boost staff morale,” she said. “I try to tell them each week what a good job they are doing. If someone does something special I mention it during our monthly staff meeting.”

“Recognize staff for doing a good job,” echoed Sandra J. Reynolds, RHIT, director of HIM at Lewistown (PA) Hospital. “Give encouragement, and always try to present situations in a positive way. Let staff know you believe in them. When you believe in people, you motivate them.”

• The beatings will continue until morale improves. It’s a humorous slogan for coffee mugs and plaques, but it also hones in on the old “management” style of business where control and negative feedback define the structure, vs. the new “coaching” concept. “The distinction is pretty clear,” explained Levine. “We can’t manage people, but we can coach them. When you coach somebody you empower them, you create ways for them to work in teams and you also give them a lot of positive feedback and acknowledgment.”

• Great, another policy. Citing statistics from a Harvard Business Journal article, Levine said that 80 percent of management initiatives fail, while 96 percent of coaching initiatives stick. One such solution is what she called a transformation team. “We take at least one person from every department,” said Levine, whether cook, janitor, doctor, nurse or MT. “We set up a team with as many people as needed, but without management, then we ask them: How can things be better?” In addition, “Every idea is acknowledged—not judged—and the real job of the organization is to implement as many of these solutions as possible.”

Acknowledgement is everything, according to Peggy Chatel, RHIT, provider consulting services, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “Like any other job or position, being heard makes a world of difference in this field,” she said. “Showing respect for opinions and concerns is the biggest tool that management has for job satisfaction.”

• And your name is, again? Promote a family atmosphere, advised Levine. In this environment, “People feel more enjoyment, there’s more trust, more honesty and more loyalty.”

This is just what Reynolds has done in her department. “We have a celebration on the last Friday of every month, celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and years of service,” she said. “The staff brings their favorite food, we forward telephone calls to our break room and that enables staff to eat together. It allows time for staff to ‘visit’ with each other. Good morale booster!”

Experts agree that planned events ease tensions. “Psychologists say that having something to look forward to relieves stress and creates healthy anticipation of the future,” according to Judi Light Hopson’s article “How Supervisors Can Boost Morale in the Workplace” (see

Also, in addition to a bulletin board that recognizes staff accomplishments, “We recognize family member accomplishments such as a child on an all star team, a new birth or milestone celebrations such as birthdays or anniversaries,” added Reynolds.

• Extreme makeover needed! HIM is notorious for back-hall, basement offices, yet environment can factor into morale, cautioned Levine. “The workplace should be safe and pleasant. Don’t expect employees to use outdated, faulty equipment or furniture. Ensure air conditioning and heating systems function correctly, and noise levels are acceptable.”

Luckily, in Reynolds’ case, “We recently completed renovations within the department. The renovations included new carpet and recycled cabinets for storage.” It was also done economically, she stressed. “There was not a big expense involved, yet the staff was very proud of the new ‘updated’ look. You do not need to spend big dollars to improve morale.”

But if you do, involve your staff, advised Canchola. “We are building a new facility and will be moving this month.” Although her staff will have their hands full during the transition phase, “They have been asked to provide input into the layout of the department.”

Asking for and implementing staff ideas on arrangement and work flow issues makes them feel like an important part of a team effort, according to workplace morale experts.

• What’s your function? “There is a general lack of understanding of our skill sets,” said Chatel of HIM professionals. A lack of recognition from upper management can translate into a lack of respect from other departments. Typically, “Coders are not included in weekend coverage rotations or responsible to act as backup for answering phones,” she said of her previous hospital HIM experiences. Administrative staff might view this as favoritism, creating dissention among the departments. However, “if management explains the reasons for decisions, then team spirit can remain healthy,” she added.

Chatel has seen organizations physically move coders away from office staff, but Levine suggested a job shadowing technique where workers spend a day in each other’s shoes to see what it is that they do. The findings of these role reversals can then be presented to management to foster change.

• I’m only one coder! “There are certain things in medical records that must be done and cannot be delayed.” noted Joan L. Guntang, RHIA, manager, HIM, Sentara Williamsburg (VA) Community Hospital. “These things must be made clear to administration, along with consequences if these things are not completed due to a lack of staff.”

And management will listen when you make your argument in dollar terms. “Coding must be current to obtain the revenue,” she added. In Guntang’s case, the addition of three new positions had “a great effect on staff.” She added, “My philosophy is that people need to have the tools and they need support to meet the requirements of their job.”

Linda Gross is an associate editor at ADVANCE.

Managers Try the Coach Approach

Managers have it all wrong, according to Terri Levine, MCC, PCC, MS, CCC-SLP, CEO of The Coaching Institute in North Wales, PA, and author of Stop Managing, Start Coaching. The idea behind coaching is to encourage your team to strive for improvement and to meet goals. To that end, she calls these her “four magic questions” to be asked of any employee:

1. For starters, ask people “What is working?” said Levine. “We love to have meetings and talk about problems. Every health care organization I have worked in—from nursing homes, to assisted living facilities, to hospitals—have meetings all day long to talk about what’s wrong.”

She suggested turning this practice on its head.

“Just start talking about what’s going right,” said Levine. “Ask people: What’s going well today? What’s working for you?” It puts people in a positive mind frame, according to her.

2. The second question is: “How can I best support you?” according to Levine. Asking people: “What can I do for you?” or “How can I help?” shows that you care and that you’re interested.

3. The third question assumes there’s a solution: “What is not quite right yet? In other words, there’s a possibility it’s going to be right,” said Levine, rather than asking, “What’s your big problem?”

4. Finally, Levine’s favorite question is an empathetic one: “Ask employees: What would you do if you were in my shoes?”

–Linda Gross