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Keeping staff motivated in hard times

In the second in his series on the profit squeeze in general practice, accountant Paul Samrah looks at how to get the most from staff in a recession

In the second in his series on the profit squeeze in general practice, accountant Paul Samrah looks at how to get the most from staff in a recession

The press headlines are depressing reading. 'Record job losses announced', 'Dole queue set for record levels', 'Another 1,000 jobs lost'... In the medical press, headlines such as 'Lowest DDRB award', 'GPs face cash-flow problems' and 'PCT budgets cut' all grab our attention. Practice staff will read the news and surely feel unsettled.

GP partners have an enormous challenge to keep employees motivated. Given the reality of what the economy has gone through recently, it is critical to keep practice staff motivated, focused and committed - more so than ever before.

Consider some of the following positive things you can do.

Leadership

Great leaders always step up in tough times or in a crisis. Employee motivation levels need to be maintained and leaders play a critical role in facilitating this. Remember that financial reward will get people out of bed and into the workplace but motivation is what encourages them to work harder when they get there.

More talk, more visibility, more accessibility

Be more visible - absent leadership when things are tough results in uncertainty for staff. Be more verbal - talk to your employees. Talk about the future in positive terms where possible but also be realistic with the facts. Give a year-end pep talk.

Don't keep staff guessing. Be open and upfront about your plans or any significant changes to what they may have been used to in the past. For most people, hearing bad news is better than no news and they feel more positive and committed when they see their leaders setting the example. Having a clear, regular communication plan will keep everyone's heads up and focused on the right issues rather than on rumour and demotivation. Honesty usually results in acceptance and support.

Give employees who have performed well some genuine praise and positive feedback. Involve employees more - tap into the good ideas staff have to find ways to meet some of the practice's challenges. Sometimes when you ask you will be amazed at the creative solutions they propose. Even when the going gets tough, stay positive and enthusiastic - your staff will notice and usually respond accordingly.

Staffing options

Some practices may be considering staff layoffs in an attempt to cut costs, but before leaping into a redundancy process, take a step back and look at your practice from a strategic perspective.

Balancing employment costs with retention of skills, creative talent and experience demands a lot of careful thought and planning. Consider offering a sabbatical to employees where appropriate. Perhaps alternatives such as job-sharing, short-time or part-time working, pay reductions or other flexible working arrangements can be introduced for a limited period of time - this will retain existing skills while reducing employment costs. Consider retraining certain staff to do different tasks and, at the same time, top up training to keep staff motivated. In quiet times, look at reviewing systems and procedures, archiving or throwing out old files or reorganising the workspace.

Be careful about cutting staff

As a last resort, you may have to consider reducing your employment costs in the longer term to protect profitability. Take a critical look at the practice's structure and talent needs. It may be that you should redeploy some highly skilled key people who strategically should not be lost to the practice. In this way the right talent is deployed in the right structure for your business. Consequently the business will be much better positioned to withstand the challenges coming in the months ahead.

The decision to make roles redundant is always a hard one. Following the right process is both challenging and important. The process needs to be legally compliant but it also needs to be done sensitively so as to minimise the impact on those employees remaining.

Look to the future

Remember, this economic climate won't last forever. Recessions do end so the really smart practices will be planning for when the turnaround comes. Develop the right strategy that will enable you to exit the starting blocks first. Make sure you have the best possible skills in your practice when you need it. Look to the longer term of 12 to 24 months and realise there will probably be a wealth of talent on the market looking for opportunities. Identifying, assessing and attracting this talent will be critical to your growth and success.

Paul Samrah is a partner at Kingston Smith LLP

Keeping staff motivated during hard times

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