After months of enduring shutdowns and restrictions, physical therapy clinics are finally reopening their doors and extending their hours—and many furloughed therapists and front office workers are returning to work. But everything’s not exactly “back to normal”—far from it. Between constant reminders of the still-active pandemic to the civil unrest occurring nationwide, it’s hard to escape the realities of the world that we live in—or even push them aside long enough to concentrate on work. And being entrenched in the news (especially when that news is so dire) can cause a big dip in morale.
Why is maintaining employee morale important?
Generally speaking, employee morale refers to “the overall outlook, attitude, satisfaction, and confidence that employees feel at work”—and it has a direct, tangible effect on performance and clinic culture. In fact, poor employee morale can:
- reduce productivity,
- lower work quality,
- increase absenteeism, and even
- encourage turnover.
In other words, good employee morale will help keep your practice running smoothly—and it’ll foster a positive (and generally more motivational) work atmosphere.
Even though morale can be affected by external factors (in this case, the state of the world), you can still give it a much-needed boost and help your employees stay positive—and therefore more present—at work. All you need to do is create a supportive and compassionate work environment. Start by following these four steps.
Step 1: Communicate.
We keep waxing on about the importance of good communication—and for good reason. Frequent, vulnerable, and honest communication is key to creating a healthy work environment and, therefore, raising employee morale.
Talk frankly about the state of your organization.
Right now, there is (understandably) a lot of anxiety centered on job stability. One of the best ways you can combat that anxiety and fear is by talking frankly to your employees about your organization’s current financial state and future forecast. You don’t have to reveal your spreadsheets or get into dollar specifics—and you probably shouldn’t—but your employees should know where they (and the clinic) stand for the remainder of the year.
Be honest and realistic about what could come down the pipeline, and—if you’re trimming any expenses—explain your reasoning. Sharing this information with your team is a great way to nurture trust and respect—which ultimately will raise spirits.
Take your employees’ emotional temperature.
The current crises will affect each of your employees differently. Some may feel bottomless anxiety about the pandemic, while others may feel like the reaction to COVID-19 is overblown. Some may be fearful, angry, or sad about the civil unrest, while others may feel galvanized. Getting a read on how your therapists and ancillary staff are feeling may help you identify individuals or groups who need additional support.
Keep in mind that if you want employees to feel free and unafraid to express themselves, then your organization needs to have a culture of openness and honesty. It might even be a good idea to open the door to discussion about current events by being open and vulnerable yourself.
Establish a culture of openness and respect.
Even when the world isn’t as overtly chaotic as it is today, it’s important that your clinic culture supports open communication and mutual respect. You can foster an environment like this by:
- Leading by example;
- Listening and adapting to employee feedback;
- Showing appreciation and praise where it is due;
- Encouraging employees to innovate; and
- Hiring for culture.
Step 2: Support.
The next step in boosting your staff’s morale is offering them the support that they need to succeed in the workplace. In some cases, that support could take the form of a career-pathing program or an education and learning incentive that rewards therapists for obtaining certifications. In other cases, your workers might benefit from a mental health or social support system.
Prioritize mental health.
Even though it’s still taboo to talk about, many adults in the US workforce struggle with mental health issues—and that number has only grown since the onset of the pandemic. Learning about mental health issues and creating a strategy for supporting employees—whether that’s by supplying a health insurance plan that covers mental health or offering stress management workshops—will greatly benefit your team and your organization.
Establish employee resource groups.
If your organization is big enough, you may consider creating one (or more) employee resource groups (ERGs). Traditionally, an ERG was an “employer-recognized group of employees who share the concerns of a common race, gender, national origin or sexual orientation.” Over time, ERGs evolved to refer to any resource group or employee network of like-minded individuals that offers workplace support. Establishing an ERG to foster diversity or mental health support could be beneficial for your employees. ERGs can help:
- Develop leaders;
- Encourage cross-team engagement;
- Improve innovation;
- Nurture professional development; and
- Provide support in a community environment.
Step 3: Enrich.
After you’ve established a supportive and open environment for your employees, consider enriching your organization’s culture by infusing it with a little bit of fun. You don’t have to invest in some grand (and expensive) gesture; one small positive interaction or moment can completely turn around a bad day. These enriching moments or gestures are limited only by your imagination. You could:
- Create small care packages for employees, and pass them out for holidays or after a tough week;
- Plan an employee appreciation meeting where you provide lunch or snacks and fun activities;
- Plan a clinic-wide competition (e.g., a step challenge or weekly trivia);
- Write personalized thank-you notes to employees who are going above and beyond; or
- Set aside time for team-building activities.
Step 4: Adapt.
The fourth and final step in boosting staff morale revolves around adaptation. Every team and culture is unique, and the needs of your employees (and their interest in morale-boosting activities) will vary. A lot. That is to say, some of these suggestions might be exactly what your clinic was missing—but others could fall totally flat.
Soliciting feedback is a great solution to this problem. Give your staff an opportunity to directly (or anonymously) tell you what they feel like they’re missing at work. (You can use free online survey tools like SurveyMonkey to create and distribute anonymous staff surveys.) Ask them what they think about your morale-boosting efforts, and try to incorporate their feedback moving forward. When you adapt to their feedback, it will help create an atmosphere of collaboration and mutual respect—one where your employees feel heard and supported.
I know we’re all sick of hearing about “unprecedented times” and “new normals,” but we have to be honest with ourselves: we’re smack dab in the middle of a cultural, social, and economic crossroads that will define the trajectory of our future. Navigating these times—especially in the workplace—is tough, but doable. If we prioritize creating a supportive and compassionate environment, and make an effort to be kind to ourselves and to others, we’ll make it through just fine.