Blog Post

How to Motivate Your Staff PTs in 2021

The pandemic stressed the workforce in new, unprecedented ways. Here's how leaders can mitigate the impact of lingering burnout.

Erica McDermott
5 min read
March 15, 2021
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Right now, it seems like everyone is suffering from some level of lingering pandemic-related burnout, which is to be expected. It’s been quite a year. In fact, as of May 2020, “73% of American professionals were feeling burned-out, according to one survey of 7,000 professionals.” 

That means motivating your employees—and even yourself—may look a little different at the moment. What worked previously may not work now—but that doesn’t mean you should just let things be. Instead, here are some best practices that you can implement to keep your employees engaged—with their work, their patients, and their peers (adapted from this resource, this one, and this one). Working with a tight budget? Don’t worry; most of these strategies won’t cost you a thing. 

1. Make yourself available. 

There’s a lot of uncertainty—not to mention division—in the world right now, and people are feeling it. One of the most supportive things you can do for your employees is to simply make yourself available. In other words, as this resource puts it, “listen.” That’s because, the author goes on, “The pandemic has affected people in all kinds of ways.” For example, “Your team might be stressed about job security, or their partner may have lost their job, or they could be dealing with illness in the family.” Each of those is weighty enough to cause serious stress and burnout, which can dampen motivation.

Once you know what’s actually happening in your employees’ lives, you can work together to create a plan for minimizing those stressors. At the very least, let them know that they have a safe space to talk about what’s bothering them. And remember that burnout isn’t the only effect of the disruption and instability we’ve experienced this past year; as the same resource explains, you might find out that an employee is actually thriving during this time period. Perhaps that employee is even bored. In this case, you can devise a strategy for parsing out some greater responsibility.

Offer support to employees who confide in you.

Now, this resource notes that conversations between a burned-out employee and boss might “turn south” if the employee asks for help. Don’t be the manager who brushes off this type of plea. Be the leader who not only listens when employees share these deeply personal feelings (regardless of the words they use), but also steps in to help. And if that’s not the role you either can or want to play, then direct your team members to other supportive resources—for example, human resources personnel or outside counseling.

2. Set realistic workloads. 

According to this resource, “Even before the pandemic, 44% of job-related mental health issues were related to unmanageable workloads.” In other words, burnout and exhaustion are common side effects of simply having too much to do. And the bandwidth your employees had pre-pandemic might be different than what they can currently manage, especially for those who are responsible for caring for children or other family members in new ways. Depending on the situation, you might consider hiring new staff members or rearranging schedules to accommodate changing needs. 

If the source of the issue isn’t patient-centric, you could also consider implementing a categorization system that helps your employees prioritize their work to minimize overwhelm. That way, they actually have the energy to devote to their patients—who should always be their highest priority. The same resource suggests using an “Eisenhower matrix, which categorizes tasks as:  

  • Urgent and essential 
  • Essential but not urgent
  • Urgent but not essential 
  • Neither urgent nor essential.”

3. Carve out space for connection. 

Now more than ever, people need people. And unfortunately, when things get busy and stressful, the space and time to connect with one another often gets pushed to the wayside. But connection is everything, especially when you’re all working toward a shared vision. So, make it a point to continue fostering relationships between your staff members. 

If you’re all working remotely, then that could look like virtual “watercooler” time, as this resource suggests. This is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: time for your teams to connect with each other online between appointments or meetings just to chat. If you’re in the clinic (most PT practices are at this point), then consider scheduling some formal team bonding time—or simply begin setting the example for your team by prioritizing your own connections with individual staff members. Just being around each other—away from the stress of the day-to-day—could help reinvigorate everyone and get you all back in touch with the reason you’re doing this important work in the first place. After all, intrinsic motivation is more impactful than anything extrinsic.

4. Show your appreciation. 

For most people, this wasn’t an easy year, so the fact that your therapists are still showing up daily and doing their best to support your patients is no small feat. Make it a point to show your appreciation for their hard work. If you can swing it, bonuses are always a great way to celebrate high-performing PTs (just remember that productivity stats aren’t the be-all and end-all of performance, especially now).

But, financial hardship is a very real hurdle for many practices right now, too, so don’t feel bad if that just isn’t possible this year. Instead, be transparent with your team about the financial status of the business, and then find other ways to show your appreciation for their hard work. According to this resource, “You might already do this, but go out of the way to tell them how much their work matters to you and the business. Even a simple ‘thank you’ goes a long way to brightening an employee’s day.” After all, “People want to know their work matters.” More than that, people want to know that they matter. So, do whatever you can to make that clear to everyone on your staff. 

To echo Meredith Castin’s sentiments in her “Final Thought” from this blog post, it’s especially important to remember that every PT on staff is unique, and thus will have different motivations. To truly motivate your staff PTs in 2021, spend some time getting to know every member of your team so you understand their “why”—their reason for being a PT to begin with—as well as their preferences. For example, some people adore receiving public praise for a job well done, while others would prefer a private note. Keep tabs on these details so you can personalize your efforts and make them as meaningful as possible.


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