What if I told you that no single policy or engagement plan would be enough to motivate all of your employees—no matter how good it is? I hope you’re comfortable with your answer to that question, because that’s exactly what I’m telling you. There is no one-size-fits-all master plan that will satisfy the needs of every single one of your employees (unless, of course, you have only one employee or you employ a handful of clones). Engaging and motivating all of your employees—from the front office to the treatment floor—is incredibly tough; everyone wants something different from their professional life, and one employee’s worst nightmare could be another’s dream setup. 

While I can’t give you a magic solution that’ll engage all of your clones—er, employees—I can definitely help you identify different areas in your clinic that you can tweak to meet the needs of your wider employee population. And, I have some good news for you: these methods are tried and true, coming directly from the brilliant minds of some of our 2019 Ascend speakers. 

Connecting with Employees 

Before you can motivate your employees, you have to understand what it is that they want from their careers. That, on its own, is a difficult task—because, as I mentioned earlier, you aren’t working with a group of clones, and the list of all the things your employees want is probably varied (and occasionally contradictory). The key to all this is to connect with each staff member and identify commonalities.  

Generational Gaps

If you’re throwing your hands in the air at the thought of “connecting” with your millennial employees, hold the phone. Now give the phone to me. Millennial workers aren’t all that different from your run-of-the-mill gen-Xers and baby boomers. If you don’t believe me, take a look at this chart from Harvard Business Review about what workers from different generations look for when they apply for a new job. Although there are some differences among generations, the trends across the board are surprisingly similar. Generally speaking, workers aren’t too fussed if they don’t get to work in an informal environment, but everyone is very invested in having a high-quality manager and a good management process. 

But that’s all lofty, high-concept, culture-based advice. If you want the nitty-gritty details on what your employees want from their work environment (and trust me, you do), then you need to reach out and ask them—whether that be by survey, in an informal meeting, or email. Maybe they’d like performance-based pay or a better retirement plan. Maybe a flexible schedule would help them juggle their personal and professional lives, leaving them more fulfilled and present at work—or perhaps they’d be interested in more training and career growth opportunities. The only way to find out what your employees are hurtin’ for is to ask.

Communication

However, if you want an honest, accurate read on your employees’ needs, you must first establish an environment that respects and encourages open, honest communication. Thus, you can’t punish your employees for questioning the status quo (assuming they’re not being combative) or for admitting that they need help. Communication should always lead to a discussion, not a fight. Y’all are on the same team—even if your goals don’t always perfectly align. 

“We are all about collaboration. Or at least—we should be,” says Ascend speaker Brian Hartz, DPT, MPT, OCS, CSCS, founder and CEO of HARTZ Physical Therapy. Hartz recommends that you communicate with employees in “real time”—and face-to-face whenever possible. “I think communication has suffered dramatically with technology,” he says, “especially with the younger generation.”

It’s also important to note that your employees likely have vastly different communication styles. One employee might be totally open to discussing his or her performance off the cuff, while another employee might prefer a chance to prepare and gather his or her thoughts before you meet. The best way to gauge your employees’ communication preferences is, again, just to ask. WebPT likes using DiSC assessments to figure out where everyone lands on the professional communication spectrum, but something as simple as asking your employees how they prefer to communicate could be equally as effective. 

Discussing Alternative Compensation 

After you’ve talked with your employees and established a solid foundation for good communication, it may be time to look into alternative compensation models. These models are pretty much what they sound like: instead of giving employees a static base pay and bonus incentive, you tie their compensation to their performance. That performance measure could be anything you like—units per day, number of visits, minutes of services, overall practice revenue, etc. (That said, we recommend being cautious about using productivity goals in your practice for the reasons outlined in this blog post.) The trick is sitting down with individual employees, clearly laying out the parameters of the model, and collaboratively picking the performance measures that work best for them. 

Ascend speaker Jason Wambold, MSPT, co-founder of OnusOne, is a true believer in alternative compensation models. He says these models give practices the flexibility necessary to meet the needs of their therapists. If a therapist needs to work less, no biggie. The practice won’t suffer a financial strain if a therapist works less under a performance-based model—the therapist will simply be paid less because he or she performed less. On the flip side, if a therapist wants to work more, he or she will be paid more. This gives employees more autonomy in their work lives and offers them the chance to set their own reasonable work standards. Wambold even claims that these alternative compensation models promote camaraderie, because if the practice succeeds as a whole, then everyone reaps the benefits. 

Managing Effectively

Once you feel like you’ve met the needs of your workforce, and you’ve addressed (and preferably refined) your clinic’s communication practices, it’s time to take a look at your management style. Now, there isn’t one management style that’s necessarily better than another, but there are some objective facts you must consider when you’re laying your management groundwork. 

According to Brian Hartz, 60% of people in the workforce are motivated by recognition, and “79% of employees who quit cite lack of recognition as the main reason.” That’s absolutely wild. If recognition is all you need to keep employees on board, then employee retention should be a total breeze. It’s not difficult to say thank you when an employee picks up another employee’s shift last minute, or when someone stays late to catch up on documentation. You don’t have to throw a big extravagant party to say thank you, either. A thoughtful note or small coffee shop gift card is a perfect way to show your recognition and appreciation of and for an employee’s work. Just keep in mind: If you run a bigger operation and manage managers, those managers need just as much feedback and recognition as the rest of the staff. 

But, recognition isn’t the only piece of this puzzle. Managers need other soft skills—like an affinity for active listening and empathy—in addition to strong communication skills. 

Combating Burnout

Chronic burnout is a widespread problem in the healthcare industry. In 2014, the Mayo Clinic discovered that more than half of physicians suffer from at least one symptom of burnout, which it defines as “a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.” The unfortunate truth is that burnout doesn’t have any easy remedies—and sometimes it takes a complete professional upheaval to uproot its tendrils. 

Luckily, there are some preventative measures you can take to help your employees fight the creeping effects of burnout. Ascend speaker TaVona Denise Boggs, PT, founder of Wellness PTs, recommends that you start by encouraging your employees to talk about the good things that happen during their day, and to reframe their experiences (e.g., this wasn’t a failure—it was a learning opportunity). She also recommends letting your employees leave work at work, and encouraging them to participate in activities that they enjoy—whether that’s by taking arduous projects off their plate or encouraging them to pursue their hobbies and take personal time. Other sources recommend fostering a positive social environment at work to help employees forge strong professional relationships. Gallup even claims that strong workplace relationships monumentally boost employee engagement and satisfaction. 


There are many different processes in your practice that you can tweak in the name of employee engagement. But, at the end of the day, it’s all about flipping the professional script and turning traditional work expectations on their head. What do you think? Do you have your clinic’s employee engagement down to a science? Drop us a comment below and let us know how you motivate your therapists!