Dentists, you can't just say bah humbug to employee recognition

No, you can’t just put a sticky note on your employees’ paychecks and say thanks! Sally McKenzie says recognition and acknowledgement of hard work and dedication are absolutely essential in retaining valued employees.

Reprinted with permission from Sally McKenzie and McKenzie Management.

The 2012 holiday season is upon us, and for many dentists, it's panic time. You have to figure out an office party, gifts, and then all that “warm, fuzzy” stuff like thanking the employees and on and on and on. Oh, the pressure, and what about the expense! I can hear some of you now: Can’t I just put a red ribbon on the next paycheck? I could even put a sticky note on it that says “thank you.” That would be OK, right? Wrong.

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Recognition and acknowledgement of hard work and dedication are essential in retaining valued employees. However, the effort has far greater payoff if it’s a part of the workplace culture rather than a seemingly contrived “event” once a year. The goal of any rewards and recognition program should be to encourage loyalty, dedication, and a sense of teamwork among the group. In other words, it doesn’t begin and end with an annual holiday party. Rather, the party may cap off a year in which the doctor has recognized employee excellence, problem solving, going above and beyond the call of duty, achieving specific goals, and the list goes on.

Why is this important? Study after study shows that recognition and acknowledgement of a job well done are essential in retaining valued employees. Moreover, simple, small gestures can yield big returns. In fact, according to a recent survey of more than 600 workers conducted by a Texas-based benefits consulting company, nearly 70% of employees don’t expect holiday gifts from their employers. They are, however, very appreciative of small rewards. More than 60% of employees noted that a simple $25 gift card would be appreciated and 85% would be happy with $100 or less. But the most important statistic cited in this particular survey: 83% of employees said that a reward would make them feel appreciated, motivated to work harder, and/or be more loyal to the company, up from 81% in 2011.

Employees are fully aware that the economy continues to pose challenges for employers, including their own. Many workers are sincerely thankful to have a job, period. Nonetheless, in small businesses such as the dental practice, simple acts of appreciation can yield huge dividends for dentists, particularly when the reward/recognition is not just a one-time event but part of the overall effort to move the practice toward specific goals.

Central to a recognition and rewards program is creating a team environment and reinforcing positive behaviors. It’s essential to involve employees in designing the program and gathering their input on meaningful ways in which the practice can show appreciation. You may be surprised by what the team values. In many cases, it may not require money, but rather opportunity.

For example, an employee may have a strong interest in attending a continuing education program, and would consider it a significant reward. This type of recognition can further benefit the practice if the employee is given the opportunity to share what they learned with the group during a lunch-and-learn session after they return. An employee who has gone well above the call of duty to complete a special project may sincerely appreciate a gift card for a massage or an afternoon off.

Create your own recognition “tool kit” that you keep on hand in your office. This might include a variety of $5 gift cards to the deli or coffee shop down the street, movie money for two, or a small box of favorite chocolates. Hand these out as part of your “on-the-spot recognition program” with a personal note from you each time a member of your team does something that deserves recognition — whether it's keeping her cool with a difficult patient, consistently giving a warm welcome to patients even when he is having a bad day, stepping in and doing what needs to be done even if it’s not “her job,” and the list goes on. The note need not be lengthy. A simple “Thank you very much for your daily commitment to excellence and especially for calmly helping Mrs. Jones to resolve her payment concerns” or whatever action the employee performed that deserves acknowledgement goes a long way.

Regularly change it up, so that the methods of recognition don’t become too predictable or seemingly routine. The experience should be meaningful to the employee and to you, the doctor.

Author bio
Sally McKenzie is CEO of McKenzie Management, a full-service consulting/coaching dental management company, providing proven management solutions since 1980. She can be reached at (877) 777-6151 or

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