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Communication can improve workplace morale

How to hear what isn't being said

By Karen Crouch
Friendly and effective communication between staff guarantees a healthy work environment and improved job satisfaction. KAREN CROUCH explains the best options for fostering communication.

Every practice and business manager appreciates the value of effective communication between all levels of staff as a way to improve productivity, foster loyalty and promote a social environment. Of course, the ultimate beneficiary of effective communication will be the most important target of the entire practice’s operations – patients.

In the daily humdrum of practice life it is quite easy, even natural, to unintentionally undervalue or overlook the importance of communicating with fellow workers and assume it’s all part of the daily grind.

More relevantly, we often miss the opportunity to pause and say ‘well done’ or ‘thank you’ to a fellow worker as most attention, appropriately so, focuses on service excellence to patients.

Understandably, possible options for effective communications need to be pre-planned and interwoven into the normal run of practice life as much as possible.

Also, certain activities should be factored in as regular events, such as annual staff appraisals, group or special purpose meetings.

Meetings that matter

Regular meetings of various craft groups, such as reception or practice management, occasionally attended by an owner or senior staff member, provide opportunities to exchange ideas and improve relationships. There are several ways a business can foster this social aspect while also justifying the time that goes into a meeting.

"The ultimate beneficiary of effective communication will be the most important target of the entire practice’s operations – patients"

Purpose: A meaningful agenda and targeted outcomes are essential to avoid meetings for the sake of meetings. Some may recall the comical John Cleese short Meetings, Bloody Meetings, which aptly demonstrated how meetings should not be run.

Individual inputs, projects and assignments: An extension of the periodical meetings where staff are assigned a topic to speak on. While providing an opportunity for staff, particularly more junior members, to appreciate the value of pre-planning and development of individual opinion, this simple step will build self-confidence. It will also serve as a valuable gesture in welcoming and valuing views of staff members. Good leaders encourage employees to operate as a “team of individuals” and promote innovation through group interaction, not to mention vastly improved staff relations.

Work smarter, not harder: Yet another initiative that should be continuously encouraged during group meetings, with some form of recognition for suggestions of merit that enhance practice productivity or efficiency. For example, a particular procedure or practice may be streamlined by greater use of technology, or lessons learnt from staff who have joined from other practices.

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Listening: The meeting leader should highlight the need for all attendees to develop the essential art of listening instead of merely focusing on what they are about to say.

Other opportunities

One-on-ones: This form of communication is best focused on consultation with team leaders, as too much time will be required to engage each staff member individually. Apart from focusing on updates of specific business activities or projects, it may be employed as an informal discussion in which opinions are exchanged on more general matters of practice operations or staff relations – an extension of the ‘work smarter, not harder’ concept.

Staff Appraisals: While these are invariably viewed as a forum for performance assessment and salary reviews, they should also be exploited as an effective tool for relationship building. For well performing employees, they present an opportunity to offer a well-deserved ‘thank you’. Some practices employ the 360-degree method whereby staff members being assessed are asked to exchange frank opinions with the appraisal assessor on practice operations, and even the assessor him/herself. However, this technique must be tactfully managed by experienced assessors to avoid feedback bordering on ‘open slather’, non-productive criticism.

Social events: It never fails to amaze me how relaxing and interactive a simple pizza and drinks lunch or post-work meal can be in fostering closer friendships between employees. Personal, community events, politics and current affairs invariably dominate over business related discussion. As employees put aside day-to-day matters of the practice and ‘let down their hair’ in the more relaxed atmosphere, personal friendships tend to develop as staff members learn more about the interests and lifestyles of others.

In larger practices, similar exercises may also be employed at the board level to ensure meaningful, deeper relationships between principals and board members, which could occasionally include staff participation by a selected employee to ensure meaningful connections between executive management and employees. Involvement by non-board staff members will also develop appreciation of the challenges owners and boards face.

AFT Pharmaceuticals

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