How to encourage your staff without spending a chunk of change

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Paul White, Ph.D.
Paul White, Ph.D.

Like most businesses today, one of the biggest issues nursing homes and long-term care facilities have to deal with is the lack of financial resources. We are in a new “world” where profits are slim in the for-profit sector, financial support is down in the non-profit sector, and budgets are being reduced by government agencies (and who knows what is happening with healthcare reform!). Virtually every organization has to “do more with less.” 

This is creating a tremendous amount of stress within organizations — both for managers and supervisors, as well as for front line employees and even volunteers. There are fewer funds available for raises and bonuses, and even company parties or little “extras” (such as bringing in pizza for lunch).

At the same time, team members are dealing with the loss of staff within their departments and they have fewer funds available for training or facility and equipment upgrades.  Resources are tight all over. Meanwhile, the workloads and responsibilities of staff have increased. More demands plus fewer resources become a perfect recipe for stress. And stress over the long haul leads to burn out and discouragement.

This creates a challenge for managers and employers of long-term care facilities – how to support and encourage your staff, so that they don't burn out, or quit.  In fact, we know that well over 50% of the workforce in the U.S. indicates they would like to move to a different job in the next year, if there were a viable alternative. But traditional reward and recognition approaches espoused by many consultants aren't viable in this environment because institutions don't have extra money to spend.

Communicating Meaningful & Impactful Appreciation Without Spending Money

Here is what research shows are effective ways to communicate appreciation and encouragement to your team members, without having to spend a lot of money:

1. Make sure your communication is personal and fitted to the individual rather than utilizing general communication across the organization. The key component to effective appreciation and encouragement is the sense by the recipient that you mean what you say and that you took time to think about them personally.  Conversely, we have found that a global “Thanks for a good job done” e-mail to a wide range of people across the organization actually generates a negative response from most team members, given its impersonal nature and perceived minimal effort to complete.

2. “Speak the language” of the person whom you are trying to encourage. If the action we take to communicate appreciation to our colleagues isn't what is important to them, we have wasted our time and effort. Communicating encouragement and appreciation that is impactful must “hit the target” for the recipient. So it is important to identify team members' preferred languages of appreciation and to specify the actions most valued by them.

3. The languages of appreciation people value the most don't have to cost a lot of money. Sure, almost everyone would like a bonus or a raise, but for most organizations today that is not possible. There are actually ways that people experience appreciation in the workplace, and the actions don't have to cost much money (usually none at all).  These appreciation languages fall into five categories:

Words of affirmation – communicating encouragement through words (written or spoken).

Quality time – giving focused time and attention to team members.

Acts of service – helping a colleague by doing something for them.

Tangible gifts – giving something that encourages a co-worker.

Appropriate physical touch – usually a spontaneous act affirming the completion of a task.

Most of these don't cost anything financially (even tangible gifts don't have to cost much).  For example, some of the most cited ways employees report feeling valued include:

* Receiving a note from your supervisor complimenting you on the good job you are doing.

* A team member stopping by your office, spending a few minutes with you to see how you are doing.

* Obtaining some help from a colleague who notices you are “buried.”

* Getting a gift certificate (for example, to go to the movies) after you have worked long hours to complete a big project.

* Having your co-workers give you a “high five” after you have successfully completed an important presentation.

Each person has his or her own preferred “language of appreciation.” And within each language, there are specific actions that are most valued by that individual. None of these actions cost much money.  But the key is to be able to use the right action with the right person, at the right time, and with a genuine spirit of appreciation. Then your actions will “hit the target” and be effective in encouraging those with whom you work.  Over time, you can help your team members feel valued, even when there might not be a pay raise in sight.

Dr. Paul White is a psychologist, author, speaker and consultant who is coauthor of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, written with Dr. Gary Chapman (author of the #1 NY Times bestseller, The 5 Love Languages). Additionally, Dr. White has developed the "Motivating By Appreciation Inventory," an online assessment tool to identify individuals' preferred languages of appreciation.

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