Workplace Democracy: Empowering Employees for Practice Improvement

February 9, 2019 | Featured Articles

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How many times have you uttered “Be a team player!” or “Good teamwork!” to encourage your staff to work for the collective good? Fostering a team mentality in the workplace creates an environment in which communication and staff relationships are improved, tasks are completed more efficiently, and there is less playing of the blame-game when an item does get missed.

Yet, how often are you engaging your employees at the decision-making level? Is there value in being more transparent with practice operations across the entire team, and allowing that team spirit to waft right through the administrative department’s doors? As the discussion on democracy intensifies around our current political climate, it’s worth also discussing ways to implement the tenets of democracy inside the medical practice — and what limits, if any, should be placed to ensure the smooth management of your practice.

One for all, all for one
The democratic workplace is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. In the independent medical practice, the idea of employee democracy is most often expressed in employee engagement and empowerment. The empowered employee has a hand in creating the atmosphere in which fellow employees want to work. They feel valued and more secure in their positions because they have an instrumental part in the function of the practice. This vested interest in overall success fosters company loyalty and happier employees, innovation and creativity through access to ideas and experience, increased productivity, financial gain, and competitive advantage.

A typical medical practice functions through top-down decision making that involves partners or owners conferring over adjustments to be made. A high-level practice administrator assists at this level and theoretically represents the needs of the entire practice, employees included.

Empowering employees requires a paradigm shift that allows for employees at all levels to participate. It’s therefore important for practice leaders and owners to educate themselves on the value of these changes and how they may help the company reach its stated goals before implementation.

As with any new venture, starting small and introducing incremental changes can help integrate principles of democracy into your workplace in the most productive and beneficial way.

Making it Work
Employees want to feel their contributions and hard work are recognized for their positive impact on the company. At the same time, employers want their staff to be engaged in the company vision and actively working for the company’s success.

When the needs of employees and their employers are met, the entire business benefits. Here are some ways that your practice can create dynamic engagement with staff at all levels.

Employee representation. Actively involved, engaged employees best serve an employer’s interests. Invite employees to key meetings and ask them to add input to strategy sessions and protocol review. Encourage employee questions, too: Often, these can unearth processes that have become unnecessarily complicated. Consider allowing different departments to nominate representatives annually who will represent the department’s interests. Clearly define which meetings employee representatives may participate in and which meetings are for owners, partners or other high-level administrators.

Information transparency. Empower your employees through knowledge of practice financials, patient satisfaction surveys, patient no-show patterns, and other key indicators that impact practice function. Provide quarterly data updates to staff via staff meetings or information packets, along with a summary of findings or comparison showing changes to last quarter’s report. Sharing such data allows your workers to make informed decisions. Be sure to determine which pieces of data are appropriate for full-staff viewing. A profit and loss statement should not be widely disseminated, but a report on aging balances will help staff connect due diligence in payment collection and billing claims with salary raises.

Delegate. Encourage your workers to be fully engaged in carrying out decisions. Delegation is especially important when a staff member or department team has persuaded the practice that a change or process they want to implement is the best decision. Allowing those team members to take ownership of implementing the decision will help them be motivated to see to its success through diligent follow-up and troubleshooting any stumbling blocks. Delegate, but provide a calendar of touchpoints in which project reports must be turned in. Provide managerial oversight, but allow for autonomy in the process wherever possible.

Politics is divisive and chaotic; your medical practice shouldn’t be. Consider how the democratic process can influence positive engagement in your employees and truly encourage collaboration and progress.