Health Information Management

Beat the heat and boost your staff members’ morale: Reward HIM staff during the dog days of summer

JustCoding News: Inpatient, August 1, 2012

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Summers can be wonderful, it's true. But they can ­also be a glowing reminder of what you don't have in your HIM department: a bountiful staff and endless resources.

Vacations increase, but the resources stay the same in your department. Still, the department must get ­patient records coded and out the door and respond to requests from colleagues and patients. There's plenty of hard work to be done.
So when your staff members are around, this time of year can be a great time to boost their morale with summer outings and special staff recognition for jobs well done, HIM experts say.
Rose T. Dunn, MBA, RHIA, CPA, FACHE, FHFMA, chief operating officer of First Class Solutions, Inc., an HIM consulting firm in Maryland Heights, Mo., says many HIM departments no longer hold these celebrations ­because of budget cuts and because many HIM staff members work remotely (e.g., transcriptionists, coders, cancer registrars, and some analysts). There are few people physically present, Dunn says.
Reward staff with celebrations
Lack of money shouldn't prevent you from getting creative in your morale-boosting celebrations, Dunn says.
"The opportunity to do potluck events still occurs, with those in a department bringing a special dish or treat," Dunn says. "Getting together for a luncheon at a ­nearby restaurant occasionally happens when there is a place that can accommodate a group—say all the coders—and do it in a short time."
Celebrations with your HIM staff can occur on many occasions, says Nicolet Araujo, RHIA, executive consultant with Prime HIM Consulting, whose headquarters is in Lomita, Calif. You can relate it to quality performances, such as reaching benchmarks.
"Boosting morale in departments can take many forms," says Araujo. "Ideas such as setting achievable target goals and then celebrating with ice cream or root beer float socials, decorating the office and break rooms with bright summery themes, summer vacation picture postings on bulletin boards, and contests involving the medical staff can be fun as well."
Be creative. Play games like matching staff with their baby pictures, or the same idea using pets and owners. You can have ­periodic pizza parties and or even dress-up theme days if the organization allows it—for example, Hawaiian Day, Araujo says.
And this can extend to all staff, and not just coders, for a job well done.
"Competitions can be healthy and fun," Araujo says. "Usually it's best if it is teams against teams as opposed to individuals so no one is singled out. You can divide the department into sections and develop achievable goals that way."
So how would you actually reward staff? A raise would be ideal, but "that is normally not an option," Araujo admits. So she suggests gift cards and raffles are also fun.
She cites the following ideas as fun rewards:
  • Coffee cards (e.g., gift cards for a local coffee shop)
  • Cards for free lunch in the cafeteria
  • Monthly special parking spot, if the organization has a way to do so
  • Asking vendors to supply items such as a vacation beach bag, etc.
Ensure proper coverage during vacation season
While you are planning parties and ways to recognize your hard-working staff, the hospital counts on your department to get work done.
During the summer-and perhaps again during the holiday season-staffing may be thin, but opportunities exist to garner some other forms of support, ­Araujo says. During the school year, you may be able to ­accept a student from an HIM program who is interning and requires work hours. "Be sure to keep in mind, however, that this ­individual also requires oversight and mentoring," Araujo says. Additionally, usually during the summer, you can get help from hospital junior volunteers. The challenge here, Araujo says, is training them and then ­avoiding any union concerns of "nonpaid" workers assuming paid positions.
Bottom line for keeping an HIM department working during low-staff seasons? "It is management's responsibility to work with staff to achieve workable minimal staffing levels," Araujo says.
This involves understanding your department’s work flow and what reasonable productivity levels should be within your ­department, Araujo says. "It does still amaze me how many departments might have productivity standards in some areas, but not in all," she adds.
Perform a work flow analysis in order to achieve ­realistic productivity standards. The analysis allows you to examine the work being performed, the skill level ­required, and the necessary tasks or steps involved in achieving the task.
You also must target patient traffic trends-for example, weekends are normally very busy for your organization ­because you are a designated trauma center and on ­Friday and Saturday nights your ED is packed.
"Understanding the volume flow within your organization is also important," Araujo says.
No-cost employee recognition ideas
The University of Washington Human Resources Department in Seattle suggests the following ideas to help boost morale among your staff:
  • Post a thank-you note on an employee's door
  • Give special assignments to people who show initiative
  • Arrange for a team to present the results of its efforts to upper management
  • Encourage and recognize staff who pursue continuing education
  • Create and post an "Employee Honor Roll" in the reception area
  • Acknowledge individual achievements by using employees' names when preparing a status report
  • Make a thank-you card by hand
  • Establish a place to display memos, posters, photos, and so on, recognizing progress toward goals and thanking individual employees for their help
  • Swap a task with an employee for a day-his or her choice
  • Establish a "Behind the Scenes" award specifically for those whose actions are not usually in the limelight
  • At a monthly staff meeting, award an "Employee of the Month" and invite coworkers at the meeting to say why that person is deserving of the award
  • Recognize employees who actively serve the community
  • Have staff vote for top manager, supervisor, employee, and rookie of the year
  • Include an employee in a "special" meeting or allow employees to attend meetings in your place when you are not available
  • Create an Above and Beyond the Call of Duty (ABCD) Award
  • Ask your boss to attend a meeting with your employees during which you thank individuals and groups for their specific contributions
  • Send a letter to all team members at the conclusion of a project, thanking them for their participation
  • Provide gift certificates to employees who reach certain goals
  • Start a suggestion program
  • Write a letter recognizing specific contributions and ­accomplishments, send a copy to senior management and include it in the employee's personnel file
  • When you hear a positive remark about someone, repeat it to that person as soon as possible
  • Call an employee to your office to thank him or her (don't discuss any other issue)
  • If you have a department newsletter, publish a "kudos" column and ask for nominations throughout the department
  • Express interest in employees' career development goals
  • Post a large "celebration calendar" in your work area; tack on notes of recognition to specific dates
  • Acknowledge and celebrate birthdays
  • Arrange for an outstanding employee to have lunch with a dean or director
  • Recognize those committed to personal health and wellness
  • Smile; it's contagious
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the August issue of Medical Records Briefing. Email your questions to Senior Managing Editor Andrea Kraynak, CPC, at

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