'It's tough to keep morale up'

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Tough times have forced providers to balance belt-tightening with boosting employee morale.
Mark Ehlers recently reduced his workforce--despite steady growth--something he's never done before.
"It's rough because my good people here see other people come and go," said Ehlers, owner of Ehlers Health Supply in Stockton, Calif. "I'm working my key people longer and harder, and it's tough to keep their morale up."
When cuts happen--whether its an in-house cutback or dwindling reimbursement--it's expected that a certain amount of pressure will trickle down to the rank and file, who may wonder if their jobs are in jeopardy.
Information is key to alleviating some of those fears, say providers.
"We try to keep everyone in the loop," said Terry Luft, president of Harrisburg, Pa.-based Central Medical Equipment. "Everybody knows what's happening and its just part of the work environment."
Gary Miller, general manger of Mt. Carmel Medical Equipment in Pittsburgh, Kan., also keeps his nine employees up-to-date and seeks their input on business decisions.
"We all work together to come up with ways to drive the costs out of our system," said Miller. "We need to continue to identify our delivery model."
The worst thing employers can do is hide, says industry consultant Vince Crew.
"Don't retreat to the office, don't avoid having staff meetings, don't avoid the e-mails or the conversations in the hall," said Crew. "Don't think that employees don't need to worry about what's going on with the company. You do have to have those conversations and keep the people informed."
Most providers say that business has held steady or grown this year. As with employers in other industries, finding cost savings through efficiency is a fact of life, as is doing more with fewer people.
But it is possible to keep good staff from jumping ship, say providers.
Jim Greatorex, president of Black Bear Medical in Portland, Maine, described the past year as "tight." Still, he offers competitive pay and benefits, along with a store bonus program and profit sharing.
"That way, it doesn't make them feel like they are being abused if they go above the call of duty," said Greatorex.