To Bonus or Not to Bonus?

Over the weekend I received the first of what is shaping up to be many inquiries regarding the same subject, holiday bonuses. After sending a group text to obtain perspective from his colleagues that read;

Anyone have any thoughts about holiday gifts/bonuses for staff this year? 1. Same as usual  2. More than usual  3. Less than usual and explain why it is lower  4. Less than usual and not explain  5. No bonus this year  6. If less, how much less (25%, 30%, 40%, etc.),

the doctor asked for my opinion. . .

Let me begin by saying (and believe that every podiatrist I know would agree) that 2020 has been the most challenging year (personally and professionally) in recent history. We now look back on the “panic” that ensued prior to the ICD-9/ICD-10 changeover or the fear of what would happen when Y2K hit and think “if we only knew then what we know now.”

The pandemic presented challenges from day one that came without definitive answers. We had no choice but to take it week by week (and what continues to be month by month) relying on limited and frequently changing guidance from “authorities” and trusted members of our professional communities to keep our heads above water and stay as safe as possible while keeping doors open for patients in need of urgent podiatric care. 

Think back to one year ago, before sneeze guards at check-in, when patients could bring their entire extended families with them to visits, and we didn’t drive around with masks hanging from our rearview mirrors. Life as we know it has changed, but one thing remains constant in our practices, the need for reliable team members (a need that became much more evident and difficult to find and keep over the last 9 months).

Many practices realized true colors of long-term employees as they chose to stay home and collect unemployment, creating hostility with those who kept coming into work as we figured out how to navigate through all the unknowns. In fact, only one of my practices had zero turnover of staff since the onset of the pandemic, leading me to believe that it is now more important than ever to show appreciation to the dedicated team members who stayed and those who joined your team during this very tumultuous time. Keep in mind however that appreciation comes in many forms.

Although most practices experienced a significant decrease in patient volume during the months of March and April (some having no choice but to close their doors completely), many saw that when the new normal was established, new patient numbers were up, and the types of conditions treated were less “routine.” For all of the practices that I coach privately, as each month passed, the revenue gap became smaller. When combined with HHS grants, EIDL and PPP loans, for some, 2020 became a restructuring year. A chance to catch their breath and concentrate efforts to change the dynamic of their practice for the better, with the concept of quality over quantity at the helm. Throughout all of this, valuable team members were doing their part to provide quality care to patients while continually adapting to changes in protocols. 

My long-winded response to the doctor’s initial question is: No matter how you do it, show your employees that they are appreciated. If you have historically given monetary bonuses and cannot afford to do so this year (or at the same rate as in the past) let them know as many employees grow dependent on using this money for their own holiday expenditures. Given the current climate, most will be understanding (more so if they are given ample time to prepare; so, if you plan on cutting out bonuses all together this should have been discussed prior to the official start of the holiday season). Keep in mind however that you could provide additional Paid Time Off (PTO) in lieu of a bonus perhaps during the Christmas/New Years’ weeks or to be used in the new year (planning ahead to avoid short staffing and paying overtime to other employees). For newer employees, a gift card to Amazon, Starbucks or Dunkin’ (if they happen to be in the Northeast;) would be a great way to show you care. With social distance restrictions still in place (and in some areas increasing in severity), if you normally host a holiday lunch or dinner for employees at a local restaurant, have it catered to the office instead, play some holiday music and encourage ugly sweaters to be worn by all! The idea is to boost morale and say thank you for being an integral part of the team this year.

Every practice’s situation is different, so use your judgement and do what you feel is appropriate. Ultimately it comes down to showing appreciation while setting a precedent that bonuses are in fact bonuses (never guaranteed) and avoiding a “jelly of the month” situation even if according to Cousin Eddie, it’s “the gift that keeps on givin’ all year.”

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