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Issue: 65 - May 15, 2014
How to Make Your Staff (and yourself) Happier
By: Dr. Phil Zeltzman & AJ Debiasse
Dr. Phil Zeltzman1

Every time I leave a specific practice, where I perform mobile surgery, the owner shakes my hand and thanks me for a “fantastic job.” Sometimes it’s “incredible job.”  Occasionally it’s an “outstanding job.”

Initially flattered, I quickly realized that in the vast majority of cases, he hadn't even stepped into the OR, and therefore he had no way of knowing how surgery went. Or how difficult or smooth or flawless it was.  So the flattering compliment quickly sounded worthless to me.

Now contrast this with another colleague, who claims that he never compliments anybody for a job well done, because he was never brought up that way.

So one colleague compliments overly generously, the other never does. There has to be a middle of the road option. What is the right way to compliment someone?

According to Tom Rath and Don Clifton, authors of the classic “How full is your bucket?” (Gallup Press, 2004), compliments should be individual, specific and deserved.

“The #1 reason people leave their jobs is because they do not feel appreciated” they write.

Employees who are adequately recognized for their hard work, ideas and commitment have “increased productivity, increased engagements among their colleagues, are more likely to stay with their organization, receive higher loyalty and satisfaction scores from customers and have better safety records and fewer accidents on the job. Most of us don't give or receive nearly enough recognition.”

Here is an amazing stat quoted in the book: 65% of Americans received no recognition in the workplace last year.

Yet one single person can increase the morale of their coworkers.  This is not to be confused with well-known programs such as the "employee of the month". At first, the people who work hard and are an asset to the company will be recognized. But as time goes by, basically everybody will eventually be employee of the month, regardless of merit.

So ultimately, toward the end of the list, the head honchos will be forced to make insincere statements just to keep the program going.

In some clinics, chronically negative behavior can have devastatingly negative consequences.  Unhappy employees have the potential to chase away every client they talk to - forever.

Fritz Wood, the world-famous certified public accountant and certified financial planner, tells the story of a clinic he visited. Their gross income suddenly increased by 20 %.  Puzzled, he asked how on earth they were able to achieve such incredible results.  The answer?  “Oh, our head receptionist retired.”

The authors of the book write that it sometimes would be better for companies to pay their negative employees to stay at home. “The cost of disengagement is $250-$300 billion per year” in the U.S. One or two bad attitudes can bring down the entire clinic. A negative environment leads to more illnesses, such as high blood pressure and even strokes.

What the authors recommend is to congratulate coworkers either for professional or personal accomplishments. Let them know that their work is appreciated and that their personal achievements matter. For example, let an employee know that “there are a lot of good things being said behind (their) back.”  Congratulate them on a recent marriage, or a certification, or a new house.

In turn, the positive energy will travel around the clinic. This “bucket filling” can be a powerful leadership strategy.  You can learn specific suggestions in the book.

Try for a week to (sincerely) compliment each one of your coworkers every day and see what happens.

Adequate recognition is very simple yet underused. Small changes can lead to increased productivity and quality of work, not to mention a happy staff. That, in turn, will make you happier.

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a mobile, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. His website is He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” (

AJ Debiasse, a technician in Stroudsburg, PA, contributed to this article.