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3 ways to celebrate the holidays at your medical office

A column about keeping your practice in good health

By Victoria Stagg Elliott is a longtime staff member. She covered practice management issues and wrote the "Practice Management" column from 2009 to 2013. She also covered public health and science from 2000 to 2009. Posted Dec. 3, 2012.

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As the economy slowly comes back to life, something that was a victim of recessionary times is returning: the office holiday celebration.

The proportion of small companies throwing holiday parties is up from 35% in 2011 to 40% in 2012, according to a survey released Nov. 15 by American Express of 503 owners of businesses with fewer than 100 employees. The proportion who said they were not planning any holiday activities with staff declined from 33% in 2011 to 21% in 2012.

The survey found that small organizations are recognizing that after a few hard years, it’s time to honor staff for their hard work. “It’s really important to take the time to recognize people as people,” said Kenneth Hertz, principal with MGMA Health Care Consulting Group. “You can have some fun and do some fun things.”

The question for a physician office is: What kind of event should we have? Three common options are a party, a charity event or nothing at all. Finding out what to do might be as simple as asking employees for their preference. “Our employees work very hard, and the celebration is really about them,” said Scott Burger, DO, founder and chief medical officer of Doctors Express, a national chain of urgent care clinics. “It’s important to give them a choice.”

What kind of party?

If a practice is going to have a celebration, it will need to figure out what works best for employees. Should it be a long lunch? An evening or weekend party? Should families be invited? If an office has multiple locations, the answers could vary based on staff preference.

How close employees feel with one another and their everyday interactions can determine what kind of party to have. Wake Heart and Vascular Associates, which has multiple locations in the Raleigh, N.C., area, arranges for a Saturday dinner for employees and family members because it suits the company’s culture.

“This makes it more than just a dinner outside of work time,” said Kevin R. Campbell, MD, a cardiac electrophysiologist and partner with Wake Heart and Vascular. “It brings people together, and we encourage them to bring their spouses. We want to thank the people who work for us and their families.”

Engage in charitable activity

In addition to, or instead of, a party or celebratory meal, practices may want to add a charitable component to the event to capture the spirit of the season.

In the American Express survey, 25% of small-business owners said their staff would take part in a volunteer activity as a group, an increase from the 22% who said the same in 2011. For example, e+CancerCare, a chain of 20 outpatient cancer care clinics, finds ways to help cancer patients and others in need by collecting money and goods during the party.

“That can take the spotlight away from, ‘What are you going to do for me?’?” said Emily Leonard, vice president of human resources for Nashville, Tenn.-based e+CancerCare. “It changes the mentality, and this is supposed to be the season of giving.”

A gift in place of a gathering

It may be that the practice decides to hold no holiday celebration — perhaps because the employees find they’re busy enough without one more social commitment. However, human resources consultants don’t recommend ignoring the season completely.

Options besides a gathering, or that could be in conjunction with a formal celebration, include a bonus or extra time off. The important thing is to mark the end of the year with some type of sincere thank you, consultants said.

Victoria Stagg Elliott is a longtime staff member. She covered practice management issues and wrote the "Practice Management" column from 2009 to 2013. She also covered public health and science from 2000 to 2009.

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