Finding the 'Why'

Tailor rewards to what motivates your employees and you will have a happy and productive workforce.


In leadership, the question of how to motivate staff is ongoing. Some weeks go by smoothly, the organization working fantastically. Other weeks it feels as if the leader’s primary role is to talk people off the proverbial ledge. The key is to keep staff focused on the “why.” This is much easier said than done, but if done correctly and consistently, it will increase morale, engagement and satisfaction. It will also decrease turnover and burnout.

To discover your staff’s “whys,” you have to ask them. Use targeted questions such as, “What motivated you to get into EMS in the beginning?” or “How do you find the strength to go on after tough calls?” These answers are keys to narrowing in on what each particular employee feels is the most important aspect of being in our field.

After discovering what motivates them, the next step is to figure a way to stoke that fire and keep it burning. For example, if you have an employee who enjoys teaching or loves being an expert in something, give them the opportunity to do more of it. Mentor them to teach at large venues. This is not about promising the moon, but delivering on small but substantial wins.

If it’s family that keeps a person going, try to find a way to reward them with time off or better schedules. These are not just gifts to be doled out, but a reward mechanism to incentivize great behavior.

Leaders need to bring more to the table than just the stick for discipline. Staff need to know that when the “white shirts” come looking for them, it isn’t just because they messed up. Fear only works for a short time as a motivator; praise and encouragement have the traction to take your system to the next level. Naysayers may say it’s all about the money—we are government agency and just can’t afford to pay our people any more. To that I answer with a swift no! Money does motivate, but it’s low on the list. More important are that people feel like they are part of a team, and that management knows them, knows about them and most of all is invested in them. Employees should know management takes pride in its staff and appreciates them for the contributions they bring to the job.

Appreciation doesn’t have to be expensive. Some of the best employee recognition programs are either free or inexpensive. Often a simple letter can create mountains of goodwill. Find out how your staff likes to be recognized and stick with it. Keep it consistent. This is too important an issue to simply pursue for a while, then drift off or quit halfway. If rewards are given inconsistently or stop altogether, the whole effort will be perceived as a simple ploy or cheap trick. We are dealing with people, and just like our patients, we deal in their perception as our currency.

Keeping the fire burning lets the staff know you care about them and what they hold dear in their lives. This creates stronger bonds and makes senior staff approachable and, dare I say, more likeable.

Patrick Pianezza, MHA, NREMT-P, is a consultant experienced with Studer, HCAPS, Gallup and Press Ganey principles. Along with nearly a decade of experience in the prehospital arena, he has worked for Johns Hopkins Hospital and Studer Group. He is currently the manager of service excellence for San Joaquin Community Hospital in Bakersfield, CA. E-mail ppianezza@gmail.com.