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How to make certain you get your merit increase.

An investment firm in TV commercials makes money the old-fashioned way--"they earn it." That's also the theory behind merit pay increases or bonuses for employees, but actual practice is not always that simple.

Despite a lack of well-documented reports that these strategies are effective in hospitals, many administrators adopt an incentive reward system as a quick fix to increase productivity and bolster morale. We may not see much merit in merit pay, yet we often have to live with it. How can employees and any managers who are eligible strengthen their chances for a piece of the pie?

Before we offer some suggestions, let's look briefly at the problems. Incentive rewards can be effective and fair when work results are easily quantified--for piece-work employees or salespersons, perhaps. Objective data are more difficult to come by in service occupations, such as health care and teaching. Here, staff evaluations are more likely to be based on qualifications, personality, and behavior, rather than on results.

Aggressive and assertive staff members are more likely to be rewarded than their more passive co-workers. Not wanting to face Wendy the Weeper on Ben the Bellower, evaluators may consciously or subconsciously side-step unpleasantness by overrating their performance. Timid Thomas is less likely to get a fair shake.

To make performance evaluations more valid, administrators are now demanding written performance standards. This we heartily endorse. However, even well-documented position descriptions and performance expectations leave room for gamesmanship in the merit selection process. Here ar ways to win the game.

* REview your personal work ethic. Ask yourself the following questions: Do you really put out your best effort? Do you make full use of your ability? Do you do your share and a little more? Do you keep up professionally?

If you can answer "yes" to these questions, you deserve your share of the pie. On the other hand, if you feel twinges of guilt, start reflecting on how you can contribute more to the laboratory.

Carefully review your position description and any performance standards for the job. Then determine how much more you are able and willing to do to surpass your supervisor's expectations concerning your range of responsibilities and performance levels. Don't be surprised if the position description and performance standards are skimpy. Ask your supervisor to amplify essential points as soon as possible.

* Improve behavior and attitudes. The quality and quantity of your work may be meritorious, but some of your behavior or attitudes could cancel out high marks for productivity. Another round of questions can pinpoint what's wrong: Do I accept assignments cheerfully and show a desire to assume more responsibility? Do I support my supervisor and other mnagers in their absence, or do I join the detractors? Do I follow the institution's rules, policies, and practices?

Do I keep my supervisor informed, even when the news is unpleasant? Can I be relied on to be objective and provide accurate information? Do I know my supervisor's moods and reat appropriately? Do I keep my cool, even in times of stress? Do I try to be patient and understanding, rather than critical and complaining?

* Get credit when it's due. Even if you exceed your boss's expectations, he or she may not be aware of it. If extra efforts go unobserved, devise unobtrusive ways to make them known. Try dropping remarks of this kind: "I'm sure glad it's Friday. We were shorthanded all week, and the workload was really heavy." Or: "I finished updating the procedure manual. Would you like to see it?" Or: "I've prepared a new system for inventory control, and I'd like to know what you think of it." The same thing can be accomplished through written memos.

Speak up at staff meetings. Ask appropriate questions and make appropriate comments. Many knowledgeable technologists who don't participate in professional dialogues appear to be uninformed or bored, though in reality they just aren't assertive.

* When all else fails. If you try all these strategies and still go unrewarded, don't badmouth your supervisor or the institution. Don't hide and sulk or threaten to resign. Don'e decrease your level of performance by rationalizing, "If that's all the boss thinks I'm worth, why bother trying?"

What should you do? Request a counseling session with your supervisor. In preparation for this discussio(, review your position description, study your performance standards, and compile information to support your superior performance, including: 1) duties now performed that are not listed in the job description; 2) examples of how you are exceeding performance standards; 3) recent commendations for your work--copies should be in your personnel file; and 4) your continuing education and attendance records.

The following dialogue between James, a laboratory clerk, and Helen, the office manager, illustrates what can be accomplished at a counseling session: James: "I'd like to discuss my recent merit raise."

Helen: "I have some free time now. Come in."

James: "I'm confused about the evaluations used for merit increases. I understand that 'average' employees received a 2 per cent increase and employees who were rated 'commendable' or 'outstanding got 6 to 8 per cent."

Helen: "Yes, those figures are correct."

James: "Well, I was very surprised and disappointed to learn that I'm considered average. I think I'm a commendable employee."

Helen: "First of all, I want to stress--as I did in our last department meeting--that I don't like the term average. I feel that employees receiving a satisfactory rating are fully competent and meet all standards and requirements. So there is no reason to be ashamed about your rating."

James: "Whatever term you use, I think I deserve a higher rating."

Helen: "Okay. Let's look at your position description and performance standards. I'd like you to point out where you feel you are exceeding the standards."

James: "Well, one standard says I should greet blood donors and prepare the proper forms, taking no longer than 15 minutes with each patient. I always get that done in 10 minutes or less."

Helen: "Yes, and you do it very well. But since you usually process only one donor a day during the blood bank secretary's lunch break. I don't think this is a major responsibility. How about some other examples?"

James: "Another standard says I shouldn't leave more than one hour of filing for the evening secretary. Most of the time I don't leave any filing, right?"

Helen: "You do a good job there, too. But let's examine the standards for your more important duties. I know we both agree that patients are our primary responsibility."

James: "Sure. Patients are the reason we're here."

Helen: "Well then, a top priority would be to make sure the prothrombin times and fasting blood sugar results are ready for delivery to the floors within 15 minutes after you get them from hematology and chemistry. I've noticed that the reports go out 15 to 20 minutes after they arrive, so you really don't exceed this standard very often, correct?"

James: "I guess I usually just meet the time limit."

Helen: "Okay. Another standard states that CBC and electrolyte results should go out by 1 p.m. Again, although you meet this deadline most of the time, reports seldom go out much earlier."

James: "I guess you're right there."

Helen: "The earlier nurses and doctors receive test results, the earlier the patient gets proper treatment. So would you agree that these are two important responsibilities?"

James: "Very important."

Helen: "We also have a standard that lab request slips must be typed within 30 minutes after specimens are received from physicians' offices and nursing homes. You usually accomplish this, but seldom prepare the slips more quickly. Since this deals with faster patient service, it's another critical standard."

James: "So to receive a commendable rating, I have to top those standards."

Helen: "Exactly. Of course, you can't do that every day--we all have days when we fall behind. Even so, the standards are so specific that we will both know immediately when you exceed them. And when you do, together with your continued good performance on the other standards, you will receive a commendable rating."

James: "Well, I'm relieved to learn that the quality of my work is more than satisfactory. I do remember that you complimented my lack of errors during my performance review."

Helen: "Yes, your work is always of high quality. Speed of performance is the only thing keeping you from a commendable rating."

James: "How much higher than the standards do I have to go to be considered commendable?"

Helen: "Good question. If the early morning PT and FBS results are ready 10 minutes after you get them, if the CBC and electrolytes are out by 12:30 p.m., and if the outpatient requests are typed within 15 minutes, I'd certainly regard that as commendable performance. But you have to be careful not to sacrifice quality while meeting these objectives. I expect you to maintain the same high quality of work."

James: "I'm glad all this was made clear. Now I know what I have to do for a better rating. Could I check with you each week to make sure I'm meeting the objectives?"

Helen: "Certainly."

James: "Thank you, Helen. I appreciate your explanations. Before I leave, I'd like to point out that my attendance record has been perfect during the past year and that I doubled my number of continuing education credits. Also, you sent me several memos from physicians' secretaries that praised me for getting back to them quickly with old laboratory reports."

Helen: "Yes, I'm aware of that, and you are to be congratulated." (To herself, Helen might comment: Gosh, maybe James did deserve a better rating.)

The details may differ, but if you have a similar problem understanding why the merit system doesn't recognize your efforts, this approach can clear the air. Even if it doesn't lead immediately to a further increase, it will improve communication between you and your supervisor. You will stand taller in his or her eyes--and, the next time around, your chances for an incentive reward will be greatly enchanced.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Umiker, William O.; Yohe, Susan M.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Jan 1, 1985
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