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Party in a pandemic? How to boost medical practice staff morale for the holidays

MGMA Stat - October 29, 2020

Culture & Engagement

MGMA Staff Members

If there’s ever been a case for healthcare workers to get some much-deserved time to let their hair down and temporarily put aside the stress and worries of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s now.

But the practicality of the usual holiday party or other morale-boosting events has been complicated for medical practice leaders nationwide:
  • There is a distinct threat in bringing all your providers and staff together — even with social distancing and mask wearing — if one person unknowingly spreads coronavirus at the event. “It’s just not a risk we can take,” said one practice operations director.
  • Another practice manager, lamenting the social and financial limitations in place this year, summed up the exhaustion so many practice leaders are feeling: “I have nothing left in the creative department; I’ve used it up to keep chins up these past six months!”

The Medical Group Management Association’s most recent MGMA Stat poll asked healthcare leaders, “How will you promote staff morale during the holidays?”
  • The majority (46%) said “bonuses.”
  • 19% responded “non-monetary gifts.”
  • 11% said “a party.”
  • 14% said a combination of two or more.
  • 9% responded “other.”

The poll was conducted Oct. 27, 2020, with 618 applicable responses. In addition, another 266 respondents said they were “unsure,” underscoring the predicament facing countless office leaders in healthcare this holiday season.

MGMA members and poll respondents have provided these suggestions:
  • Stop office hours at your clinic(s) and buy lunch for the staff to give them time to celebrate or socialize.
  • Take the average spend on a holiday party and issue it via bonuses to the staff instead.
  • Convert a monthly staff meeting to include some fun and games, or a voluntary “white elephant” gift exchange.
  • Shift your normal in-person gathering to a virtual gathering during non-work hours.
  • If weather permits in your part of the country, an outdoor event (e.g., barbecue, seafood boil) can be a good alternative to an indoor party at the office.

One practice administrator in Alaska said her organization decided to forgo a holiday party for health safety reasons. Instead, the group will order lunch for staff and suspending patient visits during that time, and the practice owner decided to allot the amount typically spent on dinner as an additional amount to the year-end bonus for staff, which will be a surprise announced closer to that particular payday.

Prioritize personal connections if a party isn’t possible

Michael C. Bush, chief executive officer of Great Place to Work U.S., said in his recent keynote speech at the 2020 Medical Practice Excellence Conference that organizations that prioritize culture outperform their competition. But culture is more than how people feel in the workplace, and it’s important to quantify it even in difficult times.

One attendee noted that Zoom happy hours have lost their effectiveness over the past few months, there’s not much left in the budget for the holidays, and an in-person party is out of the question because of COVID-19 protocols. 

Bush recommended that morale isn’t just about the traditional holiday get-together. “We're all trying to find ways to connect during this difficult time,” Bush said. Finding ways to connect personally, via small group discussions or one-on-one discussions with staff members, can be very meaningful. 

If you want your team to feel like a family, those discussions can help them “define what family means to them,” and it gives a platform for your staff to share their hopes for the holidays and the year ahead. “This requires a personal connection,” Bush said, which is most important in helping employees manage stress and continue through ongoing struggles related to the pandemic.

People managers should have an interest in what’s happening with their staff. Having that awareness of any personal concerns they are willing to share may not solve any problems, Bush noted, but it “will make people know that you care for them as a person” and can be “more powerful than any happy hour.”

Additional resources


Would you like to join our polling panel to voice your opinion on important practice management topics? MGMA Stat is a national poll that addresses practice management issues, the impact of new legislation and related topics. Participation is open to all healthcare leaders. Results of other polls and information on how to participate in MGMA Stat are available at:

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