Beyond The Gold Star: Rewarding Stellar Performance

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Innovative ways private practice owners across the country go beyond pay raises

By Liz Plowman, PT, DPT

As physical therapy practice owners, it is vital to acknowledge and reward the accomplishments and stellar performance of excellent employees. According to a Harvard Business Review, a staggering 82% of American workers feel that their supervisors do not recognize them sufficiently for their contributions to the workplace. Further, 40% of those surveyed indicated that they would gladly put more effort and enthusiasm into their work if they were recognized for their contributions.1

While many business owners do this through pay raises and bonuses, there are other ways to reward high performance. Assuming that competitive pay and regular pay increases are already in place in your business, numerous innovative and meaningful ways exist to show appreciation and motivate your high-performing staff.

I surveyed 12 private practice owners across the country and identified their eight best practices beyond pay raises. By implementing these practices into your own business, you can create a positive and rewarding work environment that fosters employee satisfaction, loyalty, and continued high performance.

Personalized Professional Development

Investing in the growth and development of your employees is an invaluable recognition tool. By offering personalized professional development opportunities, you acknowledge their achievements and enhance their skills and expertise. Consider providing specialized training programs, sponsoring their attendance at conferences or workshops, or implementing mentorship programs where experienced therapists guide and support their professional growth. By nurturing their talent and investing in their future, you demonstrate your commitment to their success and show appreciation for their contributions. Employees receiving personalized professional development opportunities are more likely to stay engaged and motivated, ultimately benefiting your practice.

Public Recognition

Creating a culture of appreciation and celebration is crucial in recognizing and rewarding stellar performance. Implement a public recognition program where outstanding employees are acknowledged and celebrated. This can take various forms, such as highlighting their accomplishments in team meetings or creating a dedicated “wall of fame” where their achievements are prominently displayed. By publicly recognizing their contributions, you boost morale and motivation and inspire others to strive for excellence. Encourage team members to share their appreciation and congratulate each other on their achievements, fostering a supportive and uplifting work environment. (Note: Be cautious how you do this with your more introverted staff members. While public recognition in front of the whole team might make one employee feel really good, it may terrify another who abhors being in the spotlight. Make it a point to ask people what they are comfortable with.)

Flexible Work Arrangements

Recognizing your high-performing employees’ individual needs and preferences is essential for maintaining their motivation and engagement. Offering flexible work arrangements demonstrates your understanding and appreciation for their commitment to both their professional and personal lives. Consider options such as compressed work weeks, remote work opportunities, or flexible hours that allow employees to balance their work responsibilities with personal commitments. This flexibility empowers them to manage their time effectively, reducing stress and increasing job satisfaction. By accommodating their needs, you show that you value their work-life balance and prioritize their well-being.

Meaningful Feedback and Coaching

Regular, constructive feedback is essential for recognizing and rewarding stellar performance. Schedule one-on-one meetings with your employees to discuss their achievements, provide guidance, and offer growth opportunities. Too often, one-on-one sessions are used to correct underperforming employees. Use these to recognize and reward excellent performance too! You demonstrate your commitment to their professional growth and success by providing personalized guidance and support. Encourage open communication, active listening, and ongoing dialogue to foster a culture of continuous improvement. Meaningful feedback and coaching recognize accomplishments and provide valuable guidance for further development, enhancing employee satisfaction and motivation.

Personalized Rewards

Tailoring rewards to individual preferences and interests shows that you genuinely care about your employees. Consider offering personalized rewards that align with their hobbies, interests, or aspirations. This could include gift cards to their favorite local businesses, tickets to a sporting event or concert they enjoy, or a paid day off to pursue a hobby or spend time with family. These thoughtful gestures surpass generic rewards and make employees feel truly seen and appreciated. Take the time to understand each employee’s unique preferences and interests, and use that knowledge to select rewards that will resonate with them personally. Acknowledging their individuality creates a more meaningful and memorable recognition experience.

Team Building Activities

Building a solid camaraderie among your staff can significantly impact their motivation and job satisfaction. Organize regular team-building activities that promote collaboration, communication, and teamwork. (Don’t forget the fun!) These activities can take various forms, such as escape room competitions, potluck lunches, trivia nights, and even party games such as Pictionary or Charades.2 Recognize and reward the entire team for their accomplishments, emphasizing the importance of collaboration and acknowledging each team member’s vital role in achieving success. By fostering a positive team dynamic, you create an environment where employees feel supported, valued, and motivated to perform at their best.

Opportunities for Leadership

Identify high-potential employees within your physical therapy practice and provide them with leadership opportunities. Assign them as project leads, involve them in decision-making processes, or delegate responsibilities that allow them to showcase their skills and make a meaningful impact. Recognize their potential and provide the necessary support and training to develop their leadership abilities. By offering these opportunities, you recognize their stellar performance and invest in their long-term growth and career advancement. This recognition can take the form of promotions, increased responsibilities, or even the chance to represent the practice at industry events or conferences. Ensure this is a reward for good performance rather than overworking a good employee. (A salary increase is warranted with a promotion to a leadership position, too.) Too often, high-performing employees are put into a leadership position and suffer because their workload increases without any relief. (No good deed goes unpunished.) Also, make sure that the employee actually wants a leadership role. The last thing you want is for your recognition to become a punishment.

Celebrate Milestones

Acknowledge and celebrate significant milestones and achievements of your employees. This could include work anniversaries, completion of certifications or training programs, or reaching specific goals. Celebrate these milestones meaningfully, such as hosting a special event or small ceremony. Take the time to recognize each individual’s unique journey, highlighting their growth and contributions. Express your appreciation for their dedication and hard work, and show gratitude for their ongoing commitment to your practice. Celebrating these milestones recognizes individual achievements, reinforces a culture of appreciation, and fosters a sense of belonging and loyalty among your employees.


Recognizing and rewarding stellar performance in your physical therapy practice goes beyond traditional tangible rewards. By implementing innovative and meaningful recognition of your top performers, you can create a positive and rewarding work environment that motivates and retains loyal, high-performing employees. These practices demonstrate your appreciation for their hard work, foster their professional growth, and cultivate a culture of excellence that benefits both your practice and your employees in the long run. 


1Novak D. “Recognizing Employees Is the Simplest Way to Improve Morale.” Harvard Business Review. Published May 9, 2016.

2Workhuman. “25 Team-Building Activities for Work That Actually Build Better Teams.” Workhuman. Published July 7, 2023.

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Liz Plowman, PT, DPT

Liz Plowman, PT, DPT, is the owner of Pain Boss Physical Therapy in Spring, Texas. She can be reached at

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