Cultivating a Culture of Recognition in Healthcare

Senior Director of Marketing

Recruiting and retaining top candidates has long been a challenge for the healthcare industry. Besides the risk of working around patients with infectious disease, as seen in the COVID-19 outbreak, healthcare organizations and their workers face a number of other difficulties:

Low employee engagement, high turnover, and burnout can lead to lower productivity and higher costs in any industry. For healthcare organizations, however, this also becomes a matter of life and death. High rates of burnout and turnover can lead to medical errors and reduced quality of care, negatively affecting patient safety and outcomes.

In the face of talent shortages, high turnover rates, and heavy competition for top candidates, healthcare organizations are in dire need of effective and thoughtful retention strategies. One key strategy is recognition for employees who go above and beyond what their jobs require.

The Value of a Culture of Recognition

Creating a culture of recognition is one of the best ways that hospitals and other healthcare organizations can improve employee engagement and retention. Employee recognition is simply the timely acknowledgment of an individual or team who has gone above and beyond expectations.

All human beings want appreciation for what they do and who they are. Regularly acknowledging and rewarding an employee’s good work offers many benefits for healthcare organizations and their workers:

  • Recognition affirms the value of that employee’s action and sets an example for other team members.
  • Receiving recognition can improve job satisfaction, which can reduce turnover and related costs.
  • Recognition can also improve productivity, further reducing costs and improving patient care.

How to Build an Employee Recognition Culture

But how do you create a culture of recognition in healthcare? An organization may understand the value of recognition while still being unsure about how to implement it. Each healthcare organization should develop its own unique strategy while following a few general principles.

1. Learn how your employees want to be recognized.

How a healthcare organization recognizes and rewards employees depends on the individual employee. Some may be motivated best by a financial bonus, others by verbal compliments, and still others by having their picture in the hospital newsletter. 

Trinity Health System in Steubenville, Ohio, developed a successful employee recognition program that begins with giving a motivational assessment tool to every new hire. This helps the organization learn more about their team members, and whether they would like to be rewarded monetarily, with praise, or with another type of gesture.

2. Understand your organization’s mission and how employees contribute.

To build a culture of recognition, organizations need to know exactly what they want to recognize. Employers should not only reward specific employee behavior, but also understand how it fits into the organization’s “big picture.” 

This is especially important for healthcare organizations that employ a large number of millennial workers. Many members of the millennial generation, which makes up between one-third and one-half of the U.S. workforce, are attracted to meaningful work with an organization that supports their values. For these employees, it is especially important to be able to explain how they contribute to their organizations.

3. Engage all employees, from the top down.

A successful recognition culture requires buy-in at all levels. Because many employees feel that their executives or managers do not recognize their hard work, it is important that organization leaders fully support employee recognition and set an example. Numerous software solutions can help managers participate in employee recognition programs and encourage their employees to nominate team members who go above and beyond.

While a culture of recognition should be a top-down effort, employees also should be involved from the start. This includes day-one training for new hires on how to recognize or nominate coworkers. This helps build interest and enthusiasm for the recognition program, and makes employees more authentic advocates of the culture of recognition.

4. Start small and stay consistent.

Any goal is easier to achieve in small steps, and building a culture of recognition is no different. According to Covenant Health System, whose recognition program helped reduce employee turnover by nearly 50%, managers can start by showing daily appreciation for employees with exceptional performance and patient satisfaction outcomes.

Rather than creating huge monetary rewards or implementing a new software solution, healthcare organizations can begin by simply keeping an eye out for opportunities to praise employees. This creates a foundation of recognition and appreciation that becomes easier to build on with time.

High employee turnover and low job satisfaction carry numerous risks for healthcare organizations and their patients. Creating a culture of recognition can help establish a productive, engaged workforce that helps healthcare organizations reduce costs, improve patient outcomes, and stay competitive.