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Reward and Recognition

Recognition of Human Capital is far and away the most important aspect in creating a culture of mutual respect, and appreciation. Humans are hardwired for positive feedback. Countless psychological studies have been done showing the power of positive reinforcement. Facebook and social media platforms use our desire to have positive reinforcement as a driver of many of their algorithms that attempt to keep you engaged. The concept of “likes” to a picture or a post is central in this philosophy.

A simple google search of “How to get more likes on Social media” yields a return of 2.2 billion results. The top hit is a list of 8 tips to get more likes on all social media platforms. This clearly shows that people love the recognition that others see in their posts. Should it not stand to reason that this desire for reward and recognition is relevant in other aspects of peoples lives?

We spend 8 hours a day (or more) 5 days a week at work. Thats more than half of our waking hours spent in our place of employment. But how many employees feel that they are rewarded or recognized at work. Often employers see that ones compensation for a job well done is recognition enough. Why should they offer other financial incentives. They hired you for a job, if you successfully perform the duties of that job, then you will receive payment for your efforts. So the employer sees the payment as the recognition. Unfortunately our psychology doesn’t work like this, as recognition desiring humans, we need more. Especially public acknowledgement. We want our colleagues to see that we are doing a good job. We want the boss to show their appreciation for all the hard work that we did.

In healthcare this is especially true. Healthcare has some of the most depressing engagement statistics, and some of the greatest turnover rates. According to the 2021 NSI National Health Care Retention & RN Staffing Report, since 2016, the average hospital has turned over 83% of its nursing staff and 90% of its overall workforce. Much of this turnover recently has been attributed to COVID-19, but even before this the average attrition rate of nursing is 19.1%. That is a staggering statistic. A lack of reward and recognition is not likely to account for all of this 19.1%, however, having an highly active reward and recognition program can greatly increase your employee engagement.

Many hospitals will tell you that they have an award and recognition program. What this likely means is that during nurses week, or hospital week they will recognize a handful of staff. Often during this celebratory time, teams come together to recognize a few nurses and likely one physician. I have been the recipient of this award before. It was given to me during nurses week and it was called the nurse physician partner award. I am deeply honored to have been recognized like this in front of my hospital, and to be selected by the nursing staff is special; but this award is given to 1 physician, once a year. At the time the hospital I was at, had a medical staff that was well over 500. There were well over 600 nurses on staff as well. If hospitals of this size only recognize 1 or even 2 nurses or physicians per year then there is a great likelihood that wonderful clinicians could work for several hundred years before having the chance to be recognized. Now I am not advocating that we should stop with these type of large scale programs, but to capture more individuals systems need to put into place recognition that occurs more frequently. An example of this is every month, an employee from each team is awarded a card and a 5 dollar gift card to a coffee shop, and their accomplishment is shared with the team. This should be done publicly as well as privately.

Often times recognition needs to be shared in the moment. When a staff member performs exceedingly well this is an opportunity to recognize, it shouldn’t wait until a staff meeting. It is great if a leader sends them an email, but nothing beats, the manager or better yet the CEO walking up to the employee telling them what a wonderful job that they are doing, and presenting them with a hand written note, and or a small gift card, and referencing what it is that they did so well. When people are recognized like this they feel value. They feel that they are appreciated. They feel that they are making a difference. This also shows others on the team that hard work, is rewarded, and recognized. It starts to change the culture. It is amazing how simple us humans are. When we are in the crowd and we hear what one of our colleagues did to be recognized and rewarded often we will want that same recognition, and we will be willing to work for it. I have used the example of small coffee gift cards, but as a manager that is where you will need to know what works for your team.

For fans of the show The Office, when Andy Bernard becomes manager, and his boss Robert California is expecting a large increase in profits, Andy comes up with a point system that he rewards his team with. During the informational meeting where Andy shares the vision, questions are asked that gets the team motivated. Andy does make a fatal flaw that turns out of be quite comical, as he agrees to allow the team to pool their points and if they get 5000 points, (which he thinks isn’t feasible) then he will let them tattoo anything on his body. This reward and recognition program works so well that the entire team is immensely committed and end up reaching their goal within a matter of hours. Andy is then forced to get the tattoo. Clearly this is a fictional process made to be comedic, but the underlying premise is important. People will respond to reward and recognition. There should be multiple layers to this reward and recognition program. There is not a one size fits all and it should be adapted to each team. It should be consistent so that the team is continually motivated.

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