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Employee Recognition

Healthcare Employee Recognition Programs: How To Honor Your Incredible Medical Staff

Rebecca Noori
Last Updated October 20, 2023

Healthcare employees shoulder the weight of human wellbeing. The challenges they face in the line of duty are as diverse as the patients they care for—from the relentless pace of emergency rooms to the intricacies of surgery. This is coupled with long hours, high patient loads, and the emotional burden of wanting to do even more to help.

Healthcare workers are unsung heroes of society, and they deserve to be recognized for their work. This article demonstrates how medical institutions can implement well-structured healthcare employee recognition programs to offer meaningful, personal, and impactful appreciation for everyone in the medical sector.

How Can HR Leaders Recognize A Healthcare Worker Who Is Doing A Good Job?

From patient management to record-keeping and ordering supplies, healthcare workers handle a breadth of daily tasks. Here are some areas of their performance that may deserve recognition for going above and beyond in your healthcare facility:

1. Exceptional Patient Care

A compassionate bedside manner involves treating patients with kindness, empathy, and respect. Medical staff must also recognize the emotional needs and medical symptoms of patients. Healthcare workers who create a nurturing and comforting environment for their patients can significantly improve their overall experience and healing process and must be rewarded accordingly.

2. Teamwork And Collaboration

Healthcare professionals must pool their knowledge and experience to work as a team and create a culture of mutual support and trust. Reward employees who motivate their peers, keep staff morale high, and handle high-stress situations with composure.

3. Clinical Excellence

Award healthcare professionals who demonstrate exceptional proficiency in their fields, whether nursing, anesthesiology, or pediatrics. Service excellence might encompass certifications, service awards, or accreditations, reflecting their commitment to ongoing learning. But it can also involve hands-on accomplishments such as finding effective treatments for a complex medical case.

4. Patient Safety

Highlight healthcare workers who place patient safety at the forefront of their work. This might include honoring employees who have led initiatives to prevent hospital-acquired infections or implemented administrative strategies to reduce medical errors.

5. Leadership And Mentorship

Passing on knowledge is essential in training the next generation of healthcare workers, which is why teaching hospitals are reputed to provide high-quality care. Leaders can support interns and medical residents through mentorship, coaching, or formal training programs, even in regular healthcare facilities. Reward those who are willing to spend their time in a teaching capacity.

6. Community Engagement

Healthcare workers are often at the forefront of community outreach projects, providing medical care in disadvantaged communities. Rewarding employees who go above and beyond to make a positive change encourages a culture of giving back.

Ideas you can use to recognize healthcare workers

Why Is An Employee Recognition Strategy Important In Healthcare?

Many healthcare professionals are driven by a profound calling to serve and heal; this intrinsic dedication sets them apart from employees in other industries. Here are the reasons we should recognize their unwavering commitment and contributions to patient wellbeing:

1. Reduce Employee Burnout In Healthcare Professionals

Employee burnout is prevalent in healthcare. According to U.S. News & World Report, "burnout is very similar between nurses (56%), clinical staff (54%), doctors (47%) and non-clinical staff (46%)."

Studies find that long working hours and short sleeping hours are significant causes of burnout among hospital workers. Both are common when working hospital shift patterns and may significantly impact patient care. Although the nature of healthcare may require working antisocial hours, employees must be rewarded for committing to this lifestyle. Yet, 69% of clinicians with burnout report they don't feel valued.

In O.C. Tanner's 2023 Global Culture Report, Dr. Laura Forese, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President at NYP, explains why appreciation is essential in overcoming burnout and building fulfillment for healthcare workers:

"Healthcare is a very rewarding business, but fundamentally it's a tough business. We can see tremendous amounts of burnout. One of the things that we know will really combat that is when people feel appreciated."

2. Value Each Workers Incredible Contributions To The Healthcare System

It's impossible to discuss why we should appreciate healthcare workers without considering their extraordinary contributions during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Lost on the Frontline, 3,607 US healthcare workers lost their lives during the first year of the COVID-19 outbreak. As well as being unbelievably tragic, this also created a massive gap in the healthcare industry's ability to respond to ongoing challenges presented by the virus.

Those who survived haven't had it easy either. In a study on hospital healthcare staff who had worked during the pandemic, 39.9% experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, and 9.7% had suicidal ideation. The report recommends that female healthcare workers who have worked on a COVID-19 unit should be monitored regularly for signs of PTSD.

Setting up a recognition program may seem like a drop in the ocean compared to the gravity of the challenges that healthcare workers continue to face, but it's an essential step in demonstrating that you value their efforts and sacrifices. Additionally, you can tie recognition to mental health and wellbeing rewards that enable employees to unplug and recharge when not at work.

3. Support The National And Global Workforce

Healthcare staff are just one type of employee in society. But their stellar work supports employees from all the other industries by keeping them mentally and physically healthy. Think about it: A mechanic named Will attends the emergency room with a sprained ankle. Doctors treat Will and soon he's back on the job fixing cars for other workers who depend on their vehicles for their jobs. 

Justin C, Program Assistant for Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation, agrees that this cycle is crucial to the nation. 

"Healthcare workers are the backbone of a country's overall success and wellbeing. If not supported, more pressing future public health problems may arise. One of the most ironic things in life is the desire to help others to the detriment of one's health. Respect those who help others, and find ways to support them."  

Similarly, the World Economic Forum highlights that healthcare workers are pivotal in hitting key medical targets. A report on Sustainable Development Targets states: 

"We are not going to succeed in reducing maternal mortality, ending preventable deaths for children under five, achieving Universal Health Coverage, or any of the other targets without a thriving, supported, and healthy workforce." 

Recognizing that medical workers are a linchpin of society is the first step to thanking them for their extraordinary service and retaining them in the field. Although recognition programs can't solve all the issues posed by burnout or shortages, they show appreciation and create a culture of gratitude in hospitals and other healthcare settings.

4. Establish A Culture Of Support

The medical industry can feel isolating; non-healthcare workers struggle to understand the demands required of friends and family members in the medical profession, while healthcare colleagues put on a brave face in front of the patients, even when they're mentally and physically exhausted.

Establishing a culture of recognition is an important step in getting peers to talk and appreciate each other's efforts. It puts the human element back into the healthcare system and shows that those on the frontline are valued team members. Without this acknowledgment, medical workers can suffer; a study on Iranian nurses found they felt unsupported due to their managers' lack of recognition of their professional competencies and capabilities.

5. Attract And Retain Healthcare Professionals

Healthcare organizations struggle to retain high-quality staff; NSI Nursing Solutions reported an average hospital turnover rate of 22.7% in 2022. This is an expensive problem, with the average hospital losing $7.1 million in 2021. Outside of hospital organizations, primary care turnover costs $979 million annually in the U.S., and almost one-third of these costs result from burnout.

While there are numerous understandable reasons why healthcare workers may choose to leave a specific healthcare organization or the entire profession, some can be avoided with the right culture in place.

We know from Nectar's employee recognition statistics that 93.5% of workers would stay at an organization if the culture was great and they were paid fairly. Setting up a peer recognition program for healthcare workers is part of creating a supportive community where colleagues praise and inspire each other to succeed. And when healthcare workers stay in the field, they're more likely to attract new generations of medical professionals to join the ranks, too.

6. Look For Potential Leaders

Once employees start recognizing each other, HR leaders have a goldmine of insights to lean on in their quest to earmark potential leaders. After all, it's often those praised by their peers who have the strongest track record of making good decisions and putting in extra effort.

With this data, HR teams can develop succession plans and ensure they fill vital roles with the right talent. It also demonstrates to healthcare workers that their hard work will eventually be rewarded, leading to less burnout and higher retention rates.

10 Types Of Recognition Tools To Help Healthcare Professionals

There are numerous ways to recognize healthcare professionals in the line of duty, including the following:

1. Verbal Praise

Offering verbal praise to a peer, direct report, or superior on a busy day doesn't take much. Whether you're commending a colleague for diffusing a difficult patient situation or congratulating a nursing student for completing their first successful shift, verbal recognition can make them feel valued.

Of course, a quick "well done" doesn't have to be the end of the recognition. If you've already offered in-the-moment appreciation, you can extend your gratitude by following up with an award nomination or one of the other recognition suggestions on this list.

2. Employee Newsletter

Public praise is a wonderful way to share the appreciation of colleagues with the entire organization or even your customer base. It also serves as a great reminder that hard work and dedication are noticed, so other staff members will strive to be acknowledged too.

Use an employee newsletter or spotlight page to celebrate recent successes and achievements, as modeled by Windom Area Hospital with their “Caught You Caring” employee recognition program. Patients, visitors, and employees can nominate staff members for their incredible care—all nominees are mentioned in the monthly newsletter, and the winner is chosen once a quarter.

Windom Area Hospital caught you caring program

3. Award Ceremonies

Formal recognition can take place in periodic award ceremonies, which might include categories for: 

  • People with high patient satisfaction scores
  • People with perfect attendance records
  • Staff members who have achieved recent certifications

An example of a medical institution that holds these types of events is the Medical University of South Carolina, which offers ceremonies for:

  • Employees of the Quarter: The winner receives $200, a certificate, a virtual celebration acknowledgment, and a mention on the website/blog.
  • Employees of the Year: The winner receives $1,000, a plaque, and an acknowledgment at the Annual Department of Medicine Awards Day. A second-place Medical Excellence Winner gets a $500 prize.

Department of medicine employee of the quarter award

4. On-The-Spot Recognition

For recognition to be authentic, it should happen in real-time rather than something that peers consider retrospectively. But medicine is a field where it's not always possible to pause during an emergency procedure to offer praise. Equally, it can be difficult to express gratitude to someone whose shift doesn't align with your own.

UI Health gets around this by implementing a shout card system which works as follows: 

  • Peers who witness someone making a good catch for patient safety or identifying a near miss might receive a Safety Shout Out Card. 
  • Colleagues who spot each other supporting patients or helping team members are eligible for a Shout Out Card. 

In either case, these recognitions are posted on workplace boards and in the community for all to see. 

5. Surprise Visits

The element of surprise is an incredibly powerful motivator, and it’s one that hospital leaders can use to recognize healthcare workers. UI Health uses this tactic to deliver several awards, including its: 

  • ICARE award
  • Safety Star award
  • Daisy awards

In each case, the award recipient receives a surprise on-the-job visit from the Recognition Team, who also deliver special prizes to them.

6. PTO

Nothing says "thank you for your hard work," like a few extra days of paid time off (PTO), which workers can use for rest and relaxation to combat burnout. 

One way to implement a PTO system is to set up custom rewards in an employee recognition platform like Nectar. Healthcare workers earn points for praise and recognition, which they can redeem for custom rewards such as a free day off.

7. Monetary Rewards

Whether it's a bonus or an increment, these awards are highly motivating and encourage excellent performance for workers who feel undervalued. 

8. Celebrations With Leadership

Leaders who dedicate time to their employees signal that they truly value their efforts are appreciated. Some medical facilities arrange this via breakfast, lunch, or dinner with senior leadership in attendance. 

For example, Halifax Health holds an annual Team Recognition Banquet that honors all Team Member of the Year candidates, Nurse of Excellence winners, and other award recipients. The celebration includes trophies, entertainment, prizes, and more.

9. Free Holiday Meals 

Thanksgiving and Christmas are busy periods for the medical profession, with doctors estimating that emergency room cases soar by 5 to 12% during the holidays. Medical workers who spend the festive season tending to patients should be recognized for their dedication—and what better way than with a free holiday meal? 

Guy's and St. Thomas' Hospital serves Christmas lunch and dinner and gives presents to its patients who can't return home. Hospital staff working on Christmas Day also receive a complimentary breakfast, lunch, and Christmas cake.

10. Celebrating National Events

The medical industry holds national recognition events, including National Nurses Week and National Doctors Day. These events provide an excellent opportunity to recognize healthcare workers and thank them for their hard work.

Medical institutions should reserve time during the week or day to honor their staff by:

  • Giving out gifts
  • Hosting special lectures with guest speakers
  • Offering discounts at local businesses
  • Serving breakfast in bed for night shift nurses
  • Donating to a charity of the staff’s choice

10 types of recognition tools to help healthcare professionals

8 Ways To Create A Recognition Program That Supports Your Healthcare Workers 

A well-structured recognition program is vital to uplifting your healthcare workers. Here are eight practical ways to design a program that supports and motivates your healthcare workforce.

1. Ensure Inclusivity

Everyone in healthcare plays an essential role in patient care, even if they don't spend their time on the frontline. An inclusive recognition program allows every healthcare worker to give and receive praise, acknowledging their crucial contributions as part of the overall healthcare system. 

Weill Cornell Medicine tackles this by creating a separate recognition program for non-physician employees, including those in administration, clinical care, and research. 

Since all of your staff work together, you don't need to separate your recognition program for it to be successful.

2. Set Goals For Your Recognition Program

How will you know if your healthcare recognition program is successful? Create SMART goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based when designing your recognition program. 

Example: You might want to improve employee satisfaction by X% by the end of the year or increase the number of recognition shoutouts given by Y%. Setting goals gives you a yardstick for measuring success, which will help you make informed decisions when updating your program.

3. Incentivize Healthcare Workers By Offering Rewards

Tie rewards to your recognition program as a motivational tool. Healthcare workers who complete employee challenges or receive praise will acquire points that they can redeem for rewards like wellness products, a monetary bonus, gift cards, or custom rewards.

Enticing healthcare workers with the promise of rewards can encourage a positive performance culture and ensure all staff feel appreciated for their hard work.

4. Provide Recognition Guidance

Regardless of how you structure recognition in your organization, you must communicate how your team members should use your program. Provide guidance on:

  • The type of behavior that should be recognized
  • How frequently to deliver recognition to peers, for example, weekly or even daily appreciation
  • Example messages of praise that employees could use as inspiration
  • Who is eligible to participate in the employee recognition program
  • Technical instructions, such as how to log in to your rewards and recognition platform

5. Gather Feedback On Your Recognition Program 

For recognition to be effective, your healthcare workers must buy into the process in terms of giving and receiving acknowledgments. Take the pulse of how well this is working by sending out surveys asking questions like:

  • Does the recognition program feel fair?
  • Does it distract you from your work?
  • How often do you receive recognition?
  • Are there any rewards that would make your experience more satisfying?

You can refine and improve your healthcare employee recognition program by gathering feedback.

6. Track Recognition Progress

Circle back to your SMART goals and track your progress in reaching them. You'll need to select relevant metrics to do this, which might include things like:

  • The number of shoutouts shared in a time period
  • Total points awarded to employees for achievements
  • Number of rewards redeemed by staff members
  • Employee sentiment measured in a pulse survey
  • Instances of employee burnout this quarter or year

By looking at the data, you'll have an objective view of whether you're meeting your goals and determine what works or needs improvement.

7. Don’t Substitute Recognition For Performance Feedback 

While recognition supercharges performance, it should never replace performance feedback. Healthcare workers need both types of support, including ongoing feedback to identify improvement areas or suggestions for advancing along their career path.

Ensure all employees have access to growth and development opportunities, which begins with regular 1:1 meetings with a line manager who can suggest training resources, provide feedback on successes, and help workers overcome any roadblocks.

8. Invest In A Recognition Platform 

The best healthcare employee recognition programs combine technology with human connection. Investing in a robust employee recognition software can make running your program much easier while giving it an extra dose of professionalism. A good platform should enable users to:

  • Give on-the-spot recognition
  • Set up peer-to-peer recognition programs
  • Redeem rewards with points earned
  • Share company values
  • Create custom challenges

Nectar Tip: Choose a user-friendly and accessible platform that integrates directly with your HRIS or payroll system for auto-enrollment. Also, ensure your tool offers real-time reporting to gain immediate insights into who uses your recognition program and how often.

Nectar employee recognition software

Create Employee Recognition For Healthcare Professionals With Nectar 

With Nectar, you can easily create a recognition program that boosts team morale and drives performance so everyone can deliver excellent patient care. Our all-in-one rewards and recognition suite makes it a cinch to highlight the phenomenal contributions of your healthcare staff. Here's how the following features could work for your team:

  • Recognition: Employees give and receive praise to people working in all types of healthcare roles, including doctors, nurses, administrative workers, and maintenance teams, for a job well done. 
  • Awards: Companies can create awards like “Nurse Of The Month” or “Doctor Of The Year” and give them out through Nectar.
  • Challenges: Healthcare facilities can challenge employees to achieve goals like completing onboarding, updating training, or volunteering in the local community.
  • Rewards: Employees can exchange their points for gift cards, swag, charity donations, Amazon products, or custom rewards like extra PTO.
  • Discounts: Nectar has a built-in discounts tab, enabling healthcare workers to save money at retailers nationwide.

Ready to build a culture of appreciation and start honoring your healthcare employees for their fantastic work? Book a free Nectar demo today.

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