Employee recognition critical to boosting employee engagement within healthcare organizations

The healthcare industry, which represents the largest and fastest growing segment of U.S. workers, currently faces tremendous human capital challenges due to a labor shortage and high turnover. Medical professionals work in extremely high-stress situations, which help drive an extraordinary turnover rate.

According to Nursing Solutions Inc., average turnover for the nursing industry is 16.5 percent and the average cost of that turnover ranges from $36,900 to $57,300—meaning the average hospital is losing $4.9M to $7.6M annually.

While healthcare situations are inherently stressful, the high turnover rate is also driven by a more controllable reason—overworked and underappreciated employees. Lack of appreciation from management is a top driver of healthcare professionals' low satisfaction rates. To change this, healthcare managers need the proper education, tools and empowerment to effectively engage their employees. Adding further pressure, the Affordable Care Act has aligned patient satisfaction and HCAHPS scores with CMS reimbursements, putting intense weight on medical professionals' performance and patient experience outcomes.

HR knows that employee engagement is crucial to meeting these challenges, and that recognition is a top driver of engagement, but healthcare recognition programs commonly falter in three areas:
• There isn't a clear way to demonstrate ROI or success factors aren't identified
• Senior leaders aren't active participants of or do not support the program
• The recognition program isn't adapted to employee lifestyles or preferences

Covenant Health System, the largest healthcare system in the West Texas and Eastern New Mexico regions, was able to overcome these obstacles and show tremendous value for their recognition program and its tie to overall employee engagement. With a multi-faceted recognition program, rewarding specific employee behaviors, the organization wanted to lower employee turnover, increase satisfaction and improve their public image. Giving employees opportunities to earn recognition points for preventative health care initiatives such as wellness screenings, weight-loss challenges and others was productive and helped increase employees' participation in the program.

Launching this revamped recognition program helped Covenant achieve the following results:
• Nearly 50 percent lower employee turnover
• 48 percent increase in blood drive participation
• 6 percent increase in wellness program usage
• A nearly $100,000 increase in annual charitable donations to the community

The healthcare organization also used their recognition program to rebrand and unify Covenant's workforce after a merger. Using a centralized recognition platform connected employees working in different locations across the same network.

Like Covenant, other healthcare organizations can meet their specific HR goals by centering their recognition programs around five elements including:

1. Daily Recognition Options

Managers should show appreciation for employees on a daily basis for things like above and beyond performance, patient satisfaction outcomes and for meeting other program initiatives. It is also important to give employees the means to recognize their peers, e.g., peer-to-peer recognition, to build a positive organizational culture.

2. Unified Technology Platform

With more and more large, decentralized healthcare workforces, a unified and flexible recognition program offers administrators and employees access from any device. This is essential for keeping the program manageable and making quick adjustments.

3. Manager Education and Awareness

Frontline managers are the number one driver of employee engagement. These managers should be trained on how to implement recognition programs, including how to seek out opportunities to show appreciation for employees during their normal rounds.

4. Mix of Formal and Informal Strategies

Formal branded awards are helpful for engagement. However, employees need more than just symbols of their achievements, they need human interaction. Formal recognition always needs to be tempered with genuine informal recognition to complete the experience.

5. Customizable Awards and Initiatives

Organizational needs will change over time and so will the recognition strategy. Maintaining a flexible program allows HR to design additional awards and update rewards to reflect an evolving workforce. Increased customization also allows for a more personal experience for individual employees.

While healthcare organizations are challenged by a fast-paced, highly regulated industry and workforce, HR departments within hospitals can overcome these common obstacles by strategically designing and implementing thoughtful employee recognition programs. Organizations can deliver bigger returns from their investment in recognition if they define specifically what ROI on recognition means to their organization, secure support early on from senior leaders and leverage modern recognition systems in ways that complement the healthcare culture.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.​

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