Linking Recognition Initiatives to Patient Care Key to Engaging Nurses

Engaging the 3 million registered nurses who comprise one of the largest and most important segments of the U.S. workforce is a top task for hospitals and essential to developing and maintaining positive, patient-friendly work environments and retaining talented staff. Linking employee engagement to patient experience outcomes is quickly becoming a healthcare best practice as hospitals strive to meet industry standards and mitigate a potential nursing shortage over the next several years.

With HCAHPs scores and Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act regulations driving a heightened emphasis on patient satisfaction, nurses are taking on more responsibility to ensure patients and their families receive optimal care. Showing appreciation for nurses' dedicated efforts is more important than ever. In a fast-paced, stressful work environment, nurses must communicate clearly, respond quickly to patient needs and deliver key information to medical teammates and patients, among other critical tasks.

Through strategic recognition programs that include a comprehensive set of employee initiatives — from manager-to-peer accolades to service awards — hospitals can help nurses feel appreciated for their work and foster increased engagement levels.

Manager-to-peer recognition builds stronger relationships
More than half of nurses (56 percent) say their managers contribute to positive relations among colleagues, according to a study conducted by MEDSURG Nursing Journal. Nurses interact with their managers almost as much as with their patients, so a good workplace rapport is crucial to keeping the hospital operating smoothly. On-the-spot awards, achievement-based recognition and team or departmental awards can provide managers with tools to recognize their nursing staff for exceptional patient care.

A common misconception in recognition is that managers are automatically qualified to give recognition by virtue of being managers. However, this is not always the case. Managers need to receive training on personal engagement and communication skills for recognition to be effective.

For one busy East Coast hospital with a staff of more than 4,000 employees, managers used “recognition cards” to reward nurses and other staff for positive efforts with points that could be redeemed online for a variety of different merchandise items. The recognition cards featured and acknowledged values specific to the organization, which helped connect employee performance to the hospital's overarching goals.

The cards included unique serial numbers that made them traceable so that the organization could identify who was giving the cards, how often and to whom. In addition to managers, employees were able to nominate and award the themed cards to colleagues, increasing the program's reach. Staff has responded well to the program's ease of use, flexibility, efficiency and technology-enabled online measurement.

Service awards commemorate work anniversaries
Service awards are the longest standing and most prevalent of all types of recognition initiatives in hospitals, utilized in nearly 85 percent of organizations, according to a WorldatWork study. To boost morale and overall productivity, hospitals are beginning to realize that engaging staff early and often is helping to create a loyal work environment and reduce employee turnover. Service awards at the one-year and three-year employment marks are resonating well with nursing staff, in addition to traditional milestones (5-year, 10-year, etc.).

Every organization's approach will be different, but a good place to start is offering a service award on the employee's one-year anniversary. Gift options should also take a generational workforce into account, offering choices for a variety of distinct lifestyle interests. Leading up to the first anniversary, hospitals can leverage their recognition culture in many ways — the program can feature printable certificates, branded merchandise, or custom awards.

Recognize above-and-beyond performance
As champions of the patient experience, nurses are known for making an extra effort to ensure patients and families are comfortable during their hospital stay. Whether foregoing a lunch break, staying late to console a family member, or going out of their way to ensure a patient is at ease, nurses should be recognized for going above and beyond, which can come by way of verbal feedback, point-based award initiatives, certificates or another form.

Showing appreciation for the extra time and effort devoted to patients and their families can help boost employee engagement, leading to a circular effect of continuous extraordinary acts. A study conducted by WorldatWork demonstrated that above-and-beyond performance initiatives are the most popular form of recognition among organizations with 20,000 or more employees. Unlike service award initiatives, which are based on numbers, these awards are generated based on nominations from managers, peers and patients.

Compliance initiatives boost participation
Nurses and other hospital staff must renew certifications and comply with training standards on a regular basis. Incentivizing these renewals with a compliance-based recognition initiative is an excellent motivator. In one healthcare organization, hospitals that offered a compliance initiative experienced 68 percent completion within 30 days. Those that did not only reached 46 percent on average.

In today's high-pressure, high-stakes healthcare environment, strategic recognition programs are essential. When the extraordinary acts that nurses perform every day are acknowledged and rewarded, engagement levels increase. Higher engagement among nursing staffs leads to increased employee satisfaction, better patient perception of care and more loyalty to the healthcare provider. The most important thing to remember is that nurses need to know their work and contributions are respected by their managers and colleagues via regular feedback and praise.

Cord Himelstein is the VP of marketing and communications at Michael C. Fina, a leading provider of global employee recognition and incentive programs that has been family-owned and operated since 1935. Contact him at

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