The Right & Wrong Way Leaders Recognize Employees

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Employee recognition is getting a lot of attention lately. Some versions of employee appreciation, the employee experience, engagement, and employee recognition programs are showing up in my LinkedIn news feed, newsletters I subscribe to, and in conference session titles. I can’t hop on a social media platform or read a healthcare journal without encountering SOMETHING about how leaders are recognizing or appreciating their employees.

Is recognizing employees REALLY worth our time and energy?

Shouldn’t adult professionals, like nurses and physicians, be able to function at their highest level without constant praise and attention? Do we really need to spend our time and energy figuring out how best to show how much we appreciate them?

The answer is, well, only if you want to keep them and have them produce. Just like flossing – you only have to floss the teeth you want to keep.

Did you know?

Even though we all should have an internal motivation to do what we do, humans still need external recognition.  According to 7Geese, employee recognition is important because…

  1. It boosts employee engagement (22% increase in productivity according to Gallup)
  2. Organizations retain great employees (31% reduced turnover according to Deloitte)
  3. And, it helps employees to align internally (17% more engaged when aligned with core values, according to Globoforce)

Yes. Getting employee recognition and appreciation right is worth your time.

How leaders get it wrong

I’ve talked with a lot of leaders about how to cultivate and sustain a healthy, professional, and respectful workforce culture. The topic of employee appreciation is something we incorporate as a best practice. What I have learned is the most common way leaders show employees appreciation is by bringing in food AND… they tend to do so during an established “appreciation” week or day (medsurg nurses week, surgical tech week, administrative assistant day, etc.). 

And then they wonder why their employees don’t feel recognized and appreciated.

Leaders tell me about their attempts to show employees how much they appreciate them. Their intent is pure and good – they want to let their staff know they appreciate them. Yet, no matter what they do, their employees complain. “Is this all we get? Donuts? Did anyone tell you I have a gluten issue? I can’t eat that pizza. I’m on the Keto diet. I don’t want a yellow bag. I want a blue bag!” On and on. Ugh.

Wouldn’t you agree that showing employee’s appreciation sometimes feels like an intangible futile thing? No matter what you do, they complain and you feel like it’s never enough.

A better way to recognize employees

According to Sarah McVanel, Founder of Greatness Magnified (my new friend and colleague), leaders are missing an opportunity to truly connect with their employees by engaging in meaningful recognition.

In her latest article, Why We Don’t Recognize In Organizations And How To Change That, Sarah writes…

“Every audience, I ask the question, “How do you like to be recognized?” With few exceptions, the same three things come up.

The same three ways that our research partnership with Metrics@Work revealed.”
     Tell me thank you (95%)
     Tell me specifically what I’m doing well (92%)
     Write me a thank you (88%)

Notice what’s not on this list – Yep. No pizza or donuts! To read this article and learn more about Sarah (she’s awesome), click here.

Appreciation that matters

When I was practicing at the bedside just a few years ago, I was asked to come in early because staffing was really bad on the unit. The last thing I wanted to do was come in early because I had a gazillion things to do but made the decision to oblige and come in.

It was the worst shift I EVER had on that unit. It was all I could do just to get through it. There were a few moments when I felt regret for agreeing to come in. However, something really powerful happened throughout the day. Every single one of my coworkers, at some point, approached me, some hugged me, some just looked me in the eye and said some version of, “Thank you so much for coming in. I don’t know what we would have done without you.”

Even though it was the worst day, I felt more appreciated THAT day then I ever felt before. Their recognition of the sacrifice I made (I gave up my protected time) to help them made all the difference.

Recently, I asked leaders in my Healthy Workforce Academy, how they recognize employees. Here are just a few ways: 

  • Tell them thank you

  • Write thank you cards or hand written notes on their lockers

  • Buy lunch from time to time when really busy

  • Bring in snacks (especially chocolate)

  • Cafeteria vouchers or gift cards

  • Employee of the month

  • Pins for their badges

  • Recognition cards

  • Celebratory huddles to recognize staff

  • Thank you cards sent to their homes

  • Outward praise

  • Birthday and holiday cards

  • Kudos hung up in break room

  • Praise through email

  • Gratitude tree that changes with the seasons

Although food is listed here and can be a quick and easy way to show your appreciation, it can’t be the only thing you do.  Starting today, make employee appreciation a priority by picking one thing from the list above and making a commitment to act. Just one act of meaningful appreciation given to one employee can start of movement of appreciation across you department. Hold the donuts!

Recognizing employees, as the research shows, is important and worth our time. And, it really doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. But what it does need to be is sincere, specific, and personalized to each person.

I’d love to know what other ways you show appreciation and recognition at work!

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