1. Doucette, Jeffrey N. DNP, RN, LNHA, CENP, NEA-BC, FACHE

Article Content

Q I've been trying to increase the amount of recognition I give my team members. What suggestions do you have for improving meaningful recognition?

Figure. No caption a... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. No caption available.

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a series of research interviews with nurses and nurse leaders in various industries throughout the medical field. During the interviews, we asked about meaningful recognition and the answers we received may surprise you. When we asked participants to recall the last time they were recognized at work, the first thing that almost every respondent described was what his or her organization did during the last Nurses Week. We then asked nurses to tell us about the most meaningful recognition they ever received.


The majority of the professionals we spoke to didn't mention any type of monetary reward, although fair compensation was important to everyone. The most meaningful form of recognition for the study group was a handwritten note from a supervisor or patient. In addition, participants noted that they appreciated being recognized on the spot and in real time. Nurses found a "pat on the back" with a small token, such as a voucher for the cafeteria or a cup of coffee from the coffee bar, to be very meaningful during the workday. It wasn't about the tangible reward, but rather the leader taking time out of his or her day to recognize an employee who had gone above and beyond. One nurse noted that the most memorable recognition she ever received was a handwritten note from her supervisor mailed to her home and thanking her family for sacrificing time with their mom and spouse who volunteered to work on a busy holiday.


I was thinking about one of the most meaningful times I've been recognized, when I left my very first job as a nurse manager in the early 1990s. I certainly wasn't the most visible leader in a large organization. I decided to leave the organization for my first director job and the hospital had a going-away party for me. What surprised me the most was about 2 weeks later, I received a handwritten note from the CEO of the health system thanking me for my contributions to the organization and personally apologizing that he wasn't able to make it to my going-away party. He went on to tell me that he thought I made a lasting difference during my time at the organization. I still keep the letter in my desk to this day. I keep a recognition folder in my drawer and any time I receive a note from a patient or coworker, I put it in the folder. On the days I'm not feeling so great or not so recognized, I take a few minutes to go through the folder and it reminds me why I do what I do every day.


As leaders, we're responsible for creating positive work cultures, and a big piece of building a positive practice environment is recognition. It's important to make sure that you're customizing recognition to the employee. I've seen several nurse leaders use a worksheet that asks employees to list their favorite treat, flower, and so on. It's also important to ask employees how they want to be recognized. Not every person is comfortable with a big cake in front of a staff meeting or wants to have their name published in the unit newsletter. In addition to individual recognition, consider recognizing teams or groups of people. For example, if you have a team that works well together during a difficult day, recognizing the team may have just as much meaning as recognizing the individual contributors.


I think it's helpful for leaders to keep a recognition log. Although this may seem somewhat forced at first, it's impossible to commit to memory how many things you've done to recognize employees or the last time you recognized a specific employee. You'll also want to keep in mind what type of recognition you're giving to your employees. There may be payroll and tax implications for monetary awards or gift cards, so make sure you check with your human resources representative to understand your organization's policy.


Recognizing employees is one of our key responsibilities. Hopefully, some of these tips will help you find ways to reward, recognize, and, ultimately, retain great employees while creating a positive work environment.