Employee Recognition

Healthcare employee recognition programs – Everything you need to know to get started

No one deserves appreciation more than healthcare workers.

Professionals in this sector work tirelessly to deliver crucial care to those who need it most. They often work long hours, struggle with staffing issues, and deal with incredibly difficult and stressful situations as part of their daily routines.

Yet, recognition in the healthcare sector often falls short. Due to diversity of the workforce, budgetary constraints, and the limitations of many of the platforms on the market, putting healthcare employee recognition programs in place is challenging. 

But it’s not impossible. In this post, we’ll take you through some of the basic considerations you need to keep in mind when implementing a program, plus some tips for making recognition work in healthcare.

What is a healthcare recognition program and why is it important?

In basic terms, a recognition program is a formalized way for leaders, managers, and staff members to show their appreciation to one another for their hard work and achievements, either by sending messages, rewards, or both.

Depending on your needs and budget, your program might include:

  • Milestone awards: Recognition given to employees to celebrate anniversaries, professional appreciation days, or even significant personal landmarks like birthdays.
  • Formal awards: Regular awards given to employees who excel, e.g. employee of the month awards.
  • Real-time top-down recognition: Spot recognition given by leaders and managers for employees who go above and beyond in their daily work.
  • Peer-to-peer recognition: Recognition given by employees to each other to celebrate their accomplishments.

Recognition can be either non-monetary – a message of thanks from a peer – or monetary – tied to a reward such as a gift card, points in a software program, or a physical gift. 

Some healthcare HR teams will create their own in-house programs and manage and deliver rewards themselves, but others use software programs like Guusto to cut down on admin time and empower managers and employees to recognize each other whenever they want.

A recognition program can be a vital tool to improve employee appreciation in healthcare at a time when it’s sorely needed. The pandemic and its aftermath has left many employees in the sector feeling burnt out, overworked, and disillusioned, and led to continuing problems with recruitment and retention. 

In truth, though, the recent crisis only exacerbated problems that were already there. As industry recruitment expert Kevin Kirkpatrick highlighted in a recent episode of our podcast:

“Let’s be honest, nobody goes to the hospital because they’re in a good mood, right? They’re dealing with the population at their worst, when there’s a problem. So if that’s the type of day, if it’s one problem, after another, after another, finding ways to recognize them that alleviates that is a benefit.”

In short, working in healthcare is a tough job at the best of times, and it’s crucial that those in the sector know how much their employers value them and appreciate the sacrifices they make.

Building your healthcare employee recognition program – 5 things to consider

As we mentioned earlier in the post, making employee recognition programs work in healthcare has historically been difficult. The unique makeup of the sector can make it hard to find a platform that suits your needs, and that will be adopted effectively by your staff.

With that in mind, here’s 5 things you should consider before putting a program in place.

1. What are your goals?

It might seem obvious, but many organizations make the mistake of diving into healthcare employee recognition without really considering what they hope to achieve from their program.

Take some time with your team to look at the big challenges in your organization and what you want to change. Do you need to boost morale? Engagement? Productivity? Connection across different departments and job functions? Or maybe you’re hoping to move the needle on larger goals like employee retention or growth and development?

Defining these goals will help give you an idea of what kind of program you need to build, what kind of budget you need, and who needs to be involved, as well as any other initiatives you may need to implement in tandem with it.

2. Is it frontline-friendly?

One of the biggest problems with a lot of employee recognition programs for healthcare is that most software platforms aren’t built for frontline workers. For one thing, they are mostly ‘closed loop’ systems which require company email addresses, something many frontline workers either won’t have or don’t access regularly.

They also aren’t mobile-friendly, and few offer physical gift delivery options. Another major issue is that most software programs use points systems, which can be confusing and hard to navigate for a lot of typical healthcare employees.

With that in mind, it’s important to try and make sure your program has frontline-friendly features like we offer at Guusto, to ensure it will be easy to use and impactful for all of your staff and not just a small majority.

3. How much will it cost?

One of the biggest obstacles to implementing healthcare employee recognition programs effectively is cost. Some systems will require every employee to have a minimum budget to send recognition to be included in the program, which can be prohibitively expensive for healthcare organizations with thousands of staff members. They are often forced to either exclude people from their programs, or give budgets so low that they are essentially meaningless.

Choosing a system that has flexible budgeting options is key. Your organization may prefer to create a top-down program, where leadership and managers are given budgets to recognize their direct reports. This can be more cost-effective, while still ensuring that employees get the recognition they deserve with significant, meaningful rewards.

If you want to have an element of peer-to-peer recognition in your program, non-monetary recognition might be a good option if you have a larger team. Non-monetary systems allow employees to send personalized messages of appreciation to each other without a monetary reward. Receiving regular appreciation from their colleagues can be just as meaningful for your team, and this kind of system also allows them to send unlimited recognition. 

To maximize its impact, you can supplement your non-monetary program by offering tangible rewards for the top givers and receivers of recognition in your team, or by doing random draws. In many ways, this can be more effective than a budgeted peer-to-peer system, as you can offer larger amounts for your spot rewards, rather than having to spread your budget across every single employee.

4. What kind of rewards will you offer?

Another big part of your planning will be considering what kind of rewards you want to offer. 

Because the healthcare workforce is so diverse, rewards that appeal to some staff members won’t hold much value with others. A 50-year-old physician might want a set of golf clubs, but it might not be the right choice for a 23-year-old nurse. 

To cater to everyone, you’ll need to offer choice. This is where a lot of traditional recognition providers fall down, as they often work from outdated catalogue systems that offer a very limited selection. Worse still, these items often come with huge markups and shipping costs, meaning it can be difficult for staff to get real value from their rewards.

Systems which offer wider ranges of gifts will help you appeal to everyone. You may also want the option to include custom rewards that are unique to your company, like extra days off, or even charity donations. 

5. How will you manage your program?

Last but not least, consider what the administration of the program will look like. Who will be in charge of it? What kind of approvals, etc. will be required for people to send rewards? How will you manage taxable benefits and other accounting details?

One of the reasons this is important is that because of the limitations of a lot of recognition software programs for frontline workers, a lot of companies choose to create their own in-house healthcare staff employee recognition programs instead.

While this allows you to tailor your recognition more specifically to your company, it can be a real headache to administer. Between buying gifts, tracking what’s being sent by your managers, and keeping records for finance and tax purposes, the time you spend on the program can add up fast, and cost your company a lot of money. 

Using a frontline-friendly system like Guusto can alleviate a lot of the admin work of your program while still providing a solution that works for your company.

Healthcare employee recognition ideas to make your program impactful

Following the advice in the previous section will help ensure your program is built on a solid foundation, but what can you do to make it as effective as possible?

Here’s a few healthcare employee recognition ideas that we’ve found really help HR leaders in the sector make the most of their initiatives.

Celebrate professional dates

Throughout the year, there are numerous healthcare employee recognition days and weeks that celebrate employees in the sector. These dates cover everything from broad professions (e.g. National Nurses Week), to very specific roles (Health Unit Coordinator Day) to entire fields of healthcare (Cardiovascular Professionals Week). You can find a comprehensive list in this recent blog, as well as a handy downloadable calendar. 

It’s important to keep track of these dates and mark them as part of your recognition program, especially in a larger healthcare facility where you may have employees in several different roles. Employees who are aware of them might be disappointed if they are not acknowledged, which could hurt your program’s impact.

Tie your healthcare employee recognition program to other HR initiatives

As valuable as recognition for healthcare workers can be, it’s not a silver bullet to solve all of your cultural problems. While it will definitely help your employees feel more appreciated, it won’t move the needle on larger bottom-line results like retention, engagement, and productivity if your company is still dealing with other issues.

Where we’ve seen our clients have the most success is when recognition is implemented alongside other initiatives as part of a larger plan to improve the employee experience. 

For example, Compass One Healthcare implemented a recognition program with Guusto as one of the four key pillars in their Square One plan, a larger cultural overhaul which also included initiatives to help improve their team’s work-life balance, reduce workloads, and increase focus on wellness.

Recognition can also be used as a tool to supplement other initiatives by offering rewards to encourage participation in things like wellness programs, learning and development, or even social events like holiday parties.

Connect different teams and departments

One thing you should try and avoid when implementing employee recognition in healthcare is siloing your program and budgets so that recognition only happens between employees within the same department or function.

A healthcare organization is a team of people at different levels doing vastly different jobs, but they all need to work together. You don’t want a situation, for example, where the only person who ever recognizes your nurses is your Nurse Practitioner, or the only leader who recognizes your admin staff is the health unit coordinator.

In a good recognition program, appreciation happens frequently across different levels and departments. This means doctors recognizing HCAs, nurses rewarding food services staff, or even executives recognizing frontline workers. This helps to bridge any gaps between employees in different departments and roles, and truly connects your culture.

Align your healthcare recognition program with your core values

This is a simple but very powerful tip for anyone starting a real-time employee recognition program in healthcare or any other industry. The idea is that you make your ‘Gift Reasons’ option in your software program reflective of your organization’s core values. For example, at Guusto our Gift Reasons are ‘Listen, Learn, Lead, and Leap’. 

This does two things. First, it helps give those sending recognition some direction in regards to what kind of behaviours they should be rewarding in their colleagues’ daily work. Second, it reinforces the culture you want to build with your employees, and helps them connect your values to their daily work in a much more tangible way. Check out this blog for a deeper look at this process.

Go deeper with our guide to healthcare employee recognition programs

The advice in this post should give you a great starting point for implementing recognition for health care workers, but we dive into this topic even further in Employee Recognition for Healthcare: The Complete Guide. This free eBook covers:

  • The biggest issues facing healthcare people leaders today
  • How to use employee recognition to connect teams, improve performance, boost morale, and more in a healthcare environment
  • The challenges of implementing recognition in the sector
  • How to do it effectively

The guide also includes a fillable 3-page worksheet to help you create your healthcare recognition action plan! 

Fill out the form below to get your copy:

Employee Recognition for Healthcare

The complete guide to building an impactful recognition program for the healthcare sector and a culture where your team can thrive.

Skai Dalziel

Written by Skai Dalziel

Skai is the Co-Founder of Guusto. He leads the Customer Success Team, and loves helping HR leaders build workplace culture by sharing his experiences from working with thousands of companies.

Related posts