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I am working on improving how staff members on my unit are recognized and rewarded. What are the key factors I should remember when developing new programs?

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Recognizing and rewarding employees are integral components of any retention program. Work in healthcare organizations is laborious and stressful, and most nurses choose their career because of an inherent desire to make a difference in people's lives. Recognition of their contributions to quality patient care and peer relations affirms that they are succeeding in making a positive difference.

Consider several principles as you develop recognition and reward programs and activities. There is nothing worse than thinking you have a thoughtful, exciting new way to recognize staff only to realize that your employees did not appreciate the effort at all.

Be genuine in all of your activities, and make recognition personal: You must be sincere and genuine in any recognition or reward action. Staff members quickly realize whether your words or actions are appropriate for the occasion. Your thoughts do not have to be inspired, but they must be inspiring. The purpose of recognition and rewards are to sincerely thank staff for something they have already given, not to warm them up for something you want.

Award recognition and rewards fairly and equitably: A cardinal rule of healthcare is "do no harm," and the same holds true for recognition and rewards. Your goal is to demonstrate appreciation for a job well done, but you do not want to alienate certain groups of employees.

Ask staff how they would like to be recognized: You might form a Recognition and Reward Task Force to survey or hold a brainstorming session to determine ways staff members prefer to be recognized. Some staff do not like speaking in front of a group, some staff prefer no public recognition, and some like to be publicly recognized. Therefore, know which staff prefer which types of recognition.

Individualize recognition activities: Know your employee's life interests and priorities, and look for a great recognition or reward action that matches those interests. The most effective actions match the employee's life interests and priorities.

Make recognition and reward part of your work culture: Make formal and informal recognition and reward a usual and customary part of your everyday work life. Establish formal recognition programs such as Employee of the Month and Employee of the Year. Encourage staff to recognize positive behaviors in colleagues on a daily basis.

Laura Cook Harrington, RC, RN, MHA, CPHQ, CHCQM

(March 2010)