creating a culture of thanksCreating a culture of thanks in your hospital or senior care facility offers multiple benefits. Making good vibes a core part of your workplace culture can improve employee engagement and reduce turnover, enabling your organization to provide better care while also improving the bottom line.

“Academic research shows that gratitude reduces feelings of depression and stress,” says organizational consultant and Talent Symposium keynote Vicki Hess, a former nurse who specializes in helping healthcare organizations create stronger cultures that include more appreciation and recognition. Psychological research shows that employees who receive more gratitude and feel more grateful are better “organizational citizens” who regularly go beyond their job descriptions to be helpful and supportive to others.

Increased Engagement & Satisfaction Means Reduced Turnover & Absenteeism

Hess recently surveyed three generations of healthcare employees to find out what made them feel satisfied, energized, and productive. “The number one answer from a list of 14 things was receiving positive feedback for all three generations,” she says. “That shows you how important it is.”

Studies have found that reciprocal gratitude and appreciation also create deeper engagement and stronger team relationships. And engaged employees are more likely to display a genuinely caring attitude toward patients, according to an HR solutions case study.

Recognition even helps to stem costly trends in absenteeism and turnover. Research shows employees who feel appreciated and express gratitude have fewer health complaints and take fewer sick days. And acknowledgement from coworkers and bosses makes us more loyal. “I’ve never heard anyone come home from work and say, ‘if they compliment me one more time at this job, I’m quitting,’” says Hess. That’s important when you consider that every percentage point increase in nurse turnover costs an average hospital about $300,000 annually.

Encouraging a Culture of Thanks

Despite these upsides, too many organizations have competing priorities and heavy workloads, make it easy to ignore opportunities to acknowledge our peers. Try these ideas for encouraging gratitude in your workplace.

Leadership Must Take the Lead

“Like any cultural change, if leaders are engaged and visible in showing appreciation and driving it, it shows the organization that it’s important,” Hess says. To institutionalize recognition and gratitude, leaders can:

  • Model recognition and praise: Leaders can leverage many tactics to exhibit appreciation, including creating a recognition culture through personal thank-you notes, a rewards and recognition program, group shout-outs at team meetings and staff events, and highlighting achievements and appreciation on organizational blogs and social media accounts. “Some people are embarrassed by public recognition,” Hess cautions. “Look for ways of delivering meaningful recognition at work that are comfortable for them.”
  • Integrate appreciation into training and processes: Help managers and employees learn to give more and grow from recognition by including exercises and discussions in ongoing training or activities. “For instance, you could add gratitude to the morning huddle or bedside report for clinical staff to trade recognitions and appreciations,” Hess suggests. “That’s how you make it a habit.”
  • Promote appreciative inquiry and strengths-based change: Research indicates that gratitude and appreciation give us a greater sense we can achieve our goals. Approaching reviews and feedback from a strengths-based perspective instead of focusing on deficits encourages improvement rather than discourages bad behavior. Hess recommends a data-driven discussion model that avoids judgmental words. “Describe the situation, ask questions like, ‘what happened today,’ and listen to responses. Then talk about possible solutions and next steps.”

Use Technology to Make Recognition Easier

As you ingrain appreciation and acknowledgment in your workplace culture, leverage technology to deliver gentle reminders to help employees recognize coworkers. “Apps are a great use of technology to prompt us to say something,” Hess says. “You can’t ask someone to appreciate you — that’s awkward and it’s not the same if you have to ask for it.”

For example, HealthcareSource has a Remarks and Recognition feature in its performance appraisal solution that makes it easy for employees to pat colleagues on the back.

“When we think about recognizing employee effort, we can often jump directly to some kind of monetary, titular, or physical reward for that work, however, a simple ‘you did great and here’s why’ can be the difference between an engaged employee who stays with your organization and one who is on the way out the door,” says Matt McGuire, HealthcareSource Lead Product Manager focused on performance and learning solutions. “A Gallup study found that employees who aren’t given recognition were two times as likely to say they would leave their current job and few felt that they were being recognized, opening a huge opportunity for turnover.”

Highlighting the Remarks and Recognition feature through word-of-mouth is the first step to increasing employee use. Posting flyers around the facility and mentioning it during staff meetings also drives utilization.

Managers noting and discussing peer-to-peer feedback with recipients will also encourage employees to use it and pay it forward. “Encourage managers and above to take advantage of the tool to recognize their team members,” says McGuire. “If possible, collect selected recognition and take time to share it across the team or the organization and use that practice as a springboard for more engagement.”

Download our eBook “Modern Learning Practices in Healthcare: Develop and Maintain a Skilled and Engaged Workforce” to see how you can thank your employees with an improved learning and development strategy.

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About Margot Carmichael Lester

Margot Carmichael Lester is a North Carolina-based business and brand journalist who has covered healthcare and staffing for more than 20 years. She also writes about moviemaking for the International Cinematographers Guild, specializing in action cinema, and co-authored the award-winning teen writing book, Be a Better Writer. She earned her BA in journalism from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and is a rabid Tar Heel basketball fan.