Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D.
Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D.

After Ms. Ryan’s psychotherapy session, I stopped at the nursing station and asked the nurse for the name of her aide. The nurse pointed to a uniformed woman right next to me, who turned and asked me with hostility, “How do you know it was me?” Surprised, I responded, “I just wanted to tell you Ms. Ryan was really happy with how you did her hair today. She wanted me to thank you for her.” The aide appeared stunned. The nurse commented, “We usually expect complaints, not compliments.”


If your staff is more prepared for criticism than praise about its work, it’s an especially good time to consider positives of an employee recognition program.

Benefits of employee recognition programs

Studies show that employee engagement, productivity and customer service are about 14% better in companies where recognition occurs, compared to companies without a program that acknowledges their efforts. In addition, companies with an effective recognition program have a 31% lower voluntary turnover rate than those with an ineffective program.

Ineffective programs tend to reward employees for tenure rather than performance.  (Apparently those 10-year pins aren’t making the desired impact.) Effective programs offer specific feedback about the actions of workers and make it easy to provide that feedback.

Interestingly, there’s a substantial disconnect between the 80% of senior leaders who believe their employees are being recognized on a monthly basis and the 22% of individual workers who report their peers being acknowledged that frequently.

The Oregon Health Care Association’s Staff Retention Toolkit is an excellent resource for information about different types of Employee Recognition Programs (see page 46 in it). The toolkit notes these additional benefits:

·      Performance standards for employees are clearly outlined.

·      Employees recognize that these are facility standards and not based on the whim of a supervisor.

·      The need for discipline is reduced, creating a more pleasant work environment.

·      Job performance is improved even when facility leadership isn’t present.

Tips for creating a successful employee recognition program

Josh Bersin, in his 2012 Forbes Magazine article, offers suggestions for creating a successful employee recognition program that can be applied to the long-term care setting.

1. Recognize employees based on specific results and behaviors.

For example, if we want to encourage good customer service, employees should hear exactly what they did right when dealing with a resident or family member. A supervisor could acknowledge a worker not only with a comment such as, “Nice job!” but could add, “The way you took the time to listen really calmed her down.” These details can also be offered at a more formal employee recognition event. (I’m reminded of the way student-of-the-month awards are disseminated at my young daughter’s school. When getting honored for “caring,” for instance, the principal briefly explains what happened in the class to prompt the award: “She helped a student who had fallen, offering her a hand to get up and a tissue to wipe her tears.”)

2. Implement peer-to-peer recognition rather than top-down.

While it’s great to have the boss recognize the accomplishments of an employee, research shows that it’s even better to be recognized by peers who know the effort put forth on a day-to-day basis. Top-down acknowledgement often misses quiet but hard-working employees. Bersin notes a trend toward using social platforms that allow peers to recognize each other through a publicly displayed “point” or “dollar” system. Though it would be nice to have a high-tech acknowledgment system, resourceful long-term care workers can undoubtedly find a way to manage this via low-tech means, perhaps using a bulletin board in the staff dining room or lobby.

3. Share recognition stories.

The more ways your organization can share these successful moments with other workers, the more valued the rewarded employees feel and the more opportunities you have to highlight the behaviors your company prizes. Newsletters, blog posts, bulletin boards, and mentions in monthly or weekly meetings are all ways of getting out the message.

4. Make recognition easy and frequent.

Bersin’s company set up an online program so that employees can use their monthly points allowance to reward coworkers quickly and visibly, with “amazing” results.  I’m imagining a company-wide Facebook-like system where people could post good deeds and then others can “Like” them. I observed a low-tech way to accomplish this during a recent visit to a nursing home that had “Merit-gram” forms at their front desk. Visitors could quickly note a positive interaction with a staff member and hand it in at the front desk. Offering Merit-gram forms on every floor would allow community members to more easily acknowledge workers – and facilitate more resident participation in the process.

5. Tie recognition to your own company’s values or goals.

Are you trying to reduce rehospitalizations? Lower costs? Improve attendance and timeliness? Focus staff acknowledgement on actions that achieve these specific goals. For an added boost, offer simultaneous training so that staff members have the tools to meet your objectives. For example, while I provided training to educate staff about how to meet the psychosocial needs of a facility’s changing resident population, the organization focused their employee recognition efforts on good customer service, reinforcing the training goals.

Does your organization have an employee recognition program or method that makes a positive impact? Let’s recognize it using the Comment section below.

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD, author of The Savvy Resident’s Guide, is an accomplished speaker and consultant with over 17 years of experience as a psychologist in long-term care. This blog complements her award-winning website, MyBetterNursingHome.com, which has more on how to create long-term care where EVERYBODY thrives.