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Khrys Kantarze, BS, MA

That’s right! Recognition programs without on-going day-to-day individual recognition are like icing without the cake… it gives you a bellyache!

Recognition programs are icing, not cake! Cake is the day–to-day stuff that takes place consistently, sending employees the message that you’ve noticed who they are and what they do individually. When you implement a program without the day-to-day actions, employees see it as a lame attempt at recognition and passively show their disapproval by not participating.

Have you ever thrown the staff a party or have a Christmas luncheon only to have a few people show up, or implement a “new initiative” only to watch eyes roll or arms cross? A common problem in today’s healthcare facilities is that management will frequently come out with “recognition programs” to motivate employees, only to find nobody cares. Why? Well, quite frankly managers are too busy to notice or acknowledge the positive contributions on a daily basis, so employees perceive nobody cares about them individually.

Let’s look at one example: we implement an attendance program to reward people for perfect attendance and provide an incentive to encourage more people to achieve perfect attendance. Management thinks it’s a great idea, and then nobody cares. It’s because as a leadership team, we don’t have the day to day behaviors that send the message that we care about the people achieving, or striving to achieve, perfect attendance.

Here’s what typically happens. A CNA who has had perfect attendance calls in. Everyone knows this person rarely, if ever, calls in and yet she is treated like everyone else. The person taking the call doesn’t even ask if she’s OK (usually because they’re freaking out trying to figure out who’s going to replace them, it’s the third call in this morning). Another example is the CNA who has been calling in has finally heard you and has shown up for work and on-time for two solid weeks (a new record for this employee) and nobody notices. No “way to go”, no “thanks we really appreciate it”, nothing! Both employees come away with the perception that what they do doesn’t really matter.

Let’s rewind and look at the two scenarios again. The CNA with perfect attendance calls in, the nurse taking the call takes a moment to ask if everything is ok and if there is anything the facility can do? In addition to that, when the employee returns to work, the supervisor finds her and stops to check on her. WOW! What a message that sends. OK, some of you reading this may be thinking that’s unrealistic, the charge nurse takes the call and there’s no way to ensure how they handle it (well there is, but that’s another seminar). The second part of the scenario can still take place and would only take a moment. The goal is less calls in, so taking the time to notice when a good employee calls in takes less time in the long run. It only took a moment but clearly sent the message to this employee that management cares and knows who she is and that she’s reliable.

The same is true with the employee who had the attendance problem and finally was trying to improve. Let’s say after the first week of perfect attendance the supervisor that had counseled with the employee came up to her and said “way to go” and “thank you!” Now the employee clearly knows that someone noticed her attempt to improve. The manager’s actions are reinforcing more of what she wants and the employee feels noticed as an individual. Now when we implement an attendance program, employees are excited. By making these few simple changes in our actions, we’ve created cake and our new program is icing on the cake, which is yummy.

So often, leaders think its money or a plaque that will motivate employees when all they really want is to know you care and recognize their individual efforts. The bottom line is... do you really know who your people are? If you want your next celebration or gathering to be a big success, work on the small daily recognition. Employees will show up and celebrate. Remember if they don’t show up or participate, then you probably have too much icing. Get the leadership team working on more cake!

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