Recognizing Nurses on Nurses Week (and Throughout the Year)

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Nurse manager holding a heartWith National Nurses Week quickly approaching, you may be panicking about how to show your staff just how much you appreciate what they do. And with good cause.

Recognition that is personal and meaningful is an important ingredient for a healthy work environment for nurses, according to an American Association of Critical‐Care Nurses study. Meaningful recognition is tied to increased job satisfaction, commitment and collaboration for nurses. And when recognition is lacking, the study found nurse absenteeism, turnover and burnout increases, and patient care suffers.

So why don’t managers recognize employees more often?

Bob Nelson, author of “1001 Ways to Reward Employees,” says the No. 1 reason managers don’t recognize employees more often is they’re unsure how to do it well. A related reason is they’re uncomfortable with that type of behavior. Nelson also suspects many managers don’t give praise because they don’t receive it themselves.

“When recognition is a scarce commodity, people have a tendency to want to cling to it and, for that matter, keep in the spotlight for as long as possible because they are never sure when it will come around again,” Nelson says.

Meaningful recognition is tied to increased job satisfaction, commitment and collaboration for nurses.

Employee recognition

Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of “Encouraging the Heart: A Leader’s Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others,” say managers should schedule time each day to walk around and “catch” their staff “doing something right.”

Kouzes and Posner say too many managers focus on reprimanding employees for wrongdoing instead of praising them when they do something right. The authors say to reinforce desired behaviors, a manager needs to provide positive feedback five times more than negative feedback. During times of change, the ratio increases to 10:1.

Besides singing your employees’ praises, each song needs to be unique. Recognition that’s impersonal is worse than no recognition at all, and can actually demotivate staff, say Kouzes and Posner. Get to know each staff member individually, and if you’re not clear how each person prefers to receive recognition, ask.

  • Do they prefer public recognition or a private note of praise?
  • Is the written word or a verbal statement more effective?
  • When honoring a team accomplishment, how do the team members wish to celebrate?

As an added bonus, when you include your staff’s wishes in your plans, you show a participative leadership style. This style favors two-way communication and cooperation, and most RNs prefer this style over an authoritative style, reports Nursing Management.

Other qualities of effective recognition, according to Kouzes and Posner:

  • It’s timely. Praise the person as soon as possible after the performance.
  • It’s specific. Tell the person exactly what she or he did well.
  • It’s sincere. If you don’t mean it, don’t say it.
  • It’s proportional. “Excessive praise for a minor accomplishment will cause the person to question your motives,” say Kouzes and Posner.
  • It’s positive. Don’t give praise followed by “but.” The person won’t even hear the positive comment.

Meaningful recognition in nursing

A survey of social media sites reveals most nurses would prefer to have adequate staffing over gift items such as mugs. Token gifts can even stir up feelings of resentment and anger. Some of the more positive comments on a Reddit nursing thread include hospitals that organized guest speakers, continuing education classes and opportunities to interact with the hospital’s executive team during Nurses Week. Another favorite was the opportunity to select a gift from a menu of items.

A literature review of Nurses Week celebrations in the Journal of Nursing Administration suggests nurses also would like to see more public recognition of what nurses do. Nurses need to feel valued, and the public needs to learn more about what exactly nurses do.

It’s not that nurses aren’t admired by the public — nurses consistently rate as the most trusted profession each year. But until someone has a loved one who is hospitalized, people don’t fully grasp what nurses do. Nurses need public relations pros to get the word out on their behalf.

Nurses especially have a hard time accepting credit for their work, according to an article in Nursing Management. Author Suzanne Gordon says, nurses assume a cloak of “invisibility” and typically respond, “It was nothing, I was only doing my job,” when complimented by a patient or family member.

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