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The dire need for rewards and recognition programs in healthcare organizations.

When doctors, nurses, and other frontline healthcare warriors feel the heat of stress and adversary, leaders must step in to help them recuperate—by unleashing the tonic of genuine recognition, generous appreciation, and meaningful rewards.

While the healthcare warriors are doing so much for us now it's time to return the favor. But how? Rewards and recognition programs in the healthcare industry are the perfect way to do this.

Appreciating healthcare workers, recognizing doctors, giving incentives, recognizing nurses and other frontline workers is what we should do. Rewards and recognition programs in the healthcare sector are a dire need.

doctors and nurses are real life heroes
“Our heroes don’t just belong to the past, they live with us today.” - Clare Wright, Author & professor of history (La Trobe University).
Thanos from Avengers

Avengers: the untold tale

On 27 April 2018, Marvel Studios released its highly anticipated movie, Infinity Wars. The worst fear of every fan was confirmed when supervillain Thanos eventually succeeded in grabbing the 6 stones that control the entire galaxy. Worse was to come.

They watched in unmitigated horror as—undeterred by the Avengers’s best efforts. Thanos put on the stones towards the end of the movie and snapped his fingers. The next thing we knew, half the universe—and everybody living in it—had been obliterated. Amongst them, some of our favorite avenger's heroes.

If only the nightmare had ended there. Cut to a year and a half later. It is the December of 2019 when the world gets wind of a weird strain of virus called the coronavirus that had gone on a killing spree recently in Wuhan, the sprawling capital of China’s Hubei province.

Worry Lines deepen when experts warn that the virus doesn’t have a cure. Worst fears come true when the virus is declared highly contagious. What followed next was a heartrending drama of death as the body count rose faster than an XBOX video game, before going off the charts.

It was Thanos all over again. And to check his chilling, inexorable progress, arose a new bunch of Avengers. This time, they wore no capes and carried no shields.

Doctors, nurses, hospital professionals in every emergency room and ICU facility across the world, caregivers, paramedics, support staff, EMT’s, pulmonologists, home health workers, nursing home staff, housekeeping teams, clerks, janitors, community organizers, and several others from healthcare and allied professions emerged as saviors of a dark new day, to protect the planet from an enemy no one had imagined could ever exist. And was, therefore, barely equipped to counter or confront.

The extraordinary effort of these ‘ordinary folks’ who didn’t come with the powers of a Thor, a Doctor Strange, or an Iron Man—is now the stuff of legend. America, and indeed the world, suddenly had a whole new army of Captain America’s.

Batman The Hero We Need - love quotes

Thank you. But first, sorry.

Did the world really deserve this heroism? We can debate that forever, but the truth of the matter is that before COVID19 hit us like a wrecking ball from hell, the healthcare community was taking a bit of a bad rap – for what the rest of the world perceived as increasing instances of callousness and greed.

At the very least, we had become accustomed and comfortable to taking them for granted. And even after they had put up an unprecedented show of valor during the pandemic, risking their own lives to bring patients back from the brink, many of us have been blasé. After all, weren’t they just “doing their job?”

We may owe them a “Sorry!” just for that.

Because paradoxically, it is precisely for carrying on their ‘job’ as if it was just another day at the office, for ignoring the voice in their heads that they were dangerously close to being laid out on the patient bed themselves, that our doctors, nurses, care-givers and other frontline warriors have proven themselves as greats.

“I’d never practiced medicine outside of Arkansas. It was terrifying. There was so much we didn’t know about COVID-19. (But) we will take care of our community,”

Rebecca Martin, a pulmonologist from Arkansas, is fighting the U.S.’s third wave in her own hospital, working 12 to 14-hour days.

“We do our job every day without people saying thank you. We’re the forgotten heroes, the underpaid heroes.”

Tanya Lynne Robinson from Cleveland, suffering from asthma and multiple sclerosis and at risk of contracting a severe case of COVID19, goes about her duty in the garb of unsung invisibility which her status as Home-Health-Aide carries. “I’m prepared to do whatever I need to do,” she still finds it in her to say.

More “sorry!” is in order.

After all, every time we saluted a frontline warrior, comparing them to the army which risks limb and life for national security, we were guilty, without meaning to, of overlooking the fact that no nation ever sends its troops to war without adequate tools, ammunition, and protection.

With PPE (personal protective equipment) in short supply, near-zero training and lack of best practices (due to the complete absence of precedence), and no vaccine in sight, the early days of this sordid saga was a lopsided battle, grisly enough to make the hair on one’s back stand on end.

Every single day, we sent our doctors, nurses, and caregivers out into the minefield - unfairly exposed at every step, sometimes even without a mandatory N95 mask, and in the full knowledge that it could well be their last day of duty.

Let’s not forget that many of them may not even have signed up for a ‘life and death’ assignment when they had entered these jobs. They certainly did not anticipate their own families to come in the line of infection fire.

But they shoved those thoughts out of their mind – suiting up nonchalantly for a mission the world prayed they wouldn’t back out of. They didn’t.

An army of 'lone warriors'

Involved in protecting the community, doctors, physicians, nurses, caregivers, and other medical staff were often left to fend for their own safety. They either forgot to protect themselves or simply didn’t have the time or support to do so adequately. It’s not just doctors, physicians, and nurses.

There was, for instance, usually nobody around to inform Housekeeping staff—in charge of disinfecting ventilator machines, call buttons, bed rails, light switches, and side tables - whether the patient whose room they were cleaning was COVID19 infected.

Several frontline workers were barred from accessing basic benefits and sunk into financial hardships from medical or funeral expenses. Families of deceased ‘healthcare heroes’ continue to fight for their right to worker’s compensation.

They took it all on the chin

The faces of healthcare were hit badly. Here are the stats: On April 2021 alone, over 3600 US healthcare workers had died in COVID’s first year. Nurses and support staff accounted for most of the deaths, more than 50% were below the age of 60, and a majority were people of color.

And served a brand of justice that was blind (to racial or social differences)

A study confirms that the number of frontline healthcare folks, who tested positive for COVID19, was eleven times higher than the general population. Like, true heroes, they pushed forward—not just relentlessly but selflessly, ignoring differences of race, geography, and background.

An investigation by Harvard Medical School discovered that workers of color had shown a greater propensity to care for COVID-19 patients, despite being nearly twice as susceptible to contacting the coronavirus due to the vulnerable communications they come from. In fact, immigrants made up nearly a fifth of healthcare’s ‘Fightback Force.’

They didn't let us down. Time to return the sentiment.

No amount of appreciation for doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals can match up to their levels of involvement. But we have to try, don’t we?

It’s true that a start has been made. Both accolades and affection have been pouring in from all directions. Governments are considering reforming laws to allow for greater protection, capability building, and support (both on-the-job and of the emotional kind that’s imperative for mental health) for doctors, nurses, and frontline healthcare workers.

TIME magazine has honored the tribe as Guardians of the Year on its cover. Kenneth T. Segel and John S. Toussaint suggest an action plan comprising, amongst other things, (A) the prioritization of the safety of healthcare staff as a fundamental and non-negotiable value and (B) refraining from abusing frontline caregiver heroism as an excuse to shirk our responsibility towards their safety.

Frontline heroes

‍Moving past sorry & thanks into bravo territory

However, we need to do more. Most importantly, we have to go from a one-time knee-jerk reaction to a year-round program that acknowledges, recognizes, and rewards doctors, nurses, and other frontline heroes of healthcare - memorably and consistently.

New heroes are coming. Is the welcome plan in place?

Their epic avatar during 2020-21 isn’t the only reason why we must put in place a robust framework to appreciate, reward, and recognize doctors, nurses, and other frontline personae in our healthcare workforce.

We must also make room to welcome a fresh crop of workers, and keep them interested in a job that’s becoming increasingly complex and dangerous.

As they arrive in large numbers, we stand on the tipping point of a revolution in the sector. There are many reasons behind this influx/exodus.

As new legislations shake up the system, new initiatives look to unlock and encourage untapped potential and various drivers (such as the growing number of senior citizens, rise in complex diseases, changing definitions of health, greater access to health insurance, and – not least – the shrinking quantum of jobs in other sectors during the pandemic) create a surge in demand for professionals in the space, healthcare is becoming an increasingly attractive career choice.

An Inside Look at Healthcare Hiring in the U.S. Right Now | LinkedIn Talent  Blog

‍Workplaces must get recognition ready fast for the next generation of healthcare heroes

More Stats: US Labor Department Economists predict that employment in the US healthcare sector will grow much quicker than the average for all other occupations - by as much as 15% - and will add nearly 2.4 million new jobs between 2019 to 2029.

The ‘Big Five’ healthcare roles on the rise in the sector are nurses, home care & personal health aides, mental health specialists, massage therapists, and respiratory therapists.

The WHO (World Health Organization) informs us that the world is short of 6 million nurses. McKinsey & Company, in its report, similarly expect the greatest growth in labor demand by 2030 among health aides, technicians, wellness occupations, and health professionals.

USA’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (B.L.S.) concurs, stressing that the healthcare and social assistance sector is expected to add the newest jobs. Data scientists at LinkedIn, who have been studying over 15,000 job titles to uncover roles that have grown the most, have this to say

“While there was already demand some of these health care positions, the pandemic intensified that. Since 2019, hiring for healthcare positions has increased more than 34%.”

Engage your healthcare heroes and reap the rewards

A Gallup poll showed that organizations benefit from 21% higher productivity – and, as a happy bonus, a ‘stickier staff’ that’s more likely to stay on in the company - when it compellingly engages its workers and employees.

Bain & Company cranks up that figure significantly, telling us that engaged employees are up to 44% more productive than workers who merely feel satisfied. They also tell us that an employee who feels engaged and inspired can be a staggering 125% more productive than just a ‘satisfied staffer’.

Case study: Data gathered by Press Ganey has shown that hospitals that demonstrated improvement in HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) survey areas – such as employee engagement and better patient experience – recorded the highest delta/enhancement in business performance, profit margins, and patient’s ratings.

Businesses with the most engaged employees are 22% more profitable, and exceed the financial performance of their peers by 73% (University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School), than those with under-engaged employees. (Gallup).

Workers and employees who feel that their voice is being heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work. A Wyat Watson study concurs, indicating possibilities of up to 26% higher revenue output per employee in an engaging environment.

The flip side is equally revealing: The average organization’s biggest productivity losses have been, more often than not, caused by its disengaged employees who, incidentally, account for less than 20% of the force.

A workplace that is more energized, alert, and engaged will also be safer with healthier and fitter employees. 70% of employers have rebooted their physical ambiance design to trigger healthy behavior amongst workers and employees.

Case study: An opinion survey comprising 29,000 healthcare employees established powerful connections between employee engagement and patient satisfaction, citing the following findings:

↣ 85% of engaged employees displayed a genuinely caring attitude towards patients, compared to only 38% disengaged employees.

↣ 91% of engaged employees recognize their work as dedicated to patient care, compared to only 42% of disengaged employees.

↣ 82% of engaged employees would want to use the facility where they work as a healthcare provider, compared to only 22% of disengaged employees.

Workplaces that make room for emotions like gratitude and empathy retain their best workers far more consistently. In a study, 96% of respondents said that an empathetic culture will make them stay on with the team.

Engaged workers care for their work more, and by extension, feel less urge to ‘bunk’. Studies have shown that they exhibit up to 41% lower absenteeism.

As a corollary, engaged employees are less likely to quit an organization (resulting in up to 59% less turnover, in fact) saving up to 40% of the employee’s annual expense, which is the usual cost of a rehire. The numbers are in: Disengaged employees have been costing companies in the USA up to $550 billion annually.

The reverse is equally true. Having powerful engagement, rewards and recognition programs for healthcare employees can turn them into ‘brand champions’, spreading the good word and attracting the best talent.

89% of workers at companies that support employee well-being initiatives are more likely to recommend their company as a good place to work.

There’s more. Employees, be it nurses, physicians & doctors, or other professionals in healthcare that are regularly applauded tend to be grateful with a greater sense of belonging and pride for the workplace.

The positivity is usually transferred to patients - resulting in vastly enhanced patient experiences and medical outcomes, and consequently a big competitive edge for the organization.

It was noticed in a study that companies with engaged employees had the power to generate 89% greater customer (patient) satisfaction and 50% higher customer (patient) loyalty as compared to their disengaged peers (Hay Group).

Customers (patients and patrons) are quick to note and appreciate the extra bit of convenience and friendliness and can display up to 16% greater willingness to engage the services of such a hospital, nursing home, or healthcare organization.

The other side of the coin only reinforces the learning: Greater than half (54%, to be precise) have stopped associating with a company due to poor service. (Accenture).

Finally, 77% of employees agree a strong culture allows them to do their best work.

Regenerate your healthcare force with the healing touch of recognition and appreciation

Be it high-stress situations, long hours, a fair degree of personal sacrifice, inadequate resources, or the constant scrutiny of the public, workplace morale and job satisfaction in healthcare is a graph that’s constantly fluctuating.

Doctors, nurses, and other ‘frontliners’ experience a perpetual state of burn-out (61% of them, according to a survey) and disengagement.

↣ A Gallup study reveals that nearly 70% of Americans are disengaged at work.

↣ According to a study performed by the AMA (American Medical Association) and the Mayo Clinic, 54.4% of healthcare providers carried signs of burnout. The highest was in the departments of emergency medicine, physical medicine, rehabilitation, family medicine, urology, and radiology specialties.

↣ In a separate examination, 45% of primary care physicians confessed they would quit if they could.

To keep morale and efficiency boosted, and retain the best talent, it is important to keep your healthcare and frontline staff engaged, appreciated, and motivated.

According to O.C. Tanner, 78% of employees are highly engaged when they experience strong peer-to-peer recognition from their organizations.

Recognition doesn’t always need to flow top-down: When co-workers, colleagues, and extended teams, recognize each other, these actions can create powerful forces of interpersonal interaction, solidarity, and culture.

HBR says that the organizations that help physicians to live up to their aspirations as caregivers are the ones that improve efficiency, deliver the best outcomes, increase their market share, and retain and recruit the best people.

Make no mistakes: Employers & leaders are constantly being judged and weighed by their employees as well as staff on these parameters.

87% of employees, for example, expect their employer to support them in balancing work and personal commitments.

Do healthcare employee recognition programs really matter?

Studies prove that people across walks of life—including doctors and nurses—are motivated by simple acts of acknowledgment and appreciation. They deserve and want to be recognized and rewarded for their contributions.

“We all want to be recognized for our good work, from frontline staff to nursing leaders.” — Anne Jessie, DNP, RN, president-elect of the American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing (AAACN), and senior director of clinical operations at Evolent Health in Roanoke, Va.
“Nurses are strong and courageous, but also human. It’s essential that employers create a strong bond of trust and emotion with their staff. Building trust and loyalty can be achieved with intentional and consistent design and practice every day. Not just during Nurses’ week.” — Deena Gilland, National Director of AAACN and Vice President & CNO at Emory Ambulatory Patient Services Operations at Emory Healthcare, Atlanta.
Take employee recognition to the next level and experience a 90% surge in Employee Engagement!  

Best practices for developing rewards and recognition programs for healthcare employees

To keep your healthcare RnR program's momentum well and alive, make sure to keep a few things in mind:

1. Set the stage and build the culture

Before you can incentivize involvement, express gratitude, share recognition, articulate adulation, stimulate attachment, and reward performance, you must give your healthcare teams an empowering ‘playing field’ that lets them be their best, shine their brightest, and become ‘eligible for more applause’.

2. Build an enabling workplace with free-flowing communication channels

89% of HR leaders agree that ongoing peer feedback and check-ins are key for successful outcomes. In addition, mentoring and gamification opportunities build more avenues for everyone to create impact.

3. Have a talk

Find out what your nurses, doctors, physicians, and healthcare frontline teams expect from you. What are their big dreams and motivations are? And how they want to achieve them.

Figure out as close a fit as you can between the unique individual purpose and the big business ‘Why’ (raison d’etre or grand purpose) to create personalized incentive – appreciation — award/reward programs that can keep your frontline healthcare workers involved, engaged, and happy.

Case study: Statements of shared purpose are effective because they establish an organizational orientation rather than set piecemeal targets, but leaders must explicitly promote them and put the principles into action.

The Cleveland Clinic, for instance, uses an array of communication tools to reinforce its message of shared purpose. An internal training video developed by the clinic, for example, is a vivid reminder to physicians of the need for empathy and compassion.

3. Stay grateful

Build a gratitude-driven culture. But do remember that not all ‘gratitude-worthy’ achievements are headline warranting milestones. Sometimes, acknowledging the very existence of a peer in another department through a peer to peer recognition and rewards programs can go a long way to building good energy.

Find the little things and make them big. A meaningful thank you note, a ‘personalized’ gift, or just some ‘good old-fashioned catch-up’ over coffee works great.

This can be as powerful as a more formal employee recognition and rewards program, and act as a refreshing and welcome gesture for healthcare employees who are perpetually harried.

4. Do not discriminate

If you have recognized, rewarded, and appreciated your doctors and physicians for having ticked a certain box, the same yardstick—in spirit—must be followed with your nurses, EMTs, hospital support staff, and other medical professionals.

Employee excellence and appreciation programs that are not transparent or democratic are not just unfair, but huge morale sappers as well.

5. Customize recognition

Make no mistakes: Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals are acutely aware and proud of the importance and impact of their profession on society. Your goal as a leader is simple. Transfer that passion and attachment—the one they have for their calling/profession - onto their job/workplace (yes, the two can be vastly different sometimes).

The first step is to make sure your employee reward and recognition programs reflect the respect and dignity that doctors, nurses, and the healthcare frat associate with their profession and expect from society.

Once that is sorted, make sure appreciation and rewards are aligned with the personality and ‘wish-list (desires) of the recipient, and commensurate with the nature and magnitude of the occasion or achievement.

Some of us relish being recognized in public, while others prefer to be acknowledged more discreetly – so find out and follow the individual’s choice. Do not have rigid protocols and ‘methods’ in place - pick and choose the right way to express appreciation to your doctors, nurses, and the frontline - basis the occasion and situation.

Meaningful Recognition: What exactly is that?

Nurses must be recognized and must recognize others, for the value they bring to a health organization. Here’s how the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) looks at the idea of meaningful recognition.

Even though nursing is a rewarding profession, it is equally challenging. That's why recognizing the efforts of nurses in a more meaningful and individualized way helps not only provides well-deserved honor but also enhances a sense of value.

6. Blend non-monetary rewards with monetary incentives

While cash remains evergreen in its allure and utility, incentives for healthcare employees and programs must also factor in non-monetary methods of recognition for optimum results. Non-monetary and ‘psychological’ rewards carry their own novel advantages.

They are often ‘valued more than they cost’, stand out by breaking the homogeneous monotony of money with interesting and memorable avatars, and, if planned intuitively, can touch us at a deeper level.

Some ways to integrate them into your healthcare rewards programs and employee incentive programs are… showing people their impact on the organization, minimizing barriers to productivity to help them do their work better and boost job satisfaction.

Creating a warm and family-like culture where people feel a sense of acceptance and kinship, allowing for sufficient autonomy and flexibility that brings joy back to work, ensuring safety and mental health at work.

Creating an equal opportunity workplace where diversity can flourish, providing enough windows of relaxation and unwinding, giving insurance and holiday breaks with the family, and creating opportunities to grow at a personal and professional level (according to Robert Half, businesses with a strong learning culture – which you can boost via gamification, mentorship programs, and coaching nudges - enjoy up to 50% increase in employee engagement and retention rates).

How to appreciate frontline healthcare workers?

Put on your thinking cap and you’ll come up with plenty of ideas. A short and quick list of healthcare employee recognition and rewards ideas, whether it’s for doctors, nurses, and other healthcare warriors:

  • Awards, plaques, certificates, badges & titles
  • Formal dinners
  • Induction to the hall of fame
  • Mentions on owned, earned, and paid media channels & platforms / PR / newspaper
  • Family events
  • Enabling ambiances with more authority, fewer restrictions, robust resources, better training & development, and fair appraisals
  • Scholarships & financial benefits
  • Benefits for family
  • Gifts and experiences
  • Promotions
“Reward and recognition in healthcare tie the other pillars—especially community. Part of what makes or breaks any hospitalist’s job is the group you work with and how you get along. This has to do with how you’re viewed and how you’re rewarded and supported.”

‍Adrienne Bennett, CSTF member, MD, Ph.D., Ohio State University Medical Center, Columbus.

7. Minute-to-minute recognition: rewarding on-the-go

While an annual or quarterly rewards and recognition program in the healthcare industry are a tested way to keep your healthcare team involved and engaged, appreciation and acknowledgement don’t always need to be ‘documented and postponed’ for the biannual R&R evening.

Build a culture where little and large moments are recognized on the spot, and preferably in ‘full public view’ – to charge up everyday moments at work.

8. Convert appreciation into points

Apply the magic of ‘lateral thinking’ to add spark and warmth to your recognition and incentive plan for doctors and nurses. Design a workflow where acts and actions attract ‘Greatness Points’ in real-time.

So for example, if someone grabs a coffee for a colleague, s/he picks up 10 points right there. When someone does a triple shift in the ICU to cover for a staff crunch, s/he wins 100 points straightaway.

Great reviews from a patient? 70 points on the spot for the entire team. You add up points at the end of the month and honor the winners in a cozy canteen get-together, after which they can redeem their points for things they like and love.

9. Get creative with your approach to recognizing and rewarding doctors, nurses, and other healthcare frontline staff

Invigorate and turbocharge your people rewards systems with an innovative mish-mash of monetary, non-monetary, emotional, and small-budget rewards (perks, benefits, prizes, mementos, experiences) that deliver delight and deepen attachment, all year long.

Looking for appreciation gifts and healthcare employee recognition ideas to reboot employee engagement, rewards, and recognition programs for nurses, doctors, and other healthcare heroes?

  • Personally signed Thank You notes, cross-departmental pot lunches where everyone contributes with a homemade dish, surprise gift hampers in the middle of the week for a stressed-out team.
  • Group photo-ops, fun titles for members that celebrate their quirks and habits (for example, ‘Giraffe King/Queen’ for those who bravely and habitually volunteer to stick their neck out for difficult jobs).
  • Fun certificates that admire and acknowledge special talents & natural abilities, secretly shooting a video of your teams-at-work and splashing them all over the company intranet and social networks.
  • Fun ‘post-it’ performance reviews slapped on office walls and furniture, slipping thoughtful gifts in the middle of work (art, books, coasters, painting set, toolkits, cookbooks, cosmetics, grooming accessories, mood lamps, inspiration cards, wine holders, gym memberships, club memberships, gardening kits, puzzle book, gift vouchers and so on).
  • Luxury accessories & gadgets, vacations & getaways… are all great ways to warm the heart and build lifelong bonds.

Here are some more. Let this just be a cue for you to start building your own version of interesting recognition and applause ideas that emotionally connect with your doctors, nurses, and frontline/emergency healthcare workers.

Honour, empower, and transform your healthcare and frontline workforce with 'real-time recognition & rewarding'.

Empuls lets you do precisely that- in a consistent, timely, and digital way

For leaders, Empuls - the digital way to applaud contribution and salute achievers instantly and memorably – represents an endless, unforgettable, and completely customizable universe of rewards such as gift cards, branded currencies, perks, discounts, merchandize, utilities, indulgences, luxuries, bespoke catalogs, and personalized experiences.

That's not All.

Empuls is easy to implement, integrates effortlessly with your current technologies and systems like CRM, HRMS, PRM, Surveys, and more.

And apart from breezy customizability and deep personalizable, Empuls' omnichannel nature makes it compatible with any delivery medium your systems are comfortable with, such as On-screen, SMS, email, WhatsApp, QR codes, notifications, and several others.

Finally, Empuls' data-rich reports and analytics bring you never-before visibility and insights into every aspect of your incentive ecosystem (usage patterns, spending patterns, ROI) so that you can keep optimizing and improving it.

90% of large enterprises employ the technology of some kind to implement their rewards and incentives programs. Join the force with Empuls.

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Manoj Agarwal

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Manoj Agarwal is the Co-Founder and CPO at Xoxoday. He is an MBA from IIM Kozhikode comes with 14 years of experience in building companies, technology, product, marketing, & business excellence.