Reward and recognition as motivators in healthcare

Picture of Suzie Creighton

Published on 11 February 2021 at 15:36

by Suzie Creighton

Reward and recognition - 01

Reward and recognition are widely used across healthcare to help with staff motivation and studies have been carried out to measure and prove the success of these methods.


In healthcare, particularly in nursing, the churn and high rate of attrition can be a demotivating factor. Healthcare teams can find themselves working in highly stressful situations, which you might think is ‘out of the control’ of the organisation. But there is one element that is within the control of the organisation: the appreciation, such as recognising and rewarding team members for their participation, hard work and for going ‘above and beyond.’

Roberts and Bea said in 2001: ‘Organizations can achieve balance between production efficiency and reliability by balancing and aligning their organizational goals; accountability mechanisms; and reward, incentive, and compensation mechanisms.’  In this article we are going to look at why reward, recognition and appreciation can be so motivating in healthcare and the tools you can use to help make this process easier.



Recognising effort to motivate staff

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) recognises that clinician burnout is at a record high and recommends that leaders understand and identify what is diminishing joy in work for their teams, so that they can address these issues.  

The IHI says that ‘The most joyful, productive, engaged staff feel both physically and psychologically safe, appreciate the meaning and purpose of their work, have some choice and control over their time, experience camaraderie with others at work, and perceive their work life to be fair and equitable.’

Recognition can be motivating and rewards can help retain staff. If leaders can publicly reward teams for their success and show appreciation, employees feel valued and that their work has purpose. This can shift the feeling of being unappreciated to feeling more positive and help motivate employees to keep performing well.

Investing in a scheme such as Joy in Work is one way to help recognise staff effort. A good example of this is the team at East London NHS Foundation Trust (ELFT) who wanted to enhance the experience of their teams at work, so that they could better serve their communities. In 2018, they bought together 21 clinical and non-clinical teams from across the trust to create a cohort of the Enjoying Work learning system. Through this work, teams have continued to learn how to foster joyful places to work using team building exercises, Quality Improvement (QI) methods, and other tools.  

While the Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI) also has a framework ‘Improving Joy in Work’, which gives really good examples of recognition.  Healthcare sites that practice motivational recognition - and reward as motivation - in their settings will be able to develop a deeper connection with their teams, and make employees more motivated and engaged, which all leads to enhanced quality of care. 

Identifying and then recognising effort can be difficult if you don’t have access to the right tools to measure and share success. There are solutions you can use – such as Life QI - which enable you to streamline and monitor all your QI projects. Having everything in one place and on one platform means that you can not only empower staff, but also keep an eye on where recognition is due.  



Celebrate success for a positive working environment

Celebrating success can really help create a positive work environment and ensures that people are recognised for their commitment to quality care. There is a school of thinking that encourages people to really shout about success when something good happens! There are techniques and resources to support this thinking, including methods such as Joy in Work, which we mentioned earlier, and which the IHI championed in their White Paper ‘IHI Framework for Improving Joy in Work’

Good examples of celebrating improvement journeys include ELFT, who hold regular celebration events to help share their QI journeys.

Another good example of a reward and recognition scheme is The York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, who have spent some years developing a reward and recognition philosophy.  Their aim was to enhance the traditional NHS reward package with innovative methods.

Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust (LCFT) put on a range of celebrations to share good practice. This includes the Good Practice Visit, which is a visit to a team or service in order to celebrate good practice and quality improvements. In their Quality Account of 2018 / 2019 one of their key quality priorities was building continuous improvement capability and celebrating successes. They also say: 'A key principle of the Trust’s vision is to listen to feedback in order to learn and improve quality as well as celebrate success and good practice.’ [5]

Using tools such as Life QI means that you can monitor success easily, and then share and celebrate. The more you celebrate success and share best practice, the more you can motivate staff to embody this kind of success and emulate good work.



Share success stories to encourage staff engagement

Sharing success stories is another way to spread Joy in Work and ensure that people are recognised for what they do. Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust (CNWL) regularly share success stories in their regular blogs and newsletters. This is a really effective way to spread good news and encourage staff engagement. The team also use tools such as Life QI to help share their success stories regularly.

In the CQC report ‘Quality improvement in hospital trusts Sharing learning from trusts on a journey of QI’ the whole focus of the report is about sharing learning and success, so that others can benefit from expertise and QI stories. The report talks about how leaders need to be strategic in how to reinforce QI and that they should recognise the benefits of learning and sharing events to celebrate improvement work.

The report also looks at the Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust which has benefited from an emphasis on celebrating learning and success, holding Friday afternoon ‘Report Outs’ to share success from a range of activities within the team and beyond.

These are all great examples of the motivating power of recognition and reward and how employers can show appreciation for the perseverance and hard work of their employees.




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