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Improve Staff Retention Through Formal Recognition, Coaching

Analysis  |  By HealthLeaders Media Staff  
   December 07, 2020

Improve staff retention by recognizing their efforts, which will instill in them a sense of ownership and belonging in the workplace.

Book excerpt from Nurse Manager's Guide to Retention and Recruitment, chapter 9 by Victoria England, MBA, BSN, RN, NE-BC.

Staff recognition is an important component of nurse leadership, because it lets staff know that their work is valued and appreciated.

Recognition gives your staff a sense of ownership and belonging in their place of work; this in turn improves morale and enhances loyalty. Hospitals today are very stressful work environments; through recognition, leaders build a supportive culture that will improve staff retention.

Managers don’t need an overly formal process for recognition; spontaneity is also important and can send a strong message. Timing and immediate feedback is incredibly valuable: the closer recognition is to an action, the more the staff will associate that recognition with the desired/expected behavior.

Spontaneous recognition can be as simple as walking by a staff member, observing a desired behavior, and commenting on how much you appreciate it. These informal moments and interactions are invaluable, and they can reinforce your staff’s desire to do a good job.

If you make it a point to do staff rounding daily, you will have more opportunities to catch staff doing the right things and share those moments of recognition with them.

Formal Recognition

Part of the challenge of recognizing staff performance is understanding its importance and making it a priority, taking the time to think about it and doing it as often as possible. Creating a structure for formal staff recognition in organizations, departments, and units can ensure staff get recognized on an ongoing basis.

One way to accomplish this is as simple as designating a week or month of the year as a time that staff contributions are recognized. Many managers use Nurses’ Week as a yearly recognition. Including this practice as part of your monthly staff meetings is a great way to recognize behaviors that you want all staff to emulate. Develop an employee-of-the-month program or employee-of-the-year lunch or breakfast that provides an opportunity for staff members on all shifts to participate.

Recognizing Staff

When it comes to staff recognition, managers must identify what is important and meaningful to the staff member. Not all staff are comfortable with public recognition in front of a large audience and would shudder at the thought of having to walk across the stage of an auditorium; they might prefer private recognition, such as a simple handwritten thank-you note. There are many ways managers can recognize their staff members.

The following are a few ideas for formal staff recognition activities:

  • Public employee/organization forums
  • Staff meetings
  • Annual staff dinners
  • Organization newsletters
  • Put a plaque on a wall
  • Surprising them with lunch celebrations
  • Meet them at their car at the end of the day with a thank-you note
  • Special assigned parking space for a month
  • A poster in the lobby
  • A spot on the organization website

The ideas are endless, and so is the potential for creativity. Use your imagination and draw on the ideas of coworkers and those who know the staff member best. Form a council, committee, or task force of peers and team members to share their insights regarding how to best show recognition.

Some organizations also utilize resources such as staff recognition gift catalog choices, where staff members receive points through recognition from colleagues, patients, and family members. The gifts vary in type and price levels, and some can be customized to reflect specific recognition and personalized with employee names, etc. Managers must consider such costs on an annual basis during budgeting processes. The best part of these recognition programs is that employees can select a gift they prefer, instead of having something chosen for them.

Regardless of the recognition model you use, if your staff members know what is expected of them and are given the resources to do their jobs well, when you recognize them for a job well done, you will be well on your way to providing a great place to work, and staff will want to be part of your organization.

Meaningful performance reviews and peer feedback

An employee’s performance evaluation should be a team effort, not something done to a staff member by a nurse leader. Remember, the annual review should not be the first-time employees hear negative or positive comments regarding their performance. They should be able to walk into the meeting with no surprises thrown their way.

The manager should begin with having the staff submit a self-evaluation as part of the performance evaluation. Self-evaluations give staff a feeling of control and offer them the ability to have their points of view heard by management.

Sometimes, the managers may forget staff accomplishments achieved early in the annual performance review cycle, particularly if they have large teams to manage.

Other times, when there has been a change in the organizational structure and the new manager may be unaware of all of the employee’s accomplishments during the year, the self-evaluation will give the staff member the opportunity to provide specific details for the nurse manager’s awareness and review.

When submitting a self-evaluation, the manager should have the staff member include a list of previous goals, action items, and progress stated in behavioral terms. This list may give the manager insight into staff interests, talents, and professional development, while also assisting with identification of barriers and future career paths.

The employee that enjoys what he or she is doing is much more apt to be engaged in the unit and organization; they will continue contributing to the achievement of personal, professional, and unit goals, leading to organizational commitment and retention.

Additionally, the manager should seek out others’ opinions regarding the staff member’s performance. This process is called a 360° review. This type of review is helpful because sometimes a peer, co- worker, or even a client may provide additional insight into the performance picture beyond what the immediate supervisor is able to directly observe and assess.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Employees need clear and consistent communication from their managers to know how their goals connect to the organization’s vision, mission, and strategic plan, along with departmental and unit outcomes.

Coaching is a very important component of your staff communication and provides an opportunity for training and development. Managers should develop skills such as active/attentive listening, observing, giving constructive feedback, providing recognition, and teaching or developing new skills, in order to provide the greatest benefit for staff from time spent with them.

Coaching should be tailored specifically to each individual with diverse learning styles and back-grounds taken into consideration. Whenever possible, communication strategies should be adjusted to fit individual staff needs.

The process of coaching involves asking questions rather than simply giving advice or instructions. The intention is not to put the staff on the defensive, lay blame, or highlight incompetence but to assist them in learning the process of problem-solving.

An effective method of coaching involves asking open-ended questions, such as, “What does this information/data suggest to you?” or “What are your recommended solutions?” Asking questions, as well as pointing out other resources, is an essential part of coaching.

This process helps managers teach staff members critical thinking, creativity, cost-benefit analysis, and consequences of actions, among other things. The final piece of coaching involves feedback—generally speaking, letting employees know what they have successfully learned and what learning opportunities lie ahead.


Staff recognition lets them know that their work is valued but not all staff are comfortable with the same forms of recognition.

Let staff know how their goals connect to the organization’s mission and departmental and unit outcomes.

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