How to recognize employees

Everyone wins when you acknowledge a job well done.


Recognition of top team members can be a rewarding experience for both management and staff. Consider the following points:

  • It’s a great motivator for the recipient knowing a job well done is appreciated.
  • The employee who excels tends to encourage other employees to work more diligently when they see that excellence is recognized.
  • Being in a field of compassion, it’s natural to feel good when management encourages staff with positive feedback. Note how employees who love their job find pride in assisting patients.
  • All staff members can excel in their positions given the tools to succeed. One of the tools that can get overlooked is recognition. “Forty percent of employed Americans say they’d put more energy into their work if they were recognized more often,” notes a Harvard Business Review article written by David Novack, the co-founder and retired chairman and CEO of Yum! Brands.
  • In the same article, Mr. Novack writes that recognition is “about bringing out the best in people” and improving “the bottom line.”

One size does not fit all

Praising employees involves knowing your staff. Your team members have different personalities, and honoring their efforts is not a one-size-fits-all generic effort. The best way to identify your employees’ needs is to enlist their input and incorporate it into a well-thought-out recognition process. Simply put, create a survey that asks how staff would like to be recognized, and ask every staff member to complete it. You can create a basic short questionnaire that asks three simple questions:

  1. What makes your day at (fill in the name of the practice) successful?
  2. What brings you the most pride in your job?
  3. Would you like to be recognized by (practice name) for a job well done? If yes, how?

The above three questions can help you understand the values of your team and how you can reward them. For example:

  • Your quiet concentrator might like a private lunch.
  • Your outgoing, fun-loving staff members may enjoy an office outing.
  • Your practical personality may want a reward that benefits the entire department. For example, the receptionist being honored could request phone headsets for the front staff. This gesture is selfless and still rewarding for the staff member. When you present such an honor to the front staff, indicate this is possible due to “Kathy.”

Motivate regularly

As you develop your plan for rewarding your staff, consider that motivation and reward are often best provided on a regular, consistent basis, not as an isolated or occasional event. For example, you may wish to hold monthly motivational exercises for the practice as a whole. In one exercise, you could include a feel-good activity that involves positive statements from physicians and positive feedback from supervisors and staff, each of whom would comment on staff excelling at their positions.

Create meaningful tasks

Supervisors can acknowledge staff non-monetarily by verbally rewarding and creating meaningful tasks for their team members. If you witness staff excelling at a specific area, consider asking the staff member if he or she would like to be in charge of training in this area.

As a clinical example, if you find a staff member who demonstrates outstanding skills as a visual field technician, consider asking him or her to be the “point person” for visual fields testing. As the “point,” the technician would then be responsible for such areas as providing the staff with pearls on how to successfully administer the test, ordering supplies related to the test, and taking care of preventive maintenance of visual fields equipment.

If you manage the front desk and observe a receptionist answering phones proficiently, you may consider asking the receptionist to review or write procedural steps for the staff on how to triage calls. All staff desire to feel empowered by their supervisors. When distributing the procedure, recognize the employee who was involved in writing or reviewing the steps.

Write a thank-you note

In my experience, I have found that it means the world to the staff to receive a personal “thank you” note from a supervisor. OGO, a firm that specializes in employee recognition, found that 76% of employees save handwritten notes. I know staff that have kept thank-you notes that they have received years ago; I have kept mine! Depending on staff, a fun gift to include with the note is a scratchoff lottery ticket, if you feel it is appropriate and it is in line with your practice’s HR policies.

Beyond professional recognition

“Recognition” does not have to address professional performance only. Personal recognition can also act as a powerful morale builder in the practice.

With the holidays upon us, consider the following example: During the holiday season, my staff participated in a gift exchange. At the beginning of the season, we compiled a list of items we liked and posted it on the company’s internal website for all staff to see. We then set a dollar amount for the staff to contribute, typically $25 per person. Each staff member pulled the name of another staff member at random and brought in a gift for that person. I hung stockings in my office with their names written on each. Each week, in addition to the $25, I purchased something small to place in the stockings. The day was random. It caused excitement among staff who would also bring in their own small gifts and place them in the stocking to the point that each member would bring in their own surprise every day! Staff members found it rewarding to be recognized and to have the opportunity to recognize fellow coworkers. Everyone won with this personal approach to recognition.

Engage staff

By recognizing that staff are a part of the process, you will see considerable pride in their performance. One of the best ways to do this is to ask for staff feedback during those intimate conversations when you hold your weekly or monthly department meetings. As you keep staff in the loop with practice information, technology updates, etc., ask what they feel can be done as a department to improve their area.

If you feel you have limited time in your weekly/monthly meeting, simply have your staff write suggestions prior to the meetings. Ensure you always mention every staff member’s comment to improve morale. Take these suggestions to the practice meetings and openly congratulate those who made the suggestions.

A final thought

Most team members appreciate the open “thank you.” Take the time to respect the wonderful attributes your team brings to the practice.

As you can see, the key is to recognize and appreciate your team. Many great outcomes arise from acknowledging your wonderful staff. OP