Building a culture of reward and recognition

How can a professional rewards system avoid recognition-creep and recognize good work?

Building a culture of reward and recognition
Building a culture of reward and recognition

Recognition is a powerful thing for clinicians, other staff, patients, and for almost all humans. In fact, it's a powerful thing for non-humans as well, as evidenced in the excited reaction most dogs give when they are told they are “such a good boy/girl!”.

My dad died in December, and his cognition was fading at the end, but even then, he loved being recognized for the things he was most proud of, which were his professional accomplishments and his woodwork.

His walls were covered with plaques and newspaper articles praising him for his work, thanking him for his efforts as a teacher/coach/administrator. It became hard for him to speak at the very end, but, still, visits would usually include my dad pulling the visitor to the wall, and pointing up to one of the many posted and hanging accolades.

We'd always ooh and ah over them, and he just beamed with pride, sort-of like a puppy responding to praise.

He'd also do this with his woodwork efforts, which became cruder towards the end. We bought him these little pre-made birdhouses, and he'd paint them wild colors. They sat in his window, and he was really proud of them.

Building such recognition into workplaces can be tricky, and sometimes can result in recognition-creep, where people end up getting plaques for showing up to work and not stealing from their employers. When recognition-creep sets in, it can fan the flames of cynicism always lurking not far under the surface of many employees.

Part of my job includes “Continuous Quality Improvement,” (CQI) which I love participating in. One item on my CQI agenda is trying to formalize a means of recognizing staff at our clinic. It's a fun project, and fun thing to think about. We'll just need to keep it authentic, real, and genuine.

Jim Anderson, MPAS, PA-C, ATC, DFAAPA, is founder of Physician Assistants for Health Equity and is a clinician and manager at Evergreen Treatment Services in Seattle. 

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