Healthcare Employee Recognition Programs: Complete Guide

Considering the long hours, insufficient staffing, and emotional turmoil associated with the profession, it's no wonder that the healthcare industry suffers from severe fatigue. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of a nationwide group of doctors and nurses said they're experiencing a "moderate" or "great deal" of burnout, according to a recent HealthDay-Harris Poll survey.

Although burnout has always plagued healthcare organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic certainly exacerbated mental health challenges, like anxiety, insomnia, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The increased demands of the job and heightened stress led to 69% of clinicians in the United States to not feel valued at work, according to a 2021 study published in the JAMA Health Forum.

As a result, nearly 100,000 registered nurses were estimated to have left the field during the pandemic and almost 800,000 intend to follow them by 2027, according to a survey analysis released by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).

In order to prevent burnout, boost engagement, and reduce turnover among healthcare staff, HR professionals should create employee recognition programs.

In this post, we'll cover:

  • What Is an Employee Recognition Program?
  • 4 Ways to Reward Healthcare Workers
  • Benefits of Healthcare Employee Recognition Programs
  • How to Implement a Recognition Program
  • 5 Best Practices for Healthcare Employee Recognition Programs

What Is an Employee Recognition Program?

An employee recognition program allows employers to show that they appreciate their employees' hard work. As it pertains to the healthcare industry in particular, employees can be recognized for a variety of reasons, such as going above and beyond for patients, giving support to colleagues, making the workplace a fun, welcoming environment, or incorporating organizational values into their daily lives.

4 Ways to Reward Healthcare Workers

Employee recognition comes in various forms, and is most effective when performed with a multi-faceted approach. Here are several ways to reward healthcare workers:


Rewarding employees for their dedication throughout the year is essential to fostering a positive company culture. It's common for employers to bestow annual awards upon their healthcare staff for extraordinary service, consistent attendance, stellar safety measures, and even for completing training requirements. Patient feedback also plays a role in who's deserving of an award. After all, who's a better judge of a healthcare professional's efforts than the person they're taking care of?

The awards, which are often plaques or certificates (and sometimes even monetary), are usually given during an end-of-year ceremony or holiday party.


There are various bonuses that can be used as monetary rewards for healthcare staff. Examples include annual or holiday bonuses, sign-on bonuses for new hires, referral bonuses for workers assisting with new hires, and retention bonuses for celebrating work anniversaries.

Perhaps the most impactful are spot bonuses, which are spontaneous rewards that honor performance. Generally decided by managers or C-suite executives, these "on-the-spot" bonuses are variable pay that typically range anywhere from $50 to $1,000 or more. These employee bonuses can also be perks of the same value, such as:

  • gift certificates
  • digital gift cards
  • custom swag
  • gift boxes filled with sweet treats
  • extra paid time off (PTO)
  • a weekend getaway

Healthcare workers can also nominate one another for spot bonuses as part of this rewards and recognition strategy...

Peer-to-peer recognition

Considering how healthcare professionals often work in tightly knit teams, peer-to-peer recognition may be the best strategy for encouraging engagement. While employee recognition usually comes from managers or company leaders, peer-to-peer recognition is when one team member shows appreciation for another.

With a peer-to-peer recognition program (like one from Compt), employees can recognize and celebrate each other’s successes by giving kudos and rewards, which will strengthen their relationships, spur employee engagement, and drive retention. Because they're given by team members rather than upper management, these tokens of appreciation tend to carry more meaning.

Social recognition

In addition to colleagues giving each other props, managers can also partake in social recognition by praising deserving workers on Slack, in a company newsletter or town hall, or even on social media. Sometimes, merely a verbal or written "thank you" can make a healthcare worker feel just as appreciated as if they received an award. Plus, social recognition can fuel engagement among healthcare professionals in every department, even those who are able to work remotely.

Benefits of Healthcare Employee Recognition Programs

Only two thirds (66%) of employees in the healthcare industry feel appreciated at work, according to O.C. Tanner's 2023 Global Culture Report.

Perhaps that's why healthcare facilities traditionally struggle with retention. In the past five years, the average hospital turned over 100.5% of its workforce, according to a recent report by NSI Nursing Solutions. Such high attrition rates wreak havoc on finances – for example, the average hospital lost $7.1 million in 2021 due to higher turnover rates.

Broken down by healthcare staff, the average hospital loses between $5.2 million and $9 million every year on registered nurse turnover. Meanwhile, primary care physician turnover leads to an additional $979 million in annual excess health care spending across the U.S., with nearly a third of those costs attributed to burnout, according to a Mayo Clinic study.

By prioritizing rewards and recognition, your healthcare organization can mitigate turnover and cut costs by increasing employee satisfaction and engagement. After all, every worker wants to be part of an organizational culture built upon appreciation for their hard work and commitment. Rewarding employees will not only inspire them to stay, but also motivate them to encourage peers throughout the industry to join the nurturing work environment.

Recognizing your team members will also lead to an enhanced patient experience.

Over the past decade, studies have linked burnout among healthcare workers (specifically, nurses) with higher infection and error rates, as well as lower safety grades. For example, hospitals in which burnout was reduced by 30% had a total of 6,239 fewer infections, for an annual cost saving of up to $68 million, according to a 2012 study. Furthermore, low employee well-being and "moderate to high" levels of burnout are associated with poor patient safety outcomes, such as medical errors, according to a 2016 study.

Ultimately, engaged employees will be better equipped to focus on patients, improving productivity and growing the bottom line.

How to Implement a Recognition Program

Implementing these programs successfully requires research, planning, and buy-in. Follow these steps to ensure your rewards don't ring hollow:

Step 1: Gather employee data

As with any company initiative, HR professionals should gauge employee interest before investing time, energy, and resources into its creation. Send out a pulse survey asking team members what type of rewards fuel their motivation and how they'd prefer to receive recognition. Use that feedback to shape your rewards and recognition strategy.

Step 2: Decide which recognition software to use

Instead of trying to manage the program manually, you can rely upon a variety of technology solutions, such as the platform offered by Compt.

Boasting a 90% utilization rate, the software centers on employee recognition via perk stipends – a sum of money dedicated to lifestyle benefits – and a variety of bonuses to recognize birthdays, work anniversaries, holidays, and other special occasions. Unlike with a gift card model or vendor marketplace dictated by pre-set or limited choices, the 100% IRS-compliant reimbursement platform offers ultimate customization, allowing team members to receive funds to spend on goods or services that they find meaningful.

Step 3: Launch the program

After adoption of the software and learning how to optimize the recognition experience, you're ready to get your program off the ground. Run a couple tests before rolling it out, or maybe conduct a soft launch of the system to work out any kinks. You'll also want to train managers on how to recognize direct reports through the platform so they'll be instantly engaged with the process.

Step 4: Promote the program

Clear and consistent communication is vital to the program's launch. Inform your workforce through email blasts, Slack messages, webinars, posters around healthcare facilities, even fliers and pamphlets mailed to team members' homes. Whenever you recognize an employee, remind the rest of your staff about the program and how it works.

This isn't just for internal messaging – promote the program externally, too. Announce the launch on your company website and social media channels, emphasizing to patients, competitors, and job candidates that you're committed to an employee-centric workplace. The program will certainly aid your talent acquisition strategy, as a company culture built on gratitude and rewards will appeal to potential applicants.

5 Best Practices for Healthcare Employee Recognition Programs

For employee recognition to truly resonate, HR leaders must take a multi-faceted approach. Here are some best practices for sustaining the program:

Start from the top

O.C. Tanner reports that only 62% of healthcare workers say their leader acknowledges the great work they do. Employees shouldn't hear only doom and gloom from bosses – they need support and a pat on the back at least every once in a while. In fact, the impetus is on the top brass to lead by example, giving meaningful praise to fellow leaders for exhibiting core values and positive behavior. Once managers see their superior expressing gratitude, they'll be more likely to pass it on to their direct reports.

Keep it genuine

Almost half (45%) of healthcare workers say the recognition they receive feels like an empty gesture, according to O.C. Tanner. Don't let your program feel like just another task. Details matter – recognition is only effective when it's sincere and specific. For instance, a generic "thank you for your hard work" message will come across flat, empty, and forced. Instead, encourage managers (and employees) to take the time to write a heartfelt acknowledgement, explaining why they admire the recipient or what specifically impressed them about a certain encounter.

Recognize frequently

While National Nurses Week and National Doctors' Day are ripe opportunities to recognize healthcare professionals for their service, they shouldn't be the only times of the year that recognition is given. Yet, nearly half (48%) of healthcare professionals say their organization recognizes large accomplishments rather than the daily efforts of their front-line workers, according to O.C. Tanner.

If you want engaged employees dedicated to a top-notch patient experience, then you have to commend and award your workforce on a more consistent basis.

Be inclusive

As part of your diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy, you want to recognize employees across every department, of every tenure, and from all backgrounds. Naturally, your top performers should be celebrated, but not to the detriment of the organization. If the same employees are constantly recognized, the rest of your workforce will grow resentful, undermining the rewards program.

Measure program effectiveness

You have to consistently measure metrics like how many workers are being recognized, how many employees are sending peer recognition, when and how often is management engaging with the platform, what types of practices and behaviors are being most lauded, etc. By tracking those metrics on a regular basis (perhaps checking in from week to week), you'll be able to determine what's working and what adjustments need to be made.

Additionally, you should analyze the data to find correlations between recognition and its effects on the business. For example, what's the employee engagement rate for healthcare professionals who are recognized at least once a month? If the data indicates that they tend to have patients with lower infection rates, are less likely to make mistakes, and more likely to follow safety protocols than workers who aren't being recognized, then you've proven the program's return-on-investment (ROI).

Final Thoughts

Don't let healthcare workers feel forgotten now that the COVID-19 pandemic is in the rear view mirror. Our gratitude for their service should never fade, as they've devoted their lives to making the world a better place. Leadership should support them in every way possible, especially through rewards and recognition.

Award your healthcare staff for their hard work and incredible efforts, or risk losing them to a competitor who will make them feel valued. Based on the healthcare industry's attrition rate, you can't afford to give less than 100% commitment. Recognizing your workforce will improve not only employee engagement, but also retention.

With Compt, you can design a customized employee recognition program for your healthcare workforce. Schedule a call with our team to learn why our healthcare customers see 90%+ engagement rates!

Your cart