When Gratitude Goes Viral

By Jennifer Faulkner, Vice President for Team Member Experience, Baystate Health

Jennifer Faulkner, Vice President for Team Member Experience, Baystate Health

Gratitude, in its most basic form, reinforces the value and impact one person has on another. Research about the positive effects of gratitude in the workplace is mounting, supporting an association between gratitude and the well being of individuals both giving and receiving it. In a report published this year, researchers from Portland State University and Clemson University who studied a group of 146 nurses in Oregon found being thanked more often at work led to satisfaction with the care nurses provided. This satisfaction was associated with improvements in some aspects of physical health, such as better sleep, fewer headaches and more attempts to eat healthier. An IBM Smarter Workforce Institute paper from 2015 found an association between recognition and higher levels of employee engagement and retention, in 19,000 employees across 26 countries. Engagement levels were found to be almost three times higher for employees who have been recognized.

What, then, can organizations do to bolster recognition to reap these positive impacts of employee wellbeing, retention and engagement and how can technology scale this human-to-human interaction across an enterprise?

My organization, a 12,500-person healthcare system in Massachusetts took note when employee engagement survey data indicated recognition was lagging. We first dug a little deeper to understand what kind of recognition is meaningful to our workforce at Baystate Health, which, like many organizations, is diverse in age, educational background, ethnicity, and compensation level. We heard specific, in-the-moment recognition given by peers, managers, and patients or their families would be most meaningful. There was also a sub-theme around sharing the experience with others, whether it is colleagues or family.

"Social interactivity takes recognition to a new level, as peers have the opportunity to comment, thereby deepening the impact of the original recognition"

Following a review of contemporary recognition options, a strategic social recognition platform was selected. We launched what we call Baystate Celebrates in 2015 supported by recognition partner, WorkHuman. In 2018 we had 32,000 annual recognition moments, including recognition for years of service recognition. Employee reach is growing and in 2018, 68% of the workforce either gave or received recognition through this platform.

Using this SAS platform, anyone in the organization can recognize a colleague through a PC or mobile app and the recognition lands on a newsfeed to amplify the gratitude throughout the enterprise. As requested by employees, we put in place a variety of recognition levels, from a simple thank you to points values for more profound actions. Every recognition is linked to organizational value.

Over time, as our workforce has become more proficient at sharing gratitude, recognition has risen from one of the lowest scoring engagement survey items to one of the highest. In our 2018 employee survey, Baystate Health scored in the 99th percentile in the New England region and the 78th percentile, nationally, for being satisfied with recognition received for doing a good job, in a database of more than 1.5 million respondents. The IBM Smarter Workforce Institute conclusions about recognition and engagement are holding true as the growth of the recognition program and overall employee engagement are trending upward.

More profoundly, program analytics indicate significantly higher retention for our employees who have been recognized. Our nurses receiving three or more recognition in 2018 had a turnover rate seven times less than those receiving no recognition. In 2018, there was no turnover in the forty physicians who received three or more recognition that year, as opposed to a six percent physician turnover, otherwise. This is compelling information in an industry facing long-term, national shortages of providers.

Social interactivity takes recognition to a new level, as peers have the opportunity to comment, thereby deepening the impact of the original recognition. The lack of physical boundaries can help siloed organizations who are aiming to improve intra-enterprise relationships. Having analytics around recognition not only provides compelling data about the association between recognition and engagement, it brings trends forward, pinpoints which managers may be struggling, and provides a fresh crop of stories about employees living the organization’s values, for internal and external consumption.

Putting the power of social recognition in the hands of the workforce helps provide a more complete picture of what is occurring in the organization each day, the relationships that exist, and of indicators related to inclusion and belonging. Ultimately, the ease and accessibility of social recognition entice one human being to forge a bond with another—a bond that otherwise may not have been created. It becomes evident why people who are recognized feel valued, tend to stay with their organizations and invest their discretionary time in advancing the goals of the team and organization.

Sample recognitions

“It is truly, without a doubt, a pleasure to run into you on the nursing units. I have always admired your ability to connect with our patients in such an authentic way and truly love reading your notes: how you make the patient come alive in the record as a real person and not just an illness. You truly rock!”

“Karen, a family member left a message with me about the exceptional care you delivered to his father. He said it was the best possible care they could have received. He said you were incredibly friendly and it was clear this is more than a job to you…”

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