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Department: Leadership Q&A

The art of gratitude

Doucette, Jeffrey N. DNP, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, FACHE

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Nursing Management (Springhouse): February 2020 - Volume 51 - Issue 2 - p 56
doi: 10.1097/01.NUMA.0000651200.01435.cf
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Q I'm looking for new ways to recognize employees without adding to my already stressful role as a nurse leader. What effective strategies can you recommend that won't increase my overwhelming workload?

In the 2006 article “In Praise of Praising Your Employees,” Jennifer Robinson of the Gallup Organization found that “recognition is a short-term need that has to be satisfied on an ongoing basis—weekly, maybe daily.” The fundamental science behind recognition is that when we're recognized and praised for doing something well, our brains release dopamine, which in turn creates better feelings of pride and pleasure. This physiologic benefit is extended not only to the person who's the recipient of the praise, but also to the individual who's providing it, making recognition a win-win proposition for all involved.

If we know that recognition is important to both employees and leaders, why do we continue to struggle in this area? A fundamental premise of recognizing employees is that it must be meaningful and, like many things, the meaning and value of recognition are in the eyes of the recipient. One of the first issues you need to address is your readiness to perform meaningful recognition. When leaders are stressed, distracted, and hurried, they're far less likely to prioritize recognition and are rarely in a state of mind to deliver meaningful, timely, and customized recognition to the recipient's preference.

The first step is to get in the right frame of mind. When considering recognition as an engagement strategy, use mindfulness as a basis, putting aside time to contemplate gratitude with limited distractions in a quiet environment and paying full attention to the present moment with intentionality and a nonjudgmental attitude, especially toward yourself. Spending a few moments practicing mindfulness before making decisions allows you to be less distracted and more focused. In general, your decision-making related to recognition will be better. When used appropriately and with sincerity, gratitude is a simple and elegant mindfulness-based practice that can significantly impact an employee's likelihood to stay with your organization. In turn, the leader who frequently practices gratitude and self-care is less likely to experience burnout, role fatigue, and feelings of being overwhelmed. Simply put, the more you meaningfully recognize people as a leader, the more benefits there are for you as well.

Once you're in the right frame of mind to consider recognition and gratitude, it's important to evaluate the planned intervention from the recipient's perspective. Each of us prefers to be recognized in a unique way and these preferences must be a consideration. Giving thought to this demonstrates that care, respect, and planning are part of the recognition process. An example is the employee who receives a beautiful letter from a patient thanking him or her for going above and beyond. Some leaders may choose to read the letter at a staff meeting or post it somewhere in the nurses' lounge. However, if the employee doesn't prefer public recognition, this approach may actually mitigate the gesture because he or she doesn't find it meaningful and may even be embarrassed or disappointed. On the other hand, had the leader been mindful and understood the employee's needs, he or she may have opted to send a handwritten thank-you note to the employee's home in recognition of a job well done. To this employee, such a gesture may represent the ultimate in an expression of gratitude: private, personal, and timely.

Rarely do we find organizations that have consistently high recognition scores from employees, and many leaders see recognizing staff as another item on the to-do list. Consider using recognition as both a tool for sharing accolades with top performers and a mindfulness-based intervention. Practicing gratitude on a regular basis is guaranteed to improve job satisfaction, boost work performance, and increase overall resiliency among staff members and leaders.

Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.