Building a Culture of Recognition

Listen to employees, drive connection with organization


By Maria M. Schmitt, Executive Director, Human Resources Operations, Cleveland Clinic Health System


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Creating a culture of recognition is a smart move for hospitals and health systems, with benefits to employees, patients and organizations. Recognizing employees for the work they do and the contributions they make is one of the most important drivers of employee engagement, especially as healthcare continues to face a national workforce shortage.

Recognition inspires workers, enhances morale and fosters environments of positivity and team building. It also has been shown to improve retention and reduce turnover. In fact, highly engaged workplaces report 41% lower absenteeism, according to a recent Gallup study. Other survey data shows that 63% of employees who are recognized at work are unlikely to look for a new job in the next three to six months (as reported by HR Technologist).

Improving employee satisfaction also improves patient experience and safety. Often, when employee satisfaction scores increase, so do patient experience scores. And Gallup cites a 15% increase in patient safety when a healthcare team is highly engaged.

While many healthcare leaders understand the value of employee recognition, building a culture of recognition is a team sport that requires practice and dedication.

Connect employees with the organization

One of the most important drivers of recognition is a strong link between employee actions and organizational objectives. Workers want to make meaningful contributions to an organization that supports their values. They also want to understand how their work contributes to the bigger picture of the organization.

Employee recognition should be tied to and based on an organization’s values, which are an essential part of what an organization does and why. At Cleveland Clinic, we know that caregivers who embrace and live our values typically have the highest morale and greatest job satisfaction, so we reinforce our values often and through a variety of mediums.

Recognizing caregivers who exhibit our values (Safety and Quality, Empathy, Inclusion, Integrity, Teamwork, and Innovation) in their daily work strengthens desired behaviors while creating greater alignment across the health system. Our Caregiver Celebrations recognition platform empowers caregivers to acknowledge each other for outstanding behavior and performance, in support of our values. For example, the Appreciation Award is a simple, non-monetary recognition that supports the values and patient experience.


Awards should also support an organization’s mission and vision. Cleveland Clinic’s Teaching Recognition Award recognizes individuals for skill and enthusiasm in teaching their colleagues, supporting the “to educate” part of our mission.

Listen to what employees want

Recognition doesn’t always need to be a grand gesture. Sometimes, the most basic forms of recognition go a long way in making someone’s day and impacting employee experience. A Deloitte study indicates that 85% of employees are satisfied with a simple “thank you” for their daily efforts and accomplishments.

Listening to what employees say they want in a recognition program and how they would like to be recognized can help build a collaborative and meaningful recognition program. Employees will tell you exactly what they want or need, leaders just need to be willing to listen. Through our listening strategy, Cleveland Clinic caregivers consistently say that Caregiver Celebrations Awards bring them joy and are important to them. We also know, from employee surveys, that they want and need recognition. These surveys also offer insight into the type of recognition caregivers value most.

When listening to employees, listen to all employees – direct care, administrative, international, those who work in-person, remote, hybrid, etc. Inclusivity is vital. Recognition should be global and visible regardless of employee location or role.

Make recognition easy and accessible

Recognition must also be easy and accessible for employees. Create a centralized location to house recognition efforts.

At Cleveland Clinic, the Caregiver Celebrations website, under the direction of the Chief Caregiver Officer and the Caregiver Office, is the hub for recognition. The HR Operations team oversees Caregiver Celebrations and regularly promotes employee recognitions and award announcements through various corporate communications channels, including email and video.

Offer a variety of recognition opportunities

To maximize engagement and appreciation, offer a variety of recognition resources and opportunities. The latest research indicates that 59% of employees prefer companies with a rich recognition culture rather than jobs with higher salaries that don’t give any recognition. Some of the most successful recognition programs are those that blend personal praise with formal recognition and include multiple platforms for giving and receiving recognition.


In addition to formal awards, Cleveland Clinic caregivers can send electronic cards to each other to acknowledge birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions.

Keep recognition fresh and exciting

Since launching Caregiver Celebrations in 2010, more than 2.1 million awards have been sent to Cleveland Clinic caregivers. In the last year alone, total awards given have grown by 18%. Much of this success is attributed to the outstanding support and engagement of leaders and caregivers throughout the enterprise.

Some of our most well-received recognition introductions include our COVID-19 Heroes Awards for individuals or teams who demonstrated heroic accomplishments throughout the pandemic. We received an extraordinary 650 nominations in 2020. And in 2021, as part of our centennial observance, we introduced the Legacy Award to honor individuals and teams who have made a significant impact on our 100-year legacy. Awardees’ contributions are tied to a legacy-themed category – each of which reflects Cleveland Clinic’s mission. In just two months of Legacy Award promotion, we saw a 36% growth rate.

Recognition reaps reward

Caregivers are five times more likely to stay when regularly acknowledged for good work, according to O.C. Tanner.

Healthcare leaders who keep the above considerations in mind will be on track to build a culture of recognition that gives employees the praise they deserve. In doing so, they will realize many long-term benefits for employees, patients and organizations. As we continue to navigate the changing world of healthcare, recognition will play an increasingly larger role in employee retention, satisfaction and engagement.

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