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Motivating During Tough Times

Healthcare organizations must be taking steps to ensure they are engaging the employees they have.

As the economy begins to show signs of an uptick, amid an environment where many nurses are positioned at the upper end of the Baby Boomer generation and poised for retirement, healthcare organizations must be taking steps to ensure they are engaging the employees they have.

To a certain degree, healthcare organizations have been somewhat immune from the "we can take a deep breath and not worry about recruitment" perspective that employers in other industries have had for the past few years. The ebbs and flows of demand for nurses have existed for a number of years and nurses continue to be in high demand. All the more reason for healthcare organizations and their managers to focus on ways to motivate staff, especially during difficult times.

But there's additional data to support the need to nurture a highly motivated staff. Gallup's research has indicated that only about 29 percent of the American workforce is actively engaged on the job.

The big question: what can healthcare organizations and their managers do to ensure motivation and engagement, particularly during stressful and challenging times?

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What Motivates High Performance?

Researchers have long told us that motivation is not all about money and that comes as welcome information for healthcare organizations tightening their belts in anticipation of the impacts of healthcare reform and pay for performance.

Professor Angelo Kinicki teaches in the Management Department at the W.P.  Carey School of Business and is an expert in organizational culture. Kinicki says that employee turnover is a function of many factors, but there are some things that can be done to keep the most talented people on board. First, he says, treat them equitably. "That means they should be rewarded for their performance," he noted. "If there is any money to go around, give it to the high performers." Second, understand that recognition is a strong motivator, particularly for Gen Y employees. "Give more positive recognition when it is deserved." Finally, he says, higher performers are likely to be intrinsically motivated. This is certainly true of nurses. Kinicki encourages managers to provide four key intrinsic rewards:

  • A sense of purpose - i.e., articulate an important vision
  • A sense of choice - i.e., empower people
  • A sense of competence - i.e., give feedback, share information and give positive recognition
  • A sense of progress - i.e., celebrate success and post performance results

  Recent research by SHRM and Globoforce supports these points and points to some specific areas that organizations can focus on in an effort to engage staff members effectively.

Practical Steps to Boost Motivation

The 2012 survey of 6000 HR professionals in organizations with 500 or more employees provides insights on employee recognition trends and best practices.

Of those organizations with employee recognition programs (77 percent), the main objectives of the programs included:

  • Improving employee morale (79 percent)
  • Increasing employee engagement (79 percent)
  • Reinforcing company values (59 percent)
  • Reducing employee turnover (34 percent)
  • Creating a unified global company culture (24 percent)

More than one-half (51 percent) of organizations reported an increase in employee engagement after implementing an employee recognition program. Still, a large number (40 percent) indicated that employee engagement remains a challenge.

But, Jim Bouchard, a motivational expert and author of Think Like a Black Belt (San Chi Publishing, 2010), makes a critical point: motivation is personal! "Businesses continue to look for a 'global' approach to motivation despite numerous studies that show that all effective motivation is personal," said Bouchard. While industry assumptions can be made - such as that nurses are motivated by a personal desire to help others - the key to all successful motivation lies in understanding the needs and desires of the individual he stresses:

  • Would a particular nurse enjoy a more flexible schedule?
  • Is more responsibility an incentive?
  • Are financial concerns a pressing issue?

Recognizing these individual motivators, of course, takes time, requiring that nurse managers invest personal effort in not only getting to know their direct reports - but getting to know what drives their direct reports. "This requires sincere and continual communication between supervisors and employees," said Bouchard. "Effective motivation is best fostered through genuine mentoring, coaching and open dialogue."

Motivation in Practice

Michael Nutter is director of firm culture and associate satisfaction with Impact Advisors in the Orlando area (, a healthcare information technology consulting firm. He's responsible for making sure that employees' needs are met and enhancing what is a strong corporate culture. He does this in some very specific ways:

  • Recognizing employees in the new company newsletter.
  • Highlighting achievements in the "winner report."
  • Offering to help in a time of personal need.
  • Having a hand in the "High Impact Awards," where anyone from the firm can recognize a colleague who has done something above and beyond.
  • An all-staff retreat, the "Impact Palooza - which takes place once a year and involves an all-expense paid trip for each employee and a guest.

Nutter's examples show a good range of no-, low- and higher-cost items. Importantly, motivation does not have to involve expensive trips or a lot of planning and effort says Bob Nelson, Ph.D., an employee motivation expert. While a challenge, sometimes what it takes to engage employees are the "little things," said Nelson, the author of 1501 Ways to Reward Employees (Workman Publishing, 2012), which was recently updated (from 1001 ways). Nelson believes that while taking time to thank and recognize employees might seem an unnecessary luxury in a tight job market, it's more important now than ever. Like Bouchard, he encourages managers to recognize employees in ways they (the employees) value and to encourage them to greater success by tapping into their potential. Ultimately, those simple steps benefit everyone.

Of course, beyond personal satisfaction, many employees value a sense of contribution.  

Intrinsic Motivation

While motivation can be based on extrinsic motivators like money, awards, prizes and other forms of recognition, intrinsic motivation is also an important driver of high performance and commitment.   

Anahid Lisa Derbabian, APR is with Integrity Communications in Birmingham, Mich., and a nationally certified professional counselor. She advises healthcare organizations to determine whether they have adequately educated and engaged nurses in the organization's mission, goals, challenges and philosophies. That, she believes, is a critical first step. "Conduct quarterly meetings to help them to step into, and begin to understand, overarching organizational goals and issues, the importance of their roles, how they fit into the overall plan and the ways that they can step up their game to become greater contributors to the overall mission."

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer.

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When More Money Is Out of the Question

For those hospitals struggling to maintain a strong bottom line, motivating nurses with money and monetary incentives may be out of the question. Fortunately, there are other things that can be offered that may have just as much of a motivating influence, says

Michelle Tillis Lederman, a certified coach and founder of Executive Essentials, a corporate training and coaching company ( and the author of The 11 Laws of Likability (AMACOM, 2011) and Heroes Get Hired (NBC, 2013).

Lederman says there are a number of things that organizations can do to recognize and reward employees when money is out of the question:

  • A change in title
  • A change in office
  • Springing for lunch once a week for a department
  • Extra time off
  • Providing job opportunities to develop skills
  • Providing training to develop skills







At Work Archives
  Last Post: April 17, 2013 | View Comments(1)

More power to you!! Excellent information! You help make this world a better place,....for nurses.....

mary andre marzan,  Faculty,  ADNUApril 17, 2013
Naga city


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