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The Power of “Thank You” for Improving the Employee Experience

By Brett Wells, PhD - November 24, 2021

“No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.” - James Allen

As Thanksgiving approaches, it is a time to pause, reflect, and give thanks for what we have. And perhaps giving thanks has never been more important than the situation we find ourselves in today: the pandemic has created an exhausted, disconnected workforce that lacks clear separation between work and life, along with a sense of unmanageable, “always-on” work hours.

Alarmingly, One-third of all employees are unhappy, unmotivated, and staying put in their roles, which is costing large enterprises more than $6 million for every 1,000 employees.

Time and time again, our people analytics team finds that recognition and reward is a driver of employee engagement and retaining top talent. Whereas rewards may come at a higher cost (e.g., increased salaries, bonuses, etc.), employee recognition has a comparatively lower cost, but carries a high impact. 

All of this disruption has emphasized just how much the employee experience impacts the patient experience, and as more healthcare systems focus on patient-centered care, they, too, must strive to understand this link, and develop strategies to ensure they are delivering a positive experience for workers.

Employees are motivated to give their best when they:

  1. Believe they can achieve their goals if they work hard;
  2. Believe achieving their goals will lead to recognition and rewards; and
  3. Value the recognition and rewards.

Employee Recognition in Healthcare

In healthcare, just 3 in 5 employees feel recognized for their contributions to their organization, and one group with a less favorable experience is African American/black female clinicians, where only half feel recognized. For one healthcare customer, our people analytics team uncovered that African American/black employees averaged 12 percentage points lower employee survey response rates relative to White/Caucasian employees, and African-American/Black employees were also less likely to be highly engaged – an effect that has been widening over the past four years. Connecting employee listening data with employee recognition data, we found that receiving electronic recognition (i.e., e-cards) during the pandemic from one’s manager not only increased the response rate, but also overall engagement for African-American/Black employees.

For another healthcare customer, we found that receiving an average of five “thank you” e-cards from one’s manager increased the likelihood of being highly engaged by 4% and reduced the likelihood of turnover by 1%. For the average healthcare organization, that saves $270,000 annually in nursing turnover costs alone. 

Surprisingly, we found that e-cards that were also tied to a monetary reward had a backfire effect: these employees were less likely to be highly engaged and were more likely to voluntarily turnover. Digging a bit deeper, we analyzed the content of the thank-you cards using natural language processing and found that monetary e-cards were more likely to have an “I’m sorry” tenor: “I’m sorry you had to work that extra shift. Thanks for going above and beyond – I owe you one.” When e-cards rose to a level of attaching a monetary value, it was often an indicator of burnout and higher turnover. Research in employee motivation may have predicted this outcome, as positive feedback often enhances intrinsic motivation but tangible rewards can significantly undermine it.

Give More Thanks!

Go ahead and take this time to send a thank-you note to five people you work with – bonus points for a handwritten note, as this conveys the extra effort and steps taken to demonstrate your care and appreciation. An added benefit is these small acts of kindness often benefit the giver – you – as much as, if not more than, the recipient. 

Here’s a great example. We know from our research that the card doesn't have to be long, but it does need to be sincere, so choose your words carefully. Keep it positive, not apologetic, and focused on what the recipient has accomplished, how they helped you, or how they benefit the company. 

Happy Thanksgiving, [Employee’s Name]!

Thank you for all your hard work and efforts during this challenging year. I’m appreciative of all you have done to contribute to our team’s success. In particular, your work on [project] has made all the difference. I’m also appreciative of who you are as a person – your [characteristic, quality, trait, etc.] makes us a stronger team. Enjoy this time with family and friends.

Thankfully yours,

[Your Name]

If you want to understand how your employee recognition and reward program is working or sentiment around it, Perceptyx can help. Please reach out to us to schedule a demo or learn more about our employee listening program.

Happy Thanksgiving from Perceptyx! 

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