The Caring Support Blog

How Recognizing Your Employees Can Lead to a Better Workplace and Higher Employee Retention with Sarah McVanel

May 17, 2023

In the second part of our interview with Sarah McVanel from Greatness Magnified, we talk about how organizations can use recognition to create a better workplace for their employees and in turn, have a higher employee retention rate. If you missed the first part of our interview with Sarah, don’t forget to check that out where ever you listen to podcasts, you won’t want to miss it!

What are some of the struggles that organizations are facing when it comes to employee retention and making their workplaces a space where people want to work?

We're in the business of earning people these days, not hiring them. And yes, we should have always seen it that way. However, many people who are in leadership roles came up at a time in health care when folks had to go to another country to work. They did not, it was a numbers game. There were more numbers in favour of the employer side versus on the health care professional. In fact, we lost a lot of people because they couldn't get jobs. Now, we have the opposite.

Given that the reality has shifted and on the other side of COVID, there's a very good chance that we will never see an abundance of providers available to us. Those days are probably gone. So how do we maintain an always earning mindset and recognition is the easiest way to do that. I have a caution, though, for anyone who thinks recognition is the way we've always done it. Just like you're saying, James, the way we recruited needs to be brushed off and re-examined and lots of tweaks. It's the same way with how we recognize people. I hope this doesn't sound too soap boxy. The number one way that we have always recognized people is long service.

When we were really focused on valuing and expressing how grateful we are that people chose health care, that they chose that organization and to choose that organization for life, because, of course, in unionized and in professional groups that tend to choose health care, nurses, doctors, social workers, respiratory therapists, it tends and it has been where people would choose the type of institution like a health care organization or like primary care, and that they would select an organization, they would select a subtype, and they would be there on the long term. What we're seeing in all different professional groups is that this isn't always the case. We have an evolving employee-driven marketplace and we need to recognize people earlier than we might normally. We need to compensate for the fact that longevity is not always the only factor that we need to show appreciation. Yes, we need to show loyalty. If we're lucky enough to keep people 5, 10, 15 years, we should be saying thank you.

Also, are we recognizing people's ingenuity and continuous improvement? Are we recognizing safety behaviours and quality and patient safety behaviours? Are we recognizing people's willingness to step outside their comfort zone, to retrain in a subspecialty? Are we recognizing people beyond paying them a little bit more to work the weekend shift? Are we finding ways to validate and value them beyond a gift card, beyond a plaque every five years, beyond a watch at 25 years? How much we appreciate their effort. That is essential to get over some of the tough days.

Think about it this way. To everyone who's listening: what do you need to recognize in people's darkest moments of their shift? People experience vicarious trauma, small T trauma, sometimes big T trauma, every day as part of the deal in health care. How do we also leverage recognition to insulate against burnout, compassion, fatigue, and even just leaving subspecialties to go and do something somewhere else? If we don't, the long service awards are not going to do it. Just paying people a paycheque. That's table stakes. Everyone gets one of those. In fact, your friend’s industry may give a better one and give them weekends off. We need to take this seriously. Not because I'm waving my finger at all of you, but I think we can all agree it makes sense. What we recognize demonstrates what we care about, what we value as an organization.  I would flip the script and ask everyone who's listening, what do you most value? And therefore, are you recognizing it and reverse engineering what recognition of rewards needs to look like in your organization?

What is F.R.O.G? Where did it come from and how did it start?

FROG stands for forever recognizing others' greatness. It came out of an intervention that needed to happen in the labour and delivery unit. These are passionate, seasoned, most of the folks were very seasoned and they were totally burnt out, compassion fatigued. They worked so hard, and it used to be a centre of birthing excellence, and it used to be a very high attraction numbers that, in other words, there was this great big stack of resumes just waiting in HR for a position to open.

It got to a point where there was such a reputation for toxicity that had built that not only was nobody applying, they also weren't staying so people wouldn't even finish their onboarding with them. For those who are not familiar with some of the specialty areas of nursing and respiratory therapy and so forth, some of those areas will be six-plus weeks of being mentored before folks can be completely on their own and not paired up. That's quite an economic burden to health care organizations to lose those folks, not to mention the burden of the mentor themselves.

What we ended up doing was going in and asking folks, so what do you, we are just getting to know you. Can you introduce yourself, your role and what's great about you and nobody said anything, which was really awkward. So we turned to the matriarch of the group and we said, you know, why don't you kick it off? Why don't you share with us what is great about you? And she just said, I have nothing to share. We thought, oh my gosh, this is going from bad to worse, but, she said, because I don't have any greatness. Everyone was shocked at first, and then everyone nodded their head because she said what everyone was feeling inside.

There was so much toxicity, there was so much disheartened hopelessness that things could be better. People had lost their way. Why did they choose to do nursing? Why did they choose to work in this specialty? Over the course of two years, we worked with them. We had to start with self-recognition, because as long as they could not see that they had anything to offer, how were they going to see it in other people, especially in their most tense moments where things are collapsing all around you, which sadly happens. It's a reality, a burden that we all know healthcare providers face every day. Is the potential for that to happen depending on what area and the type of expertise we have.

At the end of it, we asked folks, how will we remember this work? We've worked really hard. You've all worked very, very hard over two years to build the type of culture where everyone feels a sense of belonging and you now have this abundance of full staffing and so many people want to come work here again. How do we hold on to that? And somebody shared, Well, how about FROG, forever recognize other's greatness and they literally created frog visuals all over the unit from frog posters that every time we have a celebration, somebody bringing the frog cake or frog cookies, they'd be given plush frogs as thank you's from grateful patients because they were they people could see that frog was the being around their unit and they would frog even the families like Way to go, Dad, haven't fainted in like 5 minutes. They would frog their patients as well as each other and the students and people of other departments. That was actually the birthplace of FROG, literally the birthplace right out of the mouths of our providers.

I feel so fortunate to have been able to bring it not just to health care, child care, residential and developmental services and, just all kinds of people-caring professions. It's so exciting when I get a chance to see the work of that first birthplace, that first group of frontline providers coming up with the concept of frog and now literally hundreds of thousands of direct providers now FROG each other and experience and remember the value of always forever recognizing each other's greatness.

Do you have any suggestions on how healthcare workers can open that dialogue with their management teams about these things and how they can go about yeah, having that conversation?

The very first thing I would suggest, if folks do not have a tool already in which to reflect on their degree of compassion fatigue, I would get one. I have one on my website,, under Cool Stuff, there is a compassion, satisfaction and compassion fatigue one-pager. What does compassion satisfaction look like from a behavioural, psychological and physical standpoint, right through to what are the signs that it's transitioning into compassion fatigue and then outright compassion fatigue because it's very hard to have a conversation when we don't know what we don't have a common language.

What is going on for you? Being aware of that and then maybe having a conversation with some other people that you know, like and trust in your area to see, check-in about how they're feeling because you may actually find not only do you are you able to get some support from your peers and your colleagues, which may, in fact, be what you need immediately before you can bring this forward to leaders or HR or occupational health wherever you can find some additional resources and support because often, we've studied a lot on and understanding stress better now and tend and befriend when we take care of each other and when we build a deeper social network that actually those are key stress management techniques beyond the base freeze. You know all of the traditional ways in which we think of stress.

Once we are aware and we also speak with somebody that gets us and is in our area, then we can start looking at with our leadership team about what seems to be the experience, whether it just be you or a few of you talk about these are some of the things that we're noticing is slipping into compassion fatigue. As soon as we label some of those things, like rising sick time and injuries, that's the language that management is accountable for. It's bringing it from the individual experience into the accountability factor.

It's not that leaders don't care for their people. It's not like you can't say I'm feeling a little bit low, I'm having a harder time jumping out of bed and feeling excited. It's not that leaders don't care about that. It's just of the crushing burden that is middle management in health care. I don't mean to be overly dramatic, but literally as somebody who's been in those roles right there, middle Frontline management through the senior leadership, I'll tell you, it's very hard, if you haven’t walked a mile in a health care leader shoes, it's very hard to comprehend just how exhausting emotionally, physically, socially exhausting it is. You have a lot fewer people to lean on to for support, that's for sure. It is a benefit to the leader as well as to you to be able to use your voice to truly be taken seriously. We cannot ignore it, it literally is too high stakes and we are all on the same page about that. You may feel comfortable talking about those things because they're not quite as emotional or personal.

What are you noticing? I've noticed that people are calling in sick, or people are not as willing to take up shifts. I know I haven't been able to take on more shifts. I'm feeling tired. We've had three people in the last two weeks who have filed for musculoskeletal injuries, and we know that there's a tie with the physical body and the emotional burden of health care. I think something's going on here. I know I'm feeling it. You may be feeling it. I suspect other people are feeling it. What can we do about this? Notice how it's not about we need to talk about compassion fatigue. We need to talk about what's going on through the experience of compassion fatigue, and we end up addressing it by talking about what specifically we're seeing, because healthcare folks are used to tangible evidence. What is the evidence that something is going on? Because as soon as we talk about behavioural, quantifiable, measurable things now we're talking the language that all providers understand.

Is there anything else you would like to talk to us about today?

To all of our leaders, healthcare folks and frontline providers who are listening to this, thank you for listening so long. You're clearly so passionate about retention and building wonderful, healthy healthcare organizations. I want to invite you to think about this. You are already greatness. You already are doing the best that you can. So before doing anything else, I invite you to think about that. Literally, spend a minute thinking of nothing else. Turn off your phone, silence your messages, get out a piece of paper if you need to discipline yourself to do something for a minute, put on your timer even and recognize what are you already doing well, despite all of the odds, despite all the challenges, all the obstacles, all the things that are on your plate, what are you already doing well, because if you can recognize yourself, you can recognize other people. If you don't see the greatness within yourself, recognition suddenly becomes a huge uphill battle. You're doing the best you can. I hope you see that in yourself.

Read More:

Empoweringand Uplifting Nurses in 2023

HowRecognizing Your Employees Can Lead to a Better Workplace


AllAbout Healthcare Human Resources


Working asa Frontline PSW & HCA


TheImportance of Self-Care at Work


5 Steps to Land your Dream Nursing Job

About The Author
Cali Wiersma
Social Media & Content Specialist

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