3 ways Baystate Health revamped its recognition program to fight turnover

Healthcare innovation
Baystate Health revamped its recognition program five years ago to make recognition of employees more meaningful and encourage greater peer-to-peer collaboration. (Getty/LightFieldStudios)

Five years ago, Baystate Health officials realized they had a problem.

The Springfield, Massachusetts-based health system, which had gone through numerous acquisitions, learned through employee surveys that workers didn’t feel wanted. Turnover was at 6%.

“We saw recognition as being a pillar of taking care of our patients,” said Jennifer Faulkner, vice president of team member experience and talent management at Baystate.

And yet, it turned out that just wasn't happening, she said.

So in 2015, the health system, which has four hospitals and 80 physician practices in Massachusetts, decided to scrap its employee recognition program and start over.

That meant creating a new software platform that enabled more immediate peer-to-peer recognition similar to social media sites like Facebook. They tailored the recognition to make sure it reflected the health system's core values of respect, integrity, teamwork and/or lifelong learning.

Within just a few years, the program began to see results for Baystate. By 2018, the system had no turnover among physicians that got three or more awards.

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Here are some additional lessons learned after Baystate overhauled its program:

  • Get peers involved. Baystate leadership designed the system to ensure that peer-to-peer recognition was an important part. So, the software platform Baystate used, called Workhuman, included a feature to enable peers to add comments to an employee’s award. “The way that this work is pretty much almost like a Facebook feed,” said Faulkner. Any employee in the system “can go in on my app or laptop … and I see a news feed of all the recognitions that occurred starting with most recent.” A colleague can go in and comment on a recognition.
  • Make recognition more timely. Baystate officials wanted to ensure an employee got recognized before their annual or six-month review. “We realized that recognition needs to be timely in order to have the impact that it has,” said Faulkner. The goal was to “recognize someone immediately after someone witnessed them doing something that had an impact,” she added.
  • Incorporate input from patients. Baystate recognized that the platform could also be a potential way to help reduce burnout among caregivers, another pressing issue facing providers. Baystate has a paper form that patients can fill out, and then the information will be entered into the platform. “When their work is validated by patients or colleagues it is refilling their well,” Faulkner said. “Just a thanks or gratitude is had a major impact on their psychological health.” Faulkner didn’t know whether the doctor would have been able to get that feedback without the platform.

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Faulkner said that nearly 70% of Baystate Health's employees have communicated with someone on the recognition system within a year's time.  

The system found that as the number of nurses that were recognized increased, the total nursing turnover dropped from 13% to 11.4% from 2018 to 2019, she added.

While it isn't the only reason for the decline in turnover, Faulkner said that Baystate "draws a direct connection between our work and how we can support our patients and our community better."