Staff Recognition on a shoestring – How the little things can make a big difference


16 February 2017


When working with Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust nearly four years ago, one of the first questions I asked to get an insight into their culture was: “how well do you recognise staff here?” The overwhelming response was that they proudly spent a lot of time and effort on staff recognition! The Board supported the delivery of an annual awards ceremony for staff, hosting 350 front line employees in the renowned DW Stadium, for the last six years. They also had an Employee of the Month programme that had been running for a couple of years. Both programmes were well supported and were offering formal reward and recognition for the achievements teams and individual staff members had made. Both schemes were well publicised and there was good uptake for both.


On the face of it, that was job done. I was working for an organisation that completely got the importance of staff reward and recognition. Besides, I’d worked in several other organisations that never took such endeavours so seriously. Surely there was some other priority I could be putting my OD practitioner efforts into?


When we conducted our first Go Engage Pulse survey in October 2013, it was a big surprise to find that on average, staff scored a moderate 3.4 out of 5 to reflect the degree to which they felt recognised by their managers and by their organisation. Not only that, it was the lowest scoring enabler of staff engagement. This result was further backed up by several testimonial examples of staff feeling undervalued and unappreciated. So what was going on?


I couldn’t fathom how an organisation that convinced me that they took reward and recognition seriously, wasn’t matching up with the staff experience. So I decided to run a staff focus group to investigate further. We opened the floodgates to over 60 staff who agreed to open up on their views on the matter. What became glaringly obvious was that they weren’t too unhappy with the organisation’s reward and recognition efforts. Albeit, WWL could make a few tweaks here and there e.g. invite more frontline staff to the awards, and incorporate a team of the month. So that’s what we did. But what struck us the most, was the amount of frustration over something so simple. All staff really wanted was a thank you. Sometimes the simplest, cheapest, easiest methods are the most underutilised (look up Adrian Webster’s concept “Tiny Noticeable Things”? (TNTs) and we were proving this to be the case. Staff told us that a simple gesture could make a huge difference to their experience, morale and wellbeing.


So how on earth do you get people to just start saying thank you? What seems such a straightforward thing to do wasn’t being done enough. So what was the barrier? Perhaps sometimes people forget to express the feelings that they take for granted? Perhaps some people are uncomfortable with expressing their appreciation? Or perhaps some people just need reminding every now again what a difference a thank you can make? We worked with both staff and our trade unions to create the solution to this problem, and what a solution it was…


To help explain the staff created solution, I’ll do so by introducing you to three members of WWL staff through the following video:


All three explain what it has meant to receive their “Going the Extra Mile” card and badge. This small gesture of recognition can be given by anyone (manager, colleague and patient) for anything they want to show their thanks or appreciation for. The card and badge are received by the nominee within 10 days of the nomination, with a printed personalised message from the nominator. The card itself acts as a format for saying that incredibly important thank you, but the badge has helped to do so much more…


What I didn’t anticipate was how much of a difference wearing a badge with pride could make. Staff wearing the badges were being asked “what did you get that for?” Staff would tell their story and would receive positive reactions, which again would perpetuate any positive emotions originally evoked on first receipt of the card. It wasn’t just colleagues and managers asking either, patients would see the badge and feel reassured that they were being treated by a dedicated and caring member of staff.


In the first six months of launching the cards, 1000 nominations (almost a quarter of the staff population) were received. The pulse survey score for recognition increased to 3.60 during this time, which was a significant improvement and the results and uptake of the scheme is still going strong for over 18 months.


There were some downsides to the programme. Inevitably, with reward and recognition schemes you just can’t please everyone. A small minority of staff would challenge whether the scheme was fair, and why they hadn’t received a card and badge when their colleagues had. Whilst there will always be people cynical or disapproving of a scheme such as this, we had to take a “greater good” view on it. As long as the scheme was benefiting the majority of staff and helping most staff to feel better levels of recognition, we would continue.


With every scheme or initiative, they seem to have their shelf life. We haven’t found it yet with ‘Going the Extra mile’ and it’s still proving as popular as ever coming up to two years implementation, but it’s likely we’ll upgrade or innovate it in some way when the right time comes. The impact on staff engagement speaks for itself, not only by the results seen on the Go Engage pulse survey, but even more so by the way receiving a simple card, badge and appreciation message can make someone feel.


Nicole Ferguson
Go Engage Lead Consultant