President's Column: Give Meaning to Recognition

Nov 30, 2021

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In such trying times, meaningful recognition takes on even greater relevance and importance.

This holiday season seems like a perfect time to recognize each other for what we have accomplished, contributed — and endured — this past year. Yet, given the stresses of our current reality as nurses, I also wonder: “What does meaningful recognition mean right now?”

As nurses, we’re in the throes of two simultaneous crises, the likes of which we have never seen before. The unrelenting burden of the pandemic is accelerating burnout, exhaustion, moral distress and compassion fatigue to extreme levels. And that situation is compounded by an escalating staffing crisis of critical proportions that further magnifies nurses’ burdens.

In such trying times, meaningful recognition — one of AACN’s six Healthy Work Environment (HWE) standards — takes on even greater relevance and importance.

These standards say that meaningful recognition involves being recognized or recognizing others for the value each brings to their organization. The standard provides organizations with many ideas for what form this recognition can take.

The most important way to think of this standard is, “What makes recognition meaningful to someone on the receiving end, after they’ve been through so much?” At the heart of this idea is to genuinely understand where our colleagues are, acknowledge what they’re feeling, learn what matters to them and find out what would be meaningful to them.

There are many easy ways to recognize a colleague meaningfully. Listen. Let them know we see, hear and understand them. Adopt a daily practice of sharing moments of gratitude with others. Meaningful recognition takes shape in countless ways. The key is to learn what is meaningful for each person we wish to recognize.

Some believe meaningful recognition only comes from leaders, but that’s not true. Imagine how validated and recognized a float nurse in your unit or a new orientee would feel to hear a fellow nurse say, “I want you to know what a great job you did staying calm and jumping in so quickly when your patient’s sats dropped.” We have many opportunities to recognize others and share moments of gratitude and recognition. And studies continue to show that, after recognition from patients and families, nurses find recognition from their peers as most meaningful. Seemingly small actions may be just what a colleague needs to be uplifted in the moment.

Now, more than ever, we know that words must be accompanied by actions. Many of our fellow nurses tell us they don’t always feel valued, and we must address this concern. Organizations need to continue targeting retention strategies that highlight and honor the value that nurses bring as irreplaceable members of the healthcare team.

Until now, I had not considered advocacy as a form of meaningful recognition. The pandemic changed my view. We need to continue raising our individual and collective voices as advocates who ensure that nurses’ value to patient care is recognized. We must ensure that the issues impacting our well-being and our ability to provide optimal care for patients and families are heard. And we must advocate for these issues to be resolved.

For example, AACN and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy agree that clinician well-being is a national priority. This fall, AACN and a group of direct care nurses met with him and his team to convey nurses’ thoughts and concerns, and to help envision strategies that benefit our well-being. AACN is committed to amplifying nurses’ voices at all levels of the healthcare system to ensure nurses are recognized for the value we bring to healthcare.

There are many issues impacting nursing right now that seem out of our control, without easy or quick solutions. And while some solutions continue to reveal themselves, it’s critical to ensure our fellow team members know how much they are valued. Without all of us the healthcare system cannot thrive.

What does meaningful recognition look like to you? How will you recognize a colleague this season? Write to me at