How to motivate a healthcare team

Healthcare workers across the UK are under unprecedented levels of stress and pressed by demanding new challenges. When they are facing continual demands to reduce waiting times, or dealing with increasing numbers of patients, or working with restricted budgets at a time of inflation, not surprisingly, the pressure is often demotivating. This leads to low productivity, absenteeism and higher staff turnover.

Motivation expert Natalie Gunson, director of incentive and motivation agency AYMTM, explains what is required to develop motivation schemes to address these issues. 

As with any industry, employee engagement is the cornerstone of providing consistent, effective service. Within the health sector, there are certain unique challenges to be faced. In such a high stress, physically demanding environment, sickness and absenteeism is high, long hours and shift patterns have an impact on the work/life balance, and retaining the right staff is vital. 

Just in the UK, for example, the Boorman Review of the health of NHS workers, published at the end of 2009, estimated that the NHS could save £555m by reducing absenteeism, with NHS staff absent from work because of sickness or ill-health for an average of 10.7 days a year.

When an organisation experiences consistently high levels of absence and turnover, especially, for instance, among clinicians or hard-to-find nurses, a properly defined, well-structured incentive programme to recognise, reward and motivate staff can prove to be a highly cost effective solution.


But, whether developed in-house or outsourced to a specialist agency, the programme needs to be well-planned. Here are the steps that need to be addressed to ensure that a motivation scheme achieves maximum benefits for the organisation. 

Firstly, establish objectives, these must be clearly defined to create a scheme which promotes trust values and defines expectation and behaviour. It is essential at the beginning to decide what the programme is to achieve. Is it staff turnover? Absenteeism? Standards of performance? Targets need to be set for all participants that are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-defined). As part of this a sound reporting process needs to be in place, providing activity information for ROI analysis and review. 

Secondly, define the participants and research; what rewards will motivate them? Are we dealing with nursing staff? Support staff? What is the demographic mix? It is essential to understand their needs and the key motivating factors to make it engaging for the audience. 

Thirdly, establish time frames. It is essential to set definite time frames and inform healthcare staff what they are. Will the rewards be earned over a month or six months? It may be a combination of both. Whatever it is, this must be communicated – participants must know what timescale they are working towards. Goals must be reasonably achievable in the short term. 


Then the reward must be considered. Everyone is motivated by something different, so either select awards which are either appropriate to the target audience, or better still, allow winners to choose their own reward. Equally important is tracking reward activity to provide full transparency and financial reporting. In a working environment with a strong union presence, it is vital that activity is seen to be equal, fair and accessible by all. 

Communication is also key. For any campaign to succeed, it must be at the forefront of participants’ minds, launched with a powerful communications campaign to maximise awareness. To maintain interest, engagement and momentum, consistent, creative, high impact communications are essential. A combination of communication tools must be employed to achieve success. For example, SMS texting might be the best medium for a wide spread audience with limited computer access. In addition, engaging colourful collateral in staff areas would go a long way in reaching most staff. 

Then you must take into consideration the administrative burden. Providing the best programme possible can prove and admin headache for line managers already under pressure. In such a time constricted environment automating the process as much as possible is key to ensuring timely and consistent activity. Online review panels can remove the need for face-to-face meetings to vote on award winners. A judging panel often needs staff from across the spectrum to be deemed fair.


Crucially, budgets must be considered. Rewards can be limited as they may come out of the public purse. For these sorts of environments, recognition plays a hugely important role in building morale. A reward budget must allow for maximum award cost; income tax; administration; communications; promotion materials; and distribution. 

Achievement must be recognised, publicly. Remember that reward and recognition go hand-in-hand. In motivational surveys, time and time again it is proved that the recognition of a job well done is even more important than the reward itself. Healthcare managers should present rewards and congratulate recipients at a ceremony in front of colleagues. 

Lastly you must evaluate the results. Time must be set aside to review the success of the incentive. Ask participants for their view on the good and bad points regarding the structure, communication and awards. Include a process to analyse the impact on targeted areas and the cost effectiveness of the programme in achieving these goals.

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