"Positive feedback is a powerful tool to combat burnout and keep people focused on doing their best work, say leaders of Mount Sinai's Office of Patient Experience," says Tara Villon, Senior Director of Experience Strategy and Data. "The COVID-19 pandemic shined a light on this, as it did with so many aspects of life. During the worst of the pandemic, health care workers took center stage as never before. Even as the public attention waned, the workload—and the stress—didn’t go away. Health care workers were still emotionally and physically exhausted, but now it felt as if their efforts were no longer appreciated, notes the Office of Patient Experience. A national study published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report in 2021 found that 53 percent of public health workers reported symptoms of at least one mental health condition, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or thoughts of suicide."
In 2021, Mount Sinai launched its first employee engagement survey, Your Voice Counts, to hear from employees about their work experience, with the goal of making the Health System a better place to work, learn, teach, and receive care. Among many findings, the survey established that employees were experiencing high rates of burnout and stress. In addition, the results demonstrated that, when employees felt recognized at work, they were more engaged, more connected to The Health System, better able to disconnect from work, and experienced less burnout.
In response, the Office of Patient Experience decided to build on its employee appreciation efforts, including the STAR (Strive to Achieve Relationships) peer-to-peer recognition program, as well as develop new approaches to enhance employee recognition.
STAR awards provide positive feedback about a specific action or actions that went above and beyond expectations. Specific positive feedback is more meaningful than a generic “good job” pat on the back, leaders of the office note. To take this program a step further, some Mount Sinai managers recognize STAR recipients publicly, even getting senior leadership involved. That way, the benefits are threefold, explains Colette Watson, project manager at the Joseph F. Cullman, Jr. Institute for Patient Experience. “The employee gets recognition from colleagues, recognition from managers, and recognition from executive leadership.”
Some managers developed additional approaches to employee recognition. Lisa Renaud, Practice Manager for Primary Care at Mount Sinai Morningside on the Upper West Side, is one such manager. “My team meets and shares positive patient responses on a weekly basis,” she explains. “This also plays an integral role with the staff’s ownership and desire to achieve the mission and vision.”
She also elicits input from patients through a “Tell Us Your Wow Moment” board, where they share their gratitude to the staff on Post-it notes. The board hangs in the hallway, where patients and staff walk past it regularly. Staff discuss these comments during the weekly meeting, and Ms. Renaud is starting a monthly staff newsletter to feature patient praise, providing additional positive feedback.
“Lisa is really a pioneer in bringing new employee appreciation and patient experience ideas to life,” notes Steve Fecteau, Director of Employee Engagement and Recognition, Talent Development and Learning.
Ms. Renaud admits she doesn’t have all the answers, so she empowers her staff by holding a weekly “think tank,” where staff share imaginative and inspiring ideas. Taking a back seat during these discussions, Ms. Renaud finds that people who are involved in problem-solving have greater loyalty and buy-in. “It makes them feel so important. Their ideas count, Ms. Renaud says. “As a result, staff have an innate desire to do better, to provide exceptional care.”
"Danielle consistently goes above and beyond for her patients, however I would like to acknowledge her hard work for a specific patient that we are mutually following in the PICU. Danielle has exemplified extraordinary empathy, equity, and agility in assisting a patient and her family from overseas to feel welcomed and supported in a country where they do not speak the language or have medical benefits. She has helped the patient and her family communicate with other resources and family members throughout the country and has been a true support for this patient during a tough admission. I have watched her not only help provide the family with basic necessities, but she was even able to acquire a grant to get the family preferred items from Amazon, which made the patient and her family's day. We use the BTS microphone that she was able to order for the family during our PT sessions, and I have seen a direct improvement in the patient's affect from this act of kindness. Danielle is an inspiration to work with, and I feel grateful to be on the same team as her every day."
– STAR Recognition, Social Services, The Mount Sinai Hospital
"Kevin Duggan is a tremendous advocate for his patients. His calming and optimistic demeanor, his attentiveness, and his communication have made a tremendous difference to the two patients I have been lucky enough to share with him. He has truly gone above and beyond for his patients, taking the time to communicate with families and ordering special beds to ensure patient safety and comfort. In addition, his clinical knowledge and his ability to anticipate issues before they become dangerous have saved his teammates. I am truly grateful to have shared patients with Kevin, and I know his patients are as well."
– STAR Recognition, GP 6 West, The Mount Sinai Hospital