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Sterile Processing Technicians and the Art of Appreciation
By Sara Freiberg

No one jumps out of bed with excitement each morning because their organization provides dental coverage. While dental coverage is a great benefit and often needed, it is not what motivates employees on a daily basis or keeps them long term. Many articles are written on the various ways companies can retain their employees. A simple Google search on employee retention will yield articles such as “Five Surprising Ways to Retain Employees,” “Four Simple Steps to Get Employees Excited,” and “The Top Three Employee Engagement Drivers.” The list goes on. It may be surprising to learn that while money, benefits, great leadership, and company culture are important to many employees, they are not a key motivator in making employees feel valued. What is a top motivator for an employee? Showing appreciation and showing it often.

The surgical arena is demanding. As a high-stress work environment, employees are often tasked to take on additional responsibilities to meet the daily surgical schedule timelines with limited staff. The surgical staff depend upon the sterile processing staff to ensure everything is prepared accordingly, prior to each surgical procedure. The sterile processing department is responsible for following strict regulatory and manufacturer guidelines regarding decontamination, inspection, testing, sterilization, packaging, and distribution of surgical instruments; reusable medical devices; and sterile supplies; and is referred to as the “heartbeat of the hospital.” Everything the sterile processing technician performs is closely monitored, meticulously followed, and is the surgical arena’s first line of defense in preventing patient infections and potential adverse events.

Throughout the U.S., more than 50,000 dedicated sterile technicians work each day and are crucial to the success of sterile processing departments, surgical procedures, and patient safety.1 They work tirelessly in the daily processing of surgical instruments, reusable devices, multiple products, and various systems within the department, supporting the guidelines and adhering to best practices. They are known as the silent heroes working behind the scenes.

Employee Appreciation Day was introduced in 1995 and is celebrated each March. While not an official holiday, the day was set forth as a way for all organizations to recognize employees in all industries. Each year in the second week of October, IAHCSMM recognizes and celebrates sterile processing professionals for all of the amazing contributions they provide to their facilities, departments, and patients. The entire week is dedicated to recognizing sterile processing professionals in the U.S. and internationally, fostering positive morale around the world.

What the data tells us
While both are annual events, research shows that employee appreciation is proven most effective when provided on a consistent basis and part of a daily routine. In an HR poll, 69% of employees stated they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better appreciated, and millennials required immediate recognition for their accomplishments.2 Of the top reasons why employees stay in an organization, recognition came far before pay and benefits. While money is important, employees would rather know they matter. They would like recognition and praise for their hard work and would like that recognition more often.

A Gallup study found that more than two-thirds of employees do not receive any praise in a given week.Those who say they are not going to thank someone for doing their job should recognize that employee recognition is meant to reward people who perform an excellent job on a consistent basis and go above and beyond what is commonly expected. Research also shows when praise or recognition is received, it increases revenue and productivity between 10–20%.Additionally, those feeling unrecognized are three times more likely to quit within one year of their employment.3

A Gallup poll found that employees who receive praise from their managers perform better and stay longer with an organization.Dr. Gerald Graham, a professor at Wichita State University, found in his research on 65 workplace incentives that three of the most important motivators include (in order of importance) personal praise, a written thank you, and public praise.4

Dr. Graham noted that while these discoveries were simple, free, and provided the greatest motivational impact, they were also practiced the least. Employee praise is a low-cost option that produces a high-impact result. When employees do not get enough recognition, they begin to ask why they should continue, sending a message that no one cares and feeling they do not matter or make a difference to the organization. When praise and recognition arrive too late, it prompts an employee to look elsewhere.

Locate the spark and fan the flame
Finding what motivates each individual is the key to understanding the employee and begins with manager initiation. How do we find out what motivates employees? Ask them. It may be initiated with a one-on-one lunch or meeting. Not surprisingly, a manager-employee relationship is highly and closely correlated with employee engagement. When employees see their manager show an interest in learning what makes them feel valued, they feel recognized, part of a team, and better connected to their manager and the organization.  

Simply knowing that praise is important is not enough; managers must put the practice of appreciation in place and conduct it on a consistent basis. If an employee performed a great job and the manager waits a week, two weeks, or shows no appreciation at all, it sends the opposite message where the manager appears to be disconnected to the employee. Additionally, if daily communications consist of only discussing the issues, employees may become disconnected. Recognition gives employees a balance of positive and negative feedback by offering a pat on the back and verbal praise for a job well done.

When managers recognize employees for their performance, they will notice the difference in employee behavior because people often have a greater sense of pride and give back tenfold when they feel appreciated. Employees want recognition to be genuine, meaningful, and specific, and the correct phrases will go a long way in showing true appreciation.When an employee hears, “Karen, thank you for always staying late when we need you and being a wonderful team player,” it reinforces what all managers would like to see their employees do more of—great work.

Employee recognition is also personal: one person may enjoy public recognition, another may prefer private recognition. The main goal is to ensure employee praise and recognition takes place. Praising employees is a wonderful way to impart how pleased you are with their dedication, outstanding contributions, or impressive behaviors. Think for a moment. Who is your silent hero, and have you thanked him or her today?


  1. https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/human-capital-and-risk/15-facts-and-statistics-on-central-sterile-departments-and-technicians.html
  2. http://www.workstars.com/recognition-and-engagement-blog/2017/08/18/10-knockout-employee-recognition-statistics-for-hr-infographic/
  3. https://www.trainingjournal.com/articles/feature/power-praise-and-recognition
  4. http://www.incentivemag.com/Strategy/Engagement/motivate-employees-recognition-bob-nelson/
  5. https://www.icmi.com/resources/2017/The-Top-5-Reasons-Employees-Stay-Put

Sara Freiberg, CST, CBSPDT, CER, has more than 15 years experience working as a certified surgical technologist, with five of those years spent traveling to various operating rooms across the U.S. Following Sara’s time in the clinical arena, she worked as a surgical technology didactic and lab instructor at Rasmussen College. Sara holds bachelor degrees in science and business and marketing, which led to her work with various medical device companies as a clinical specialist, product manager, and clinical training manager. She has experience working on quality and regulatory teams, monitoring patient-adverse events, and postmarket surveillance activities.

Sara currently works for Northfield Medical as a clinical education manager where she provides education which is based on current manufacturer and regulatory guidelines regarding various healthcare topics for SPD, OR, and GI staff. Training entails the care and handling of medical devices to ensure patient safety, as well as targeted education addressing departmental cost concerns. Her passion is working with SPD, OR, and GI departments; providing assessments; and sharing best practices with respect to patient and staff safety, surgical instruments, and medical devices. Sara is a voting member of the AAMI ST/WG84, ST91 flexible endoscope committee, and she has developed several CEU presentations approved through CBSPD, CBRN, NCCT, and IAHCSMM. Sara also authors a biweekly healthcare article for Ultra Clean Systems.

Sara is currently studying for the Certification Infection Control (CIC) exam through APIC.

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