Employee recognition and appreciation can make a big difference in motivating workers. Managers and employers tend to assume that salary, benefits, and work-life balance are the biggest reasons for good workers to quit. However, a majority of employees report that “not feeling valued by their organization” is a top-three reason for leaving a job.
In a recent survey, 52 percent of respondents said that “not feeling valued by their managers” would be a top reason to quit.
Compared to the cost of raises and other financial incentives, simply showing appreciation for employees is a no-brainer. Employee recognition provides a meaningful boost to morale and company culture.
What is employee recognition?
Most companies recognize employee achievements sooner or later—whether that’s with retirement plaques or occasional promotions. Often, employee recognition could be a much bigger part of company culture.
Make a habit of giving kudos to the workers who go above and beyond expectations. Show appreciation for those who perform the less glamorous, usually thankless tasks. Some workers may earn additional certifications, and others deserve thanks for merely sticking with the same company, year after year.
Employee recognition doesn’t always come from the employer (or even the manager), but it gives positive reinforcement to encourage achievement. The ability to give public recognition from one employee to another can go a long way as well.
What does employee recognition accomplish?
More than just boosting “team spirit,” employee recognition can have a measurable impact on workplace culture and productivity.
Retain top talent
Nobody wants to stay where they aren’t appreciated. Your top workers understand when they’re doing more than their fair share to support the company. Employers can’t offer a steady stream of promotions and raises, so employee recognition provides a sustainable way to celebrate your most skilled and talented staff. Show your hard workers that their effort and achievements are appreciated.
Increase employee engagement
A recent Gallup survey found that 18% of employees were “actively disengaged” (or miserable), compared to just 30% of workers who felt positively engaged.
After years of improvement that peaked in 2019, reported engagement has been declining ever since. Given the national trend toward disengagement, individual employers have an opportunity to stand out by making their workplace more supportive. Recognition and encouragement make workers feel more engaged and less invisible.
Encourage high performance & productivity
Productivity has an immediate, measurable impact. Employee recognition rewards employees for high performance and consistency. Relatively thankless jobs don’t always include opportunities to “shine,” but you can recognize achievements in safety and consistency.
Workers may have different personal reasons for going above expectations, but the results deserve recognition from the company. Expressing appreciation can be a small way to support employee mental health.
Promotes positive work environment
Popular terms like “quiet quitting” and “bare minimum Monday” reflect a jaded feeling of disempowerment among workers. Meanwhile, in November of 2022, less than a third of workers had recently received recognition or praise for good work. It’s easy to underestimate the importance of little gestures like expressing gratitude. Employee recognition is a powerful way to set a more positive tone in your company culture.
Improves company-wide awareness
As long as they aren’t in direct competition, workers are generally supportive of each other. They want the company to succeed, but they usually aren’t aware of high performers in distant departments. Employer recognition boosts the visibility of workers who might not be socially extroverted, but their productivity sets a good example for peers.
Be careful about unconscious bias in the selection of employees for official recognition. Research by Gallup found that “only 19% of Black employees and 21% of Hispanic employees strongly agree that they receive a similar amount of recognition as other team members.”
Two ways to recognize employees
Different levels of recognition are appropriate for different circumstances. Employees want to feel valued, but the spotlight and attention shouldn’t seem disproportionate to the achievement being recognized.
Public recognition gives co-workers, friends, and family a chance to congratulate your hardest workers. Don’t wait for the office Christmas party to pass out all your Dundie Awards. You can choose an “employee spotlight” or recognize a specific achievement on the company’s social media. Large awards might warrant a press release to local media.
The downside of public recognition is that it needs to be used somewhat sparingly. Many of the employee achievements that deserve a “thank you” don’t really warrant a press release. Quarterly staff meetings can begin with a few employee recognitions and awards, giving the recipients a little publicity within the office.
Even when you aren’t shouting praises from the rooftops and street corners, you can still give a meaningful “thank you” in private. Ideally, managers and team leaders should already be making a habit of encouraging their teams on a weekly (or even daily) basis.
Even when you don’t see anything praise-worthy in an employee’s recent performance, it can be helpful to check in one-on-one and see how they’re doing personally. As with any social communication, a hand-written note feels more genuine than an email. Higher-ups can also reach out to congratulate high achievers in a more meaningful way.
5 keys to meaningful employee recognition
However broadly you broadcast employee achievements, make sure it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. The fifth or tenth hiring anniversary isn’t as remarkable as an employee’s thirtieth year with your company.
#1 – Be specific and timely
Generic thanks like “keep up the hard work” can feel impersonal and insincere. Tell workers exactly why they’re being recognized. Don’t delay the recognition for months, or the reward will seem disconnected from the original achievement, possibly even arbitrary. Specifics are helpful when recognizing workers in front of their colleagues, letting others know how to earn similar recognition for themselves.
#2 – Recognize employees in multiple ways
Printed certificates shouldn’t be your primary reward. Small treats and kudos can be as simple as candy or a gift card, but bigger achievements should earn proportionally bigger rewards. Whatever you choose, don’t forget to acknowledge the same achievement in multiple ways. A verbal acknowledgement from a manager as well as a higher executive.
#3 – Make it easier for employees and managers
Recognition can be awkward, especially when there’s no formal process. Managers should be vigilant for achievements that warrant a kudos, incorporating those notes into assessments and performance reviews. Employees shouldn’t be “put on the spot” to respond or participate in award recognitions.
When the recognition process becomes a familiar routine, it should become easier for everyone involved. Detailed reporting software should make it easy to see which employees have been especially productive.
#4 – Provide context
When awards seem arbitrary or unjustified, they can brew resentment and jealousy. Workers in other departments may not understand the criteria for recognition. Provide context for special recognition, including transparency about the selection process.
Routine performance reviews can include an invitation for workers to nominate their colleagues for specific kudos. When an employee has made a positive impression on the rest of their department, the compliments from coworkers can be rewards on their own.
#5 – Connect achievements to the bigger picture
Kudos provide an opportunity to remind everyone of the big picture. Hard work and productivity helps out the team and the overall company, and you can connect those dots as part of the recognition.
Sometimes the recognition might come from an external customer, someone who commented on their exceptional service, and you can emphasize how the whole company benefits from loyal, invested customers.
Discover how Netchex can help make employee recognition easier for your company:
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