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employee recognition

Creating a Culture of Recognition

According to a recent Gallup State of the Global Workplace report, 85% of the global workforce is currently disengaged in their work. Let’s consider this for a moment. 

When 100 people on your street get up to go to work, 85 of them are unhappy about it 

Out of the 1000 people in your office building, 850 are wasting time or unproductive. Can you imagine what would happen to your company if we could change that? 

What would happen if your team was engaged and excited about their work? 

What could change if your people were dialed in and productive throughout the day? 

The United States is full of powerhouse companies who are innovating the world and changing the global economy at only 15% of their true potential. Imagine what we could do with more engaged employees! 

So how do we push more employees to being engaged and what can truly make a difference? 

Employee recognition 

O.C. Tanner is consistently ranked as one of the best places to work. They recently studied employee engagement and how managers can promote it. An employee survey included the question: 

“What is the most important thing that your manager or company currently does that would cause you to produce great work?”

Respondents answered in their own words and a clear pattern emerged. 37% of respondents said that more personal recognition would encourage them to produce better work more often.

It’s not about the Money

Times have changed from when people worked for whichever company provided the biggest paycheck. Today’s workforce values the intangible aspects of their job a lot further than the dollar amount on their pay stub. Showing appreciation creates a better environment and encourages professional and personal growth. 

If 85% of the workforce is disengaged it’s because they don’t care about their job, and in turn, their job doesn’t care about them. If you change your side, they will likely change their side too. 

Publicity is Powerful 

We all know the power of marketing and really good advertising, but how’s your internal publicity? Are you showing off your amazing accounting team? Are you advertising the work ethic of your IT crew? Gallup research found that only one in three U.S. workers strongly agreed that they have been recognized or praised for their work in the past seven days. The public recognition of your employees is a powerful motivational tool. Even for the employees who aren’t at the receiving end, watching this recognition of success within the company can raise morale and reduce turnover throughout the entire company.

Why Recognition Matters 

“Dad! Watch!” 

“Mom! Look what I did!” Does this sound familiar? 

From a very early age, we crave recognition. 

Walk into a kindergarten classroom and you’ll hear a barrage of, “Teacher look!” “Teacher, see what I did?!” “Teacher! Hey teacher!” 

We grow up craving recognition for everything from using the potty to our class president campaign posters. Our desire for positive affirmation is so strong that even a neutral reaction is actually seen as a negative one. This continues to hold true as we move into the workplace. We crave the recognition that shows us we are good, valued, and whole. In the adult world, employee recognition helps to attract and retain top talent, increase engagement, and encourage high performance. 

The Who and the What

Employees will remember what recognition they received and who it came from for years. They don’t care what their peers think, only 9% of meaningful recognition comes from peers. The biggest impact comes from managers.  In fact, 88% of employees find praise from managers is very or extremely motivating. If an employee is given recognition straight from a leader in the company, they will stand a little taller that day and it can create a powerful positive impact for months. Sometimes, acknowledgment from a CEO could become a career highlight.

When asked what kind of recognition were the most memorable, Gallup respondents consistently preferred the following six methods: 

  • Public recognition (i.e. award, certificate or commendation)
  • Private recognition (i.e. one-on-one discussion)
  • Receiving a high level of achievement through evaluations or reviews
  • Promotion or increase in responsibility 
  • Monetary award such as a trip, prize or pay increase
  • Personal satisfaction or pride

Notice, only one of these methods had any cost associated with it. The other five are simply the acknowledgement of a job well done.

Creating a Culture of Employee Recognition 

With the importance of employee recognition in mind, we have created a few of tips you can follow to build a culture where your employees will feel recognized and appreciated.

  • If You See It, Say It

Nothing “goes without saying” it must be said. Sure, maybe you think your employees know they are doing a good job, but a little positive reinforcement is always a good boost. Don’t wait. Don’t make a note to mention it later. If you see it, say it (and always be on the lookout to see it). 

  • Change Up The Day

If the workweek grind seems to be stuck in a rut, switch something up. Take the team outside, bring in some personalized benefits, change up the daily routine to show them your appreciation. 

  • Personalize Your Gifts

Recognition doesn’t have to include a gift, but if you’re going to give a gift – at least don’t give the same one to everyone. A giant stack of identical gift cards isn’t motivating. Put a little bit of thought into what that individual actually needs or could use at the time. This is where personalized benefits can be so helpful. Give the new mom a massage, the overworked dad a car detail, the busy family a pizza night, or the stellar secretary that dream vacation she’s always wanted.

  • Keep Up Transparency 

No one likes to be the last to know, and no one wants to work where people are constantly speculating on the latest gossip. Be upfront with what is really happening in the company. Being open and honest with your employees, allows them to trust you and feel more like equals, no matter their position on the ladder.

  • Change Up Your Benefits 

There are so many package options that your employees don’t need or want. Maybe they have no interest in a discount at the gym, but instead they would love a house cleaner once a month. Use your benefits budget to create a truly unique benefits package that is customized to your employees so they can get what they truly want without paying for stuff they’ll never use. 

  • Give More Responsibility

Empower your employees by handing them a little more responsibility without managing it for them. Let them make important decisions. It’ll build the confidence of your team and your own trust in them. 

  • Be Unpredictable
    Don’t reward the same people at the same meeting for the same things over and over again. That sort of canned monotony becomes patronizing over time and it’s not genuine. Instead, actively be on the lookout for those going above and beyond and make a recognition but unpredictable habit.
  • Switch it Up 

Make it easy to express recognition and appreciation with a mix of both formal and informal opportunities. Maybe this is a social media challenge, a comment box, a weekly meeting, or a handwritten note just to say thanks. 

  • Be Specific

Don’t give a “good job” reward to Andrea in Accounting just because it’s her turn to be recognized at the team meeting. Give credit for specific behaviors, not just generic qualities. Focus on measurable results that contribute to a company goal, not just good behavior. 

  • Make It Easy 

The global hotel chain Hilton provides managers an annual Recognition Calendar with 365 no- and low-cost, ideas to thank employees. Remind them of things like Secretary’s Day or Employee Appreciation Day. You can add service anniversaries and/or birthdays into their Outlook calendar to help encourage their recognition efforts. 

  • Ask.

If you have a small, growing team, it’s time to talk to them. Simply ask what type of recognition would be most meaningful. Discuss with them the culture you’re trying to create and how you can empower them at work. You may be surprised what you learn.

Recognition has been around since kindergarten. Just because we traded in our glue sticks for a computer mouse doesn’t mean we don’t crave the positive reinforcement. To quote Gallup: “Workplace recognition motivates, provides a sense of accomplishment and makes employees feel valued for their work. Recognition not only boosts individual employee engagement, but it also has been found to increase productivity and loyalty to the company, leading to higher retention.”

As the competition for talent escalates, how you value your employees has become more important than ever.  A recognition culture doesn’t happen by accident and it doesn’t happen overnight. Use these best practices to save you the trouble of reinventing the wheel and make a positive impact on your team. 


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