Employee engagement is increasingly at the forefront of the discussion around organizational performance, and most of that discussion is not positive. George Dickson from Bonusly talks about the importance of employee recognition in reigning in an increasingly disengaged workforce.
According to Gallup, only a third of American employees are engaged at work. Worldwide, that number drops to a meager 13 per cent.
Why does that matter?
There’s a significant cost associated with employees who aren’t engaged. By some estimates, that cost reaches as high as $450 billion to $550 billion in the US alone. The cost manifests itself in many forms, from poor retention to productivity losses and even safety incidents.
With so much at stake, it’s important to take employee engagement seriously as an organizational goal — but how do you improve it?
Research conducted by Willis Towers Watson showed that recognition, both from an employee’s manager, and from their peers had a dramatic impact on employee engagement levels.
Research by Bersin by Deloitte found that companies that scored in the top 20 per cent for building a “recognition-rich culture” actually had 31 per cent lower voluntary turnover rates.” This study also found that although many organizations do have employee recognition programs in place, 87 per cent of those programs simply focus on tenure, and only 58 per cent of employees knew their organization’s recognition program existed.
We know it’s important to have a program for employee recognition in place, but it’s equally important for that program to work. With that in mind, here are some key elements common amongst highly effective employee recognition programs, and some easy ways to implement them.
Recognition is particularly impactful when it’s given in the moment. When someone makes a major (or even minor) contribution that helps move their organization forward, there’s a unique and time-sensitive opportunity to show genuine appreciation for all the work and thought that went into it.
Why is the opportunity time-sensitive?
**Think of it this way**: It’s your dear friend’s birthday, but you don’t call. You don’t send a card, not even a quick message on Facebook. Two months later, you hand them a gift card wishing them a happy birthday. If you still have that friend later, you’ll have some explaining to do, and an uphill climb to make up for it.
The same goes for your colleagues at work — the contributions they make, and the things they achieve for your organization. Thanking someone for those contributions months after the fact is often too little, too late to have the kind of impact you might hope for.
Frequency and timeliness go hand-in-hand in effective recognition programs.
If the only time an employee receives recognition for their work is during an employee award ceremony, or during their quarterly review, it’s highly unlikely that interaction is going to be timely.
Each member of the team makes myriad contributions all throughout the day, week, month, and year. If recognition is given infrequently, several valuable contributions are bound to go unrecognized.
That’s why frequency is so important for recognition to be its most effective.
Luckily, it’s easier than you may think to implement timely and frequent recognition, as long as there’s widespread participation within the program.
Communication and collaboration are crucial in the modern business landscape, and they’re easier to achieve today than it has ever been before. There are some truly outstanding communication and knowledge sharing tools and techniques available now that didn’t exist years ago.
Encouraging everyone to participate in recognizing each other’s achievements and contributions, and give those interactions a forum to take place. It makes it easier to deliver recognition with frequency and timeliness, and adds a level of personalization and legitimacy that is hard to achieve otherwise.
The same Willis Towers Watson study that showed the impact of recognition on engagement, also found that “people most value appreciation for accomplishments that are familiar to and significant for one’s direct peers.”
Specificity and Alignment
When someone makes a great contribution to their organization, they may be aware of the effort it required of them, but they’re not always aware of the impact that contribution had on their colleagues, the organization, or the outside world.
This is why specificity is such a vital element of effective recognition. Telling someone “Great job,” is not going to provide the same benefit as telling someone “Great job putting that presentation together. It really impressed those potential investors, which is crucial for us at this stage. Your poise in that room, and the slides you designed were both amazing!”
That kind of specificity not only shows the recipient that their work is appreciated, it shows exactly *why* it’s appreciated, and how it impacts everyone else. Understanding the impact of your work, and the appreciation others have for it is a huge motivator toward making a further impact.
Visible recognition offers several advantages. Not only is public recognition a powerful motivator in its own right, it’s a great way to communicate useful patterns for others to emulate.
In the example above, the recipient gains an understanding about the value their work has, and how they can continue to add similar value. When that same interaction is highly visible, suddenly everyone gains a valuable insight into what types of contributions matter most, and why. It provides a template for their own growth.
Visible recognition is one of the most powerful employee onboarding tools you have at your disposal.
Many employees (especially new hires) want to be top performers, but struggle to understand what it takes to become one. Each visible display of appreciation for a colleague’s contribution gives them another piece of the puzzle. When those displays are specific and tied to organizational goals, it adds the context they need to understand how those pieces fit together.
Implementing any one of these elements will help build a more recognition-rich culture in your organization, but they’re even more effective in concert. Modern tools have made it easier than it ever has been to show appreciation for a job well done, even with limited resources and at a growing scale.
|About the author|
George manages content and community at Bonusly, a web platform for peer-to-peer bonuses, rewards, and recognition in the workplace. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.