Sure, everyone likes a pat on the back, a thumbs up, the proverbial “attaboy.” But recognizing employees is about much more than just being a nice boss. In fact, recognition is a secret weapon for performance, retention, and more. And chances are, you’re not doing it nearly enough.
Because recognition in the workplace remains an essential part of an employee’s experience, making people more engaged, more productive, and ultimately less likely to quit.
What’s more, research shows that recognition also has a massive impact on business outcomes like revenue and profit. Delta Airlines introduced an employee recognition program that resulted in a 564% ROI increase.
Now, the problem is that most leaders spend a ton of money, time, and effort on recognition without actually improving engagement. Why is it important to keep staff glowing? Because engaged employees are tremendously more impactful the company’s bottom line.
So—read on, and you will learn how you can create a culture of recognition and enjoy the power that comes with fully engaged employees.
How Often Should You Be Praising Your Employees?
Here are some figures to consider:
Eighty-two percent of employees don’t think they are recognized for their work as often as they deserve, according to BambooHR.
This begs the question: How often should you praise your employees to make them more engaged? Every month/quarter/year?
Gallup says you should be praising someone verbally at least once a week. Now, this might seem a lot.
But what you need to understand is the fact that people crave dopamine. And there are several ways to get that dopamine flowing—via drugs or alcohol or through other workplace-appropriate methods like receiving praise.
The problem, however, is that that dopamine wears off. Fast. And that is why you want to regularly expose your people to praise to create a loop of positive feedback. A less creepy, science-experiment way to put this: Praise makes people happy, and you want them to feel happy at work, in a lasting way.
Dropping a casual “thanks” once a month and sending the person back into the mix does not cut it. You need to give recognition to your people on a weekly basis.
—Aleksandra Włodarczyk, HR Specialist / Recruiter at Zety.
On board so far?
Now let’s move on to how you can create a stellar employee recognition environment that will help boost engagement in your organization.
How to Engage and Retain Employees Through Recognition
Facilitate Peer-To-Peer Recognition
We all feel better when the people we work with recognize our wins, much more than when it comes from a manager, which can seem forced.
Peer-to-peer recognition is 36% more likely to have a positive impact on financial results than manager-only recognition. But you don’t need research to prove this point. Our coworkers know the ins and outs of the job so when they give kudos, it just feels authentic.
OK, peer-to-peer recognition is cool, but how do you implement it? Is there some kind of slam-dunk kudos-giving tech? There actually are quite a few tools out there, like a #kudos channel in Slack, for example.
But I’d recommend using Bonusly. This tool allows employees to have an allowance of points, which they can give to coworkers, directs reports, and managers to show recognition.
Later, employees can redeem those points and get something of value in a digital catalog (gift cards, a lunch with the CEO, etc.). Pretty cool, huh? And while the dollar value of such gifts is small, the recognition is priceless.
OK, so peer-to-peer recognition is a really nice gem on top of your engagement efforts. But there are other ways you as a leader can up your employee recognition game.
Next up, we’ll learn how to recognize employees without coming off as lame.
Match Recognition With Outcome
Now, it’s time for you to meet Harper and Victoria—your marketing staff.
Harper is very hardworking, and she stayed up late to tackle some urgent project for the team. Kudos!
Now, Victoria, on the other hand, introduced a major tweak that is going to literally save your company several thousands of dollars. Holy Moly!
The question is, do you praise Harper and Victoria in the same way? Do they both get a $10 Amazon gift card? Nope.
If you want to engage people and inspire them to do great things, your praise should match up with the staffer’s outcome. If you fail to recognize the effort appropriately, you will leave the person hanging with a strong feeling that they are not appreciated enough.
And when that happens, disengagement will hit you. And hit you hard.
Recognize both Harper and Victoria’s efforts but single out Victoria and present her with something more substantial. After all, the ROI of her contribution was much greater.
Match the Recipient’s Interests
If you present a golf store gift card to someone who hates golf, do you think they will appreciate the gesture? Do you think this is something that is going make them feel engaged?
No. They will consider it garbage.
And this is the reason why recognition is not one size fits all. We all have different interests, and you as a leader need to recognize this and offer something that will be of value to the recipient.
The problem? You probably have no idea what your employees are into. This is where online survey tools like Google Forms come into play. So set up a survey, have a look at your findings, and start rewarding your people in smart ways.
Now, timing is crucial.
Let’s imagine you had to fly off to Germany for a couple of days for some bigshot workshop. When you get back, you learn that Harper went the extra mile and did something that went beyond her responsibilities.
There are two ways you can go about this.
You can approach Harper and say, “Hey, I heard what you did when I was in Germany. Great job! Do you want to take an extra day off on Friday?”
This kind of timely recognition is going to make Harper feel engaged and will encourage her to deliver more to get that dopamine hit later on.
But there is also a scenario in which you take several weeks to recognize Harper’s efforts.
Do you know how that will make her feel? One word. Disengaged. So give recognition as early as you possibly can if you want people to keep kicking butt for you.
Do you remember dropping a generic great job the other day to Harper and then rushing off to the next thing?
If so, the value of recognizing Harper’s efforts was close to nonexistent, because recognition needs to be tied to a person’s specific achievements.
Why? Because otherwise, it won’t feel authentic.
The good news is, this an easy fix and all it takes to make your recognition pop with authenticity is explain how the work that Harper did was great.
Here is an example:
Harper, I really appreciate the time you spent over the weekend to proofread Victoria’s latest article and offer some suggestions on how she could improve her piece for our blog. I am already seeing how she is improving all thanks to your coaching. Great job!
Employees need to have a crystal clear sense of how their contributions affect their teammates or the company as a whole.
If they do, rest assured they are growing engaged and will stay for the long haul.
In every company, there are more and less “sexy” jobs. For example, engineers can create a product that will bring anything from $100 to $1 billion in revenue. Recruiters arguably have just an important role (recruiting engineers, for example), but it’s less apparent that their work is hauling in the riches.
Now, if you want to create a recognition-rich environment, the person doing candidate screening should get just as much recognition as the engineer bringing in millions of dollars worth of business, if they are both doing a good job.
If you do not do that, you are missing out on an opportunity to jumpstart company-wide engagement. Worse, you are creating a toxic environment where employees with “small jobs” feel like they can’t compete with heavy hitters no matter how hard they try.
And when that idea burns into their minds, they are going to jump ship before you know it.
When offering financial perks or other rewards for a job well done, your employees need to be in the know about it. Otherwise, they will think that there is some sort of foul play happening, which will not help you jumpstart engagement, to say the least.
That is why you want to be transparent about whose efforts are recognized and why.
Best way to do it?
Let everyone on the team know (e.g, verbally or via email) what the person did and what ROI it had on the team and/or organization as a whole. This will help you showcase what kind of behavior you expect from your employees.
Now, what about private recognition? Should it stay or should it go?
You can still recognize an employee privately (e.g., during a one-on-one session), but keep in mind that public recognition provides stronger motivation.
Employee Recognition Ideas
Looking for some snappy ways to recognize your staff? Here are some battle-tested employee recognition examples.
Get on Social Media
You can show appreciation to your employees by going online and giving them a shout-out via the company’s Facebook and/or Twitter accounts. This is something that St. Louis Children’s hospital did and it worked great.
Want to take it to the next level?
Set up an employee of the week program and post pictures of your employees on social media regularly. It won’t take much time, because you can automate things with Buffer.
It’s free, but the effect of tagging employees online (especially if you have a boatload of followers) is massive.
Spotlight Them at the Next All-Hands Meeting
As noted earlier, public recognition is extremely powerful.
So take a moment to recognize the successes of your employees at your next all-hands meeting. Have everybody in the company give them a round of applause.
The key here is to be specific (see above).
Offer Extra Time Off
Being all appreciative is nice. A better way, though, is to walk the talk. If one of your employees went above and beyond, why don’t you give them an extra day off?
This will make your employee happy and they will be able to recharge their batteries before jumping back into the mix.
Can’t do that but you still want to give them a pat on the back? Give your employee one or two remote days.
Give Career-Based Rewards
Want to kill two birds with one stone?
Enter career-based rewards. Send your employees to a (local) workshop, sign them up for an online course, or get them a mentor.
First, you will show your employees that you care about their professional development and growth. This will not only help you reward your people for good work but also keep them invested in the company.
Need proof? A staggering 80% of employees call it quits if they don’t receive workplace training.
Second, if you invest in your people, this will benefit your organization as well. They will learn new skills and ultimately take your business to new heights.
It is a win-win.
Giving psychological recognition and monetary rewards to employees should be part of your organization’s DNA. If done right, you will have an environment in which everyone will be glowing and delivering their full power to your organization.
Now—what’s your experience with recognition at work? Are you giving enough? Getting enough? Let’s discuss in the comments below.