The Power of Recognition

Imagine a world where you go to work every day with a big smile, knowing that your work is important to the business and that your boss and your peers not only rely on you, but also trust you and show they appreciate your contributions.  Imagine a work environment that is productive and where you are challenged to sharpen and learn new skills continuously.  Instead, you may find yourself working for an organization that lacks a culture of recognition, leaving you in the dark on whether your hard work and contributions are truly valued.

Sadly, the reality for many employees today is a bit dire when it comes to recognition.  Below, you’ll find several staggering statistics* based on extensive research, which reflect just how important the need for recognition is in today’s work environment:

  • Studies show that 80% of employees feel they are motivated to work harder when they are recognized for their work by their superiors.  
  • In contrast, less than 40% felt that a demanding boss or fear of losing their job motivates them to work harder.  
  • In other recent studies, 44% of employees surveyed indicated they were planning to leave their jobs citing lack of recognition as the main reason
  • 69% in that same study said that they would consider staying if they received recognition and reward for their work.

Recognition and acknowledgement may not come easy or naturally for many. In fact, if you are a supervisor that is laser-focused on a task or goal, and things do not go according to plan, you might be inclined to highlight and point out the negatives by default.  That behavior can turn recognition into a task that requires additional hard work and intentional effort. 

That’s where understanding the difference between a “manager” and a “leader” comes into play. According to Harvard Business School, managers pursue goals through coordinated actions and tactical processes or tasks that unfold over stages to reach certain outcomes. On the other hand, leaders are less focused on how to organize people to get the work done and more on finding ways to align and influence them.  Simply put, managers process people almost transactionally whereas leaders inspire and influence their behavior. This contrast makes managers more likely to focus primarily on mistakes and shortcomings rather than on encouragement and recognition.  Of course, one could argue that it’s possible to be both, a leader, and a manager; however, that’s easier said than done and takes years of practice and discipline. Therefore, I venture to say that most of us are inclined to being one or the other.

Does your company have a culture of recognition?  If not, what sorts of things can you do to change that and begin to lead your employees and show them how valuable they are?  I want to share some recommendations, based on common best practices.  As with most initiatives, make sure that whichever recommendation(s) you implement, aligns well within your company values and culture. It’s also important to make sure an employee is comfortable with any recognition you plan on sharing publicly.

  1. Conduct Employee Surveys – If you do not have a recognition program in place, a good starting point is to survey your workforce and use the information you receive to design a recognition program.  Be sure to ask open-ended questions (Who, What, When, Where, How) so they can provide all the information you need to address concerns.  If you have a program in place already, consider recurring surveys (quarterly, annual, etc.), that you can use to measure their level of engagement.
  2. Develop a culture of Positive Reinforcement – This starts with your weekly one-on-one meetings, where you can see how employees are performing and identify successes and growth opportunities. You can then highlight tasks employees have done well and share those in department and all-hands meetings, giving them kudos.  You may also consider a more defined recognition program where employees can nominate one another for exceptional contributions. Remember, if you find yourself having to provide corrective feedback, it should always be done privately and accompanied by positive reinforcement.  Be sure to follow up and follow through on your commitments.  Doing this shows you have their best interest at heart and care enough to bring things to their attention.  Employees will appreciate this in the long-term and will respect you for it and show you their gratitude by trusting you and sticking around. 
  3. Make Some Noise – This is an opportunity to showcase an employee’s exceptional contributions publicly.  You should consider having the C-level or member of your executive team give them a call or writing them an email simply to thank them for their accomplishments, always reiterating how valuable they are to the organization.  You can also write a post on your company’s intranet site, newsletter company social media page highlighting their special accomplishments.
  4. Reward Employees Accordingly – While recognition is not always about money, it is another important way to let employees know they are valued.  In addition, you should consider them for promotions if/when new roles open that align with the employee’s ambitions and career path. Other things include sending flowers/chocolates/gifts with a hand-written thank you card, or a gift card to their favorite store or restaurant.  During your merit cycle, make sure you explicitly point out their accomplishments by listing the reasons why they are receiving a bonus or raise.  Other creative ways to reward them include having employees leave a few hours early on a given Friday, or the day before a long weekend, once their work has been completed.
  5. Celebrate Milestones – Never forget work anniversaries, or anytime they meet or exceed assigned quotas/goals.  In fact, you should always set reminders of all employee anniversaries on your calendar with a notable reminder days ahead so you can prepare accordingly. Other celebrations may include birthdays, weddings, or other special occasion to the employee.  You can take them out to lunch or give them a nice card commemorating the occasion.  Each of these occasions, provide an opportunity to ask them how they are feeling about their jobs, etc.

In conclusion, employees that feel valued and recognized are less likely to jump ship, even if the grass seems greener on the other side.  Remember that losing good people is never a good thing.  Often, it can feel like a bad break-up that could have been prevented, stirring regret, resentment and causing all sorts of grief for supervisors and the rest of the team.  Not to mention the financial and productivity losses that will impact your operations, customers, and morale.  In fact, a resignation from a highly influential employee may prompt an avalanche of unexpected resignations, which only exacerbates the problem.  Therefore, as business leaders, we should never underestimate the critical role that recognition plays in a business.  In today’s competitive landscape, recognition can be one of the tools that can help you retain your most valuable employees during the Great Resignation and even take your employee relations and productivity to the next level. 

*Source:  Zippia Research

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