More than half of leaders have an employee recognition problem on their hands. Are you one of them?
In a press release, OfficeTeam shared 66 percent of people would leave their job if they felt underappreciated. When compared to an employee engagement study conducted by Psychometrics, 52 percent of respondents said they wanted more acknowledgment from their bosses at work. Judging by these two statistics, most of the workforce feel undervalued by their employers.
Lack of employee recognition is a costly problem. Not only can it cause low productivity due to disengagement, but it also breeds issues such as resentment, a decrease in morale, and poor retention rates. Undoubtedly, issues stemming from undervaluing employees can cause problems that hurt businesses and their people. However, combatting these problems is possible by building a work culture around acknowledgment and appreciation.
In this article, explore the top three employee recognition strategies that strengthen teams and create a work culture of gratitude, appreciation, and acknowledgment.
1. Share Gratitude
While sharing gratitude is one of the easiest and most effective ways to give employee recognition, researchers from Harvard Business Review found 37 percent of managers toss positive reinforcement like employee awards or words of affirmation to the side. As mentioned above, disregarding the importance of gratitude is dangerous to workplace culture. Dr. Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at UC Davis, affirms this point. He tells Fast Company that symptoms of ungratefulness like “exploitation, complaint, entitlement, gossip [and] negativity” destroy unified teams.
Instead, Emmons says expressing gratitude helps “individuals live in a way that leads to the kind of workplace environment that human beings long for.” This means it’s more than saying “thank you” from time to time. In places of employment, gratitude is a continuous, long-term relationship-building process designed to foster and strengthen team bonds.
Research shows practicing gratitude and providing public forms of employee recognition doesn’t only benefit the giver and the receiver—it also positively affects those who witness it. Psychologists Sara Algoe and Jonathan Haidt state, “Witnessing and interacting with excellent individuals can create opportunities for the enrichment of the self and society . . . exemplary others inspire people to improve themselves, their behavior, and their relationships.” When other people within the company see gratitude in action, it cultivates a culture of appreciation.
Ways to show gratitude include:
- Using thoughtful words to personally thank someone for their hard work
- Commending an employee in front of the team
- Having everyone share in a team meeting why they’re grateful for their coworkers
- Giving out unexpected employee recognition awards and rewards
- Providing time off or a bonus
- Awarding promotions
2. Customize Employee Appreciation Experiences
Another way to become excellent at employee recognition is tailoring appreciation experiences to celebrate individuality within the company. A recognition program should be personalized toward seeing those on your team as unique individuals. When team members become known for who they are—not just what they do—they become more than just a number.
Think about the power of personalization as a tool in customer experience. In Evergage’s “Trends in Personalization” summary report, “78% [of respondents] believe [personalization] has a ‘strong’ or ‘extremely strong’ impact on advancing customer relationships.” In turn, this increases purchase rate, engagement, memorability, and brand experience. With all these positive outcomes, why aren’t more companies focusing on personalizing employee experiences? This idea naturally aligns with higher retention rates and happier, more productive work environments.
Personalization that speaks to individualization requires a close working relationship with employees. Really getting to know your team is the only way you can truly find out what their likes, interests, needs, wants, and desires in life are.
Recognize your team members as unique individuals by:
- Regularly interacting with each person
- Engaging in conversation centered around their professional and personal interests and goals
- Inquiring about what meaningful recognition looks like to them
3. Provide Recognition on an Individualized Level
Employee recognition is an umbrella term that describes ways in which leaders can show gratitude to their team. However, your team members are different human beings who each have various needs. This includes their need to be recognized in the specific way they desire to have appreciation shown to them. A great starting place to discover employee recognition ideas is by having them take the assessment provided in The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. This will tell leaders how they should recognize each person on their team, whether through acts of service, quality time, tangible gifts, appropriate physical touch, or words of affirmation.
4. Empower Team Members to Demonstrate Peer Recognition
Employee recognition and thanks aren’t badges of honor—they should be a normal part of a person’s daily work environment. When leaders give employees the opportunity and tools to thank and appreciate their coworkers, camaraderie and team spirit thrive. But to do this, a leader must decentralize where appreciation comes from within their organization.
Online retail company Zappos is a great example of one of the most effective employee recognition programs in the U.S. This company is so successful at building a great work environment because they empower employees to participate in a culture of appreciation. For instance, individuals can nominate their peers for covered parking, give out “Zollars” for company schwag, award one bonus per month, and provide suggestions for the “Hero Award,” which comes with a cape, $50 dollar bonus, and $150 dollar gift card.
Laszlo Bock, former Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google shared in his book Work Rules!, “peers have a much better sense of who is really contributing to a project’s success than managers do.” He said during his time with the company, they set up an employee recognition program called “gThanks,” which helped team members publicly recognize employees. Bock took this a step further and created a “Wall of Happy” outside his office, sharing thanks for employees. The company also provides employees the power to nominate people for peer-based micro-bonuses.
While the businesses mentioned still have a form of hierarchy within their organizations, they’ve expanded the source of worker appreciation to include peers. Empowering employees to acknowledge and recognize others for their work increases the sense of appreciation. As a result, making room for co-workers to participate in employee recognition builds stronger, more connected teams.
5. Learn How to Speak with Radical Candor
Sometimes employee recognition is given through feedback. However, disingenuous feedback, good or bad, doesn’t do anyone any good. In Radical Candor, Kim Scott discusses how to honor and appreciate people by being real with them when giving feedback. The first step in doing this is getting to know your employees. For example, you need to know their strengths, what matters to them, and how to serve them as individuals. Getting to know them personally allows for what Scott calls “radical candor,” which is constructive feedback that recognizes people as unique individuals. When doing this, leaders must avoid being “ruinously empathetic” and stroking employees’ egos instead of recognizing their greatness and challenging them to step into it. Giving specific, direct feedback that helps a person grow as an individual helps your team members feel like you truly see and understand them.
Creating a Culture of Appreciation
Employee recognition and appreciation shouldn’t just be celebrated on a singular day at a company. So much so, companies like Zoom are rejecting the idea altogether. “The concept of Employee Appreciation Day is contrary to how we treat and engage with our employees. We do everything we can to show our appreciation for them every single day,” Heather Swan, Chief Happiness Officer, tells Forbes. Zoom even has a “Happiness Crew” of 100 volunteers who bring joy to workers throughout the company each day. This mindset has helped the business become one of the top workplaces in the U.S. with the happiest employees.
Openly practicing gratitude, equipping, celebrating individuality, and empowering employees to recognize their peers creates a culture of gratitude and appreciation. When you do this as a leader, you’re building the framework for a stronger, happier team of people who love their job and feel more connected to one another. In addition, it’s incredibly rewarding for you as an employer or leader to know you are creating a healthy workplace that people truly love being a part of.
With that being said, how do you plan on giving your team members employee recognition?