Employee Recognition: Stronger Engagement Isn’t the Only Benefit

6631645347_dc66171e35_bIf you manage employees or lead a team, O.C. Tanner’s Executive Vice President, David Sturt, says there’s one easy thing you can do to dramatically enhance engagement levels: recognize great work.

“That means calling out excellent accomplishments by your employees right away—and doing so in consistent and regular increments from the start,” Sturt wrote in a Harvard Business Review article. In two separate studies of nearly 3,500 individuals, Sturt’s company found that recognition directly affects several aspects of employee morale and loyalty:

  • In a 2014 survey, 87% of the U.S.-based participants who said their companies have strong recognition practices also said they feel a strong relationship with their direct manager. Among those citing a lack of strong recognition practices at their companies, this figure drops to 51%.
  • In a 2015 survey, 70% of employees who have received some form of appreciation from their supervisors say they’re happy with their jobs. Without this recognition, only 39% are happy in their work.

Sturt goes on to say that recognition also has a powerful effect on the peers of those who receive recognition. Managers who publicly presented a few individuals with a “years of service award,” for example, actually increased the feeling among all employees’ that their employers cared about them.

What Kind of Recognition Is Best?

Obviously, an award for years of service is only one of many ways managers can show their appreciation—but not all forms of recognition have the same impact. According to a recent Gallup workplace survey, the six types of recognition workers find most memorable are:

  1. Public recognition or acknowledgment via an award, certificate or commendation.
  2. Private recognition from a boss, peer or customer.
  3. Receiving or obtaining a high level of achievement through evaluations or reviews.
  4. Promotion or increase in scope of work or responsibility to show trust.
  5. Monetary award such as a trip, prize or pay increase.
  6. Personal satisfaction or pride in work.

Notice where money is on that list. Next-to-last. Clearly, managers can’t say that recognition is too costly to dole out—not when the top three responses are simple acts of public or private acknowledgment of a job well done.

In fact, there is research that shows non-monetary forms of recognition are the most effective and least problematic. It also shows that poorly planned and managed recognition programs can actually erode productivity. Still, the vast majority of research and expert opinion supports the positive outcomes of sound recognition programs.

Who Provides the Most Meaningful Recognition?

Participants in the Gallup survey also identified who gave them their most meaningful and memorable recognition: their direct manager (28%); a high-level leader or CEO (24%); the manager’s manager (12%); a customer (10%); peers (9%); other (17%).

As with many past studies, Gallup’s findings show that employees themselves cite direct managers as the single most meaningful source of recognition. Unfortunately, it appears the vast majority of managers aren’t schooled in the art of employee recognition. A few years ago, a WorldatWork survey that found just 12% of organizations provide managers with some type of training in recognition, despite 88% having recognition programs at their disposal.

That’s a fairly big disconnect—one that employers will have to bridge if they truly want to move the needle on crucial issues such as employee engagement, manager/employee relationships, on-the-job happiness and team morale.

If you’re interested in launching or revitalizing your company’s employee recognition program, check out this Justworks blog post for five no-nonsense suggestions to get you started.


photo credit: Keeper of the Flame Award Winner via photopin (license)

This entry was posted in employee engagement, employee recognition, workplace culture. Bookmark the permalink.

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