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Creating a Culture of Recognition

Daniel Miller Daniel Miller

Employee recognition has long been a cornerstone of effective management. But today, as the competition for talent escalates, how organizations value their employees has become more important than ever. Creating a recognition program is a start — so if you don’t have one, that’s a good first step! — but it’s not something smart organizations do one time and accept as perfect. Great organizations constantly reevaluate the ways they reward employees. This ensures they meet the needs of both their people and the market. As companies grow, this becomes even more of a challenge, and leaders must rethink the way they add value to the employee recognition experience. Before we jump ahead, let’s look at what employee recognition means.

What is employee recognition?

Employee recognition is a method of support that helps employees know their contributions are recognized and appreciated. Employees want to know how they are doing, and recognizing employees demonstrates what success looks like. Companies recognize employees for going above and beyond, for their achievements, tenure or service, or desired behaviors.

Why employee recognition matters

From a very early age, we crave recognition from parents, teachers, and friends. So strong is our desire for positive affirmation, particularly during developmental periods, that we can even perceive a neutral reaction as a negative one. This continues to hold true as we move into the workplace. Employee recognition helps to:

  • Retain top talent
  • Increase employee engagement
  • Encourage high performance

Great Place to Work-Certified™company O.C. Tanner studied employee engagement and how managers can tailor their workplaces to promote it. An employee survey included the question, “What is the most important thing that your manager or company currently does that would cause you to produce great work?” Respondents answered in their own words, providing a variety of responses, but a clear pattern emerged. 37% of respondents said that more personal recognition would encourage them to produce better work more often. While other themes like autonomy and inspiration surfaced, recognition was the most common theme that emerged from responses. The study showed that affirmation, feedback and reward are most effective for motivating employees to do their best work See the complete results in the chart below:

How to create a meaningful employee recognition culture

Many Great Place to Work® clients, even those with strong company cultures, face challenges when it comes to team and individual employee recognition. While there is no universal program for every organization, there are five key elements of meaningful employee recognition that all managers can use.

Creating a culture of recognition: 5 Keys to meaningful employee recognition programs

1. Be specific, be relevant

Recognition is more meaningful when it is tied to a specific accomplishment or business objective. When recognizing employees, explaining what the recognition is for helps employees relate the recognition to their behavior. This encourages continued strong performance.

2. Be timely

Recognition that arrives months after the fact isn’t nearly as meaningful as recognition received promptly. The longer it takes for managers to recognize employees, the less likely employees will see the affirmations as authentic. Make employee recognition a priority and have formal systems in place so you can strike while the iron is hot.

3. Recognition comes in many shapes and sizes

There is a great deal of research that indicates people are motivated by more than just cold hard cash. It is also important to note that everyone has their own preference or style when it comes to giving and receiving appreciation. Get a clearer picture of the primary language of appreciation (in a work setting) of every individual. Then, recognize them accordingly. Beyond a bonus or a raise, consider customized gifts, taking them out for dinner, or other acts that show employees their reward is personalized to them.

4. Little things go a long way

While it’s crucial to recognize major accomplishments, every day thank-yous can motivate employees just as much (and sometimes even more). Writing handwritten notes, or using the intranet to promote the good behaviors of individuals, can help instill a regular culture of employee recognition. These thank-yous and shout-outs do not have to come from managers alone; some employees may find recognition from peers even more motivating.

5. Connect to the bigger picture

Recognition helps employees see that their company values them and their contributions to the success of their team and the company overall. This is particularly key when organizations grow or change. It helps employees build a sense of security in their value to the company, motivating them to continue great work. Regularly share news about how the company is striving to reach the mission, and explain how individual employee goals relate to that vision. Organizations on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® listexcel in employee recognition. Here are some examples of how these winning organizations recognize and reward their employees in meaningful ways:

Examples of employee recognition

1. Make it easy for managers to celebrate employees

Global hotel chain Hilton provides managers an annual Recognition Calendar that features 365 no- and low-cost, easy-to-implement ideas to thank employees. The calendar includes reminders and tips for enterprise-wide, brand, and department recognition programs; appreciation best practices; important dates like International Housekeeping Week; and recognition quotes to share with employees. It also allows users to add employee service anniversaries and local events. Users can download a print-friendly PDF or import an Outlook-friendly file into their personal calendars.

2. Make recognition a red-alert event

When clients of professional services firm Crowe respond to a satisfaction survey with the names of individuals who have gone above and beyond during projects, the survey generates a “Recognize Alert.” Crowe takes Recognize Alerts one step further with a “Pay It Forward” program. Individuals who were recognized can “pay it forward” to other colleagues who played important roles in serving clients but weren’t mentioned in the survey response. Crowe shares the names of both Recognize Alert and Pay It Forward recipients in Crowe Newswire On Demand so others can learn from their examples and the individuals feel appreciated.

3. Meaningful gestures of gratitude

Health care system Texas Health Resources recognizes employees’ milestone years of service at five-year increments. At every milestone, honorees receive a beautiful customized celebratory yearbook. When the honored individuals receive their digital yearbook, each one opens with a personalized congratulatory message of appreciation from the CEO, and includes messages of thanks and appreciation from their manager and coworkers, and photos of the employee at work with their team, having fun, and contributing to the mission. Recognition is absolutely essential in a great workplace, and it doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive. Ask your employees what type of recognition is most meaningful to them. You may be surprised to find how much simple, genuine expressions of thankfulness inspire them to do their best.


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