Most of us can probably agree that we like to feel appreciated. We feel good when friends, family members, significant others, employers, or even strangers recognize our accomplishments.

Research shows that it can be better to express gratitude than to receive recognition. There is good reason for a business to invest in the work of gratitude. People who express gratitude more often display these qualities:

Better relationships

Improved physical health and mental health

More prosocial behaviors

Better sleep patterns

Improved self-esteem

Increased resilience

Not only do recognition and gratitude have positive impacts on the health and well-being of employees, they can also increase engagement. Companies who have employee recognition programs have engagement levels over 71% higher than companies without recognition programs. The programs motivate employees and boost satisfaction.

In fact, it doesn’t take much to see results. Companies who spend at least 1% of their payroll budget to celebrate employees see employee engagement increase by 85%. They also find that when they spend on employee recognition their turnover rates are 31% lower than companies without programs.

Those numbers may be surprising, but they beg the question, how is your employee recognition program?

Aspects to avoid

By some estimates, 89% of senior managers feel they their company is good at recognizing employees, while only 70% of the employees at those companies feel the same.

A successful employee recognition program may not be as easy as it seems. Many companies have tried and failed to implement effective recognition programs based on many of these factors.

Not committing – For employee recognitions to be successful all managers and leaders need to be on board to actively and fully participate.

Leaving people out – Sometimes there is a downside to recognizing one employee. Other employees can interpret this to mean that they are not doing well. These feelings can lead to lower engagement levels. On the other hand, only recognizing a team can lead to individuals not feeling recognition for their specific tasks on the project.

Lack of resources – Employers need to have a set of resources available to be able to provide the most effective program possible. Resources can include a book of ideas, awards, cards, and other online tips and tricks. The company also has to have the financial resources. If the program is too expensive, the company will not be able to sustain it.

Poor leadership – Effective programs need to have leaders who create a short term and long term strategy. They need to learn about new strategies for recognition and know that they are responsible for the success of the failure of the programs. Leaders also need to recognize managers and supervisors who are using the employee recognition well.

Forgetting feedback – Employers who do not have a way to measure the effectiveness of programs or do not ask for feedback from employees are not able to adapt the program to make it as successful as it could be.

Poor timing – Ideally, rewards and recognition are given as close to accomplishment as possible. Giving someone a reward months or a year later will have much less of an impact than if it were given at the moment.

Lack of clarity – The purpose and expectations of recognition need to be clear. Employees and employers need to be clear on what recognition means, why it is used, when it is used, and how it is used. It also needs to be clear that everyone in the company is expected to participate in the program and that anyone is able to recognize an accomplishment; it is not only managers who can provide recognition.

Very little meaning – Recognition or rewards that have very little meaning to employees will not be motivating.

Making employee recognition work

Many companies have found that making employee recognition work means reorganizing the system and trying new ideas. The days of an employee receiving an award and a monetary reward from a manager at a yearly meeting, might soon be a thing of the past. Now, companies are trying to make employee recognition more personal, more timely, and more peer-based. 

Promoting peer to peer recognition

One of the best ways to make a program successful is to encourage peer to peer feedback. Studies show that this type of recognition is almost 36% more likely to produce positive effects on profits than strictly having manager to employee recognition.

This may be due to the results of another study which states that peer recognition is twice as likely to increase employee well-being and positive psychological functioning than recognition by managers.

A per based system also reduces the coasts of the program and helps feedback seem more fair, frequent, and spontaneous.

Crowdsourcing employee recognition

Using employees and social media to recognize other employees seems like a natural fit for how people within companies interact. In fact, 74% of HR managers state that crowdsourcing would improve productivity.

Eric Mosley, CEO of the social recognition firm Globoforce, states:

Recognition is something that comes naturally to employees — they want to recognize their peers for great work. When the crowdsourcing concept is applied this way, co-workers and peers can identify and reward desired behaviors and cultural attributes through unsolicited recognition, as they happen. This stream of recognition, which often appears in internal social newsfeeds, provides timely, measurable insights into your talent, top influencers and performers.

The thought behind crowdsourcing is that the decisions and observations based on a group of employees will be better than the decisions based on one employee. You can see how this works for your company by creating social networks that recognize employees for their good work.

Making it measurable

For any system to work, the company needs to know what is working and what is not. Leaders need to measure how the elements of the program are impacting engagement and satisfaction in order to makes any necessary changes.

Providing a personal touch

For a reward to hold some kind of value and be meaningful for the employee, employers might need to put in a bit more effort to get to know their employees and what they value.

Instead of an email, try writing them a note.
Instead of a general certificate, try creating one around their interests and specific talents.
Instead of a monetary reward, try giving them an extra perk at work.

Some employees just like a handshake, others might like a companywide email. In order to motivate employees, it is crucial to know what motivates them.

Increasing the frequency

Try to encourage employees to provide recognition more frequently and closer to the time of the actual accomplishment.

Making it a part of the culture

Employee recognition can be incorporated into the culture of the company by making it more visible and expected, but also by making the rewards more specific to the company. For example, KFC gives employees rubber chickens as part of their recognition program.

Being authentic

For employee recognition to work it needs to come from a place of authenticity. If employees feel that the recognition does not seem genuine, then it can actually damage the validity of the program. Tone of voice, posture, and other nonverbal aspects of communication are important in expressing authenticity.

There is a lot of research about how recognition and gratitude are good for employees and the organization. While it may be an adjustment at first, there are many ways that companies can get all the benefits from an employee recognition program using the resources they already have. The employees themselves are the best resource you have in increasing happiness and engagement.

Download the eBook and get practical ideas on designing employee engagement activities for your team!

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