Everyone, at some level and perhaps despite what they will tell you, wants to be recognized for a job well done. It’s a universal human desire. Moreover, employee recognition delivers a strong ROI: increased productivity, increased engagement, reduced attrition, and improved company culture.
Unfortunately, research has found a dearth of recognition in the workplace. Indeed, 53% of employees want to receive more recognition from their immediate supervisor or manager, and 41% wanted to receive more recognition from their immediate coworkers. Even worse, the research showed that 22% of employees rarely or never receive recognition from their manager or supervisor, and 20% rarely or never receive recognition from their coworkers.
So why is there a shortage of recognition in the workplace?
It all comes back to relationships. As we all know, relationships are built on meeting and exceeding one party’s expectations. No matter what kind of relationship, they are all built on expectations. Employees, therefore, need to know what their organization expects, just as leaders need to know what employees expect. When managers lack the resources to understand, measure and develop these expectations, employee recognition cannot be effective because it cannot be tied to how well performance met or exceeded organizational expectations. So, before recognition, there should be a thoughtful process of setting expectations, including:
- Defining your mission and values. What you want to do and how you want to do it are the cornerstones of corporate culture.
- Align operations. Now that you have established the what and how are your operations set up to support that? Find the gaps and make the necessary adjustments.
- Managers must stop fighting fires all day and take time to define the long view for employees. Individually and with the team, these communications set the appropriate expectations about achievement.
- Which motivation? There are two types of motivation: extrinsic motivation (e.g., salary, benefits, and other tangible rewards) an intrinsic motivation (such as the sense of purpose that comes with accomplishing a goal). Psychological research has shown that extrinsic motivation works in the short-term, but the effects wear off quickly. Intrinsic motivation are much longer-lasting and help to build those all-important relationships. Focus on intrinsic motivation for the best results.
- Recognize the journey. Don’t just reward achieving goals, be sure to recognize effort, improvement, and progress as well to keep employee engagement at high levels.
Of those employees in the research who did receive recognition from either managers or coworkers, only 56% characterized it as thoughtful recognition. Thoughtful recognition is based on three elements:
- Deep knowledge of your employee’s recognition preferences. The reward must match what the employee values.
- Detailed articulation of the accomplishment. “Good job” just does not cut it. What made this a good job? What did the employee do to accomplish the goal? What was their attitude and effort in working toward the accomplishment?
- How everyone benefits from the accomplishment. What does this employee’s accomplishment mean to achieving team or organizational goals? Does this accomplishment help others on your team? Does it raise the team’s profile throughout the organization?
To get recognition right, reflect on when recognition has worked for you. What made it most effective? Ask your employees what they perceive as meaningful recognition. Match the reward to the employee. A Starbuck’s gift card is not effective in motivating an employee who does not like Starbucks! And finally, be spontaneous. If you have “recognize an employee” scheduled on your calendar, you’re doing it wrong.
Finally, recognize employees privately as well as publicly. (Research found that 46% has no preference between the two options.) Write a thank you note. Call an all-hands meeting and present that gift card. Talk to the employee one-on-one. Write a LinkedIn recommendation. Be creative, authentic, and detailed in any format you choose.
Employee recognition does not cost a lot, and it goes a long way to delivering big impact in terms of company benefits. To optimize employee engagement, set your organization up for success by establishing clear expectations and rewarding employees when they meet – and exceed – those expectations.