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5 Ideas to Recognize Your Employees While Saving Costs and Building Engagement

By Grace Lu - July 26, 2017

In a survey by OGO, 82% of Americans do not feel recognized for their contributions. Moreover, companies without an employee recognition program report a mean turnover rate 23.4% higher than companies with recognition, according to SHRM’s Globoforce Employee Recognition survey. Many companies struggle with managing their people and culture, but invest very little in the rewards and recognition needed to build it. This blog will highlight key aspects of a successful employee recognition program, and how it can improve engagement, culture, employee retention and ultimately profitability.

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1. Understand what it is your employees want

If you congratulate an employee who is usually quiet and private in front of the entire company’s staff, chances are they’ll feel like they’re being punished rather than rewarded. However, another employee who is motivated by peer acknowledgement would thrive under the same actions. Like customized consumer solutions, there is no one-size-fits-all model that is effective for all employees. Instead, taking time to understand what motivates your employees builds trust in you as a leader.

Rather than spending company resources getting standard gift cards for employees, a personalized note or thoughtful token of appreciation is a better motivator. A good example is copying them on a note to someone else, such as a higher up, giving them credit for their excellent contribution. By showing the employee that their efforts are being noticed, they are likely to continue being engaged.   

If you want to take it a step further, target your rewards based on the goals that your employees set for themselves. Instead of just understanding what they want for reaching a touchdown, understanding what kind of touchdowns they want to reach is extremely valuable to improving employee morale. This process does not have to be tedious or complicated. Many large corporations implement employee scorecards, which include the corporation’s quarterly targets and also an individual’s personal goals. A leadership team with this information can then track whether or not an employee meets their goals and how often they are recognized for it.


2. Make it clear what kind of behaviour is meant to be rewarded

A major determinant of the success of a recognition program is getting team members to trust that you are distributing recognition fairly and attentively. We often hear about employees seeing others being rewarded and thinking that their own contributions aren’t being noticed. Think of an effective employee recognition program as a really good consumer loyalty program, which keeps participants engaged and lets them feel in control of their rewards. This is where a goal scorecard can come in. If someone hasn’t been acknowledged for a while, management can pay closer attention to see if they have contributions worth recognizing or diagnose any problems that prevent them from reaching their goals. Another tip is to be completely transparent about management expectations and what kinds of behaviours are being rewarded, so people are clear on what they should be doing. Combining this with building trust that management recognizes good behaviours leads to a strong culture of driven individuals.

A best practice is to tie the goals and rewards of a company back to the company’s values. Giving recognition is a rare time when you’ll have an employee’s full attention, so employee recognition is a great outlet to highlight company values. For example, if your company values learning and mentorship, connect an employee with someone else in the company who can help them develop further. 

3. Convey an achievement culture- reward wins as they come

Too many companies have the idea that employee recognition comes in the form a celebration gala once a year. While these events work great for celebrating company milestones, people expect acknowledgement of their personal contributions much more frequently. An American company OGO conducted a survey that revealed how 40% of employed Americans say they’d put more energy into their work if they were recognized more often.

In a previous whitepaper,  we published on overcoming the objections to strategic planning, we mentioned using the agile development model by breaking goals down into shorter sprints. The goals for these sprints are more easily quantified, and are therefore more effective to reward. By rewarding teams and individuals incrementally and frequently, everyone will be more motivated on the next sprint. This process breeds a culture of achievement and goal-setting. 

4. Employees want trust in their skills and abilities

You might worry that such frequent recognition costs a business more valuable resources, but studies have shown that employees have little interest in small monetary awards like gift cards, and many times the most positive ways to recognize someone doesn’t cost anything at all.

The point of employee recognition is to convey to employees that they are valuable to the company. The best way to convey to employees that they are valuable is to make them feel like they are an essential partner to the organization and to support their autonomy. Something as simple as keeping an employee in the loop about an upcoming project where they could have an opportunity to participate makes them feel that they are being trusted and recognized for their good work. On the flip side, if you keep employees in the dark about management decisions, they will feel like they have very little say in the company and won’t want to work harder for their company.


5. Be personable

Unless your organization breeds a culture of alienation and distancing of management, you should aim to make your employee recognition strategies as personal as possible. In a study by OGO research, 76% of people save handwritten thank you notes. By making sure that recognition doesn’t seem like just another one of those boxes you tick off from your to-do list, employees can recognize and appreciate sincerity in a manager’s efforts to motivate their team, and it will reflect in the team’s engagement levels.

You can also use recognition as a way to open up dialogue with your employees. While performance reviews are often stiff and don’t allow for honest dialogue, celebrating an employee’s successes is an excellent time to ask them what they want to do next or what they think about the work that they’re doing now.

There is an abundance of research on the merits of good employee recognition on retention and engagement. Talent is any company’s greatest asset, and it is becoming more and more difficult to obtain and retain. Gallup found that a staggering 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged, but companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share. For the managers who don’t know where a good place to start building culture is, employee recognition might be the best first step.


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