We all want a successful recognition programme in place. After all, the aims of any reward and recognition programme are all about benefits. Benefits to employees, your business, even employee acquisition and retention.
However, the sad fact is that some recognition programmes just don’t work. The results you’re looking for don’t come. If you’ve launched an employee recognition scheme without success, don’t lose heart – just change your tactics.
Recognition schemes tend to perpetuate a number of common mistakes. See if you can spot yourself on this list.
You don’t consult employees
Employees are at the heart of your business, so it makes sense that when you recognise them, you are giving them what they actually want as opposed to what you think they need. It isn’t just about the recognition on offer, but also about how you reward.
If your current plans include a big song and dance and company presentation, you may have your introverts hiding under the table to avoid something that makes them squirm.
If you decide to reward top performers with an annual exotic break, single parents and carers are probably sighing in exasperation.
Consulting employees with a survey, or getting to grips with what gets them going face-to-face, is the only way to get a real understanding of what your employees want. You might even be surprised that it’s predominantly verbal recognition and respect that resonates most with your teams.
Then, when you’re putting your recognition plans together, make sure you carefully consider what your employees have told you and plan accordingly.
Your communication is too sparse
We know that communicating recognition often feels low priority, but every business gets busy. If you have a recognition and reward programme in place, there can never be too much communication around it.
Tell your new employees. Remind your current employees. Shout about the winners and highly commended team members in your newsletters, meetings and noticeboards, even on social media.
A recognition programme ceases to be relevant when it’s not top of mind. Keep it fresh and breathe life into it – harness your marketing team to get it alive and kicking once again. Making it a priority is essential for your managers as well and now is the time to reiterate why recognition is so vital to your business.
You rely on manual intervention
We mentioned that your business is busy, but if you rely on manual work to keep your recognition programme going, it’s always going to fail in some way unless you are hyper-vigilant. Technology is the answer.
Recognition platforms are available to help you reward and recognise employees and improve the morale in your company.
Technology allows you to take a step back and introduce employee-led elements into the programme, whether that’s a peer-to-peer mechanic, leader boards, real-time engagement or the ability to self-select rewards. Technology can simplify employee recognition and make it more effective.
Remember that when it comes to recognising employees, the whole point is to ensure that employees are in the spotlight for the work that they do. Make sure that they receive valuable recognition and rewards in a way that works for them, and you’ll find your employees are more productive, happier and even healthier, resulting in sustained business success.
About the author:
Elaine Keep is the owner and director of Incentive & Motivation, among the longest standing titles in the employee and customer reward space catering to HR pros. Elaine is also the founder of Your Marketing Managed, offering marketing management, content production and copy writing services.
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The leaders in your company must understand the value an employee recognition scheme brings and how it impacts on overall business success. Any business that values its employees and wants them to stay needs to understand that regularly showing appreciation is a key driver of engagement and retention.
Having constant flow of employee recognition is vital to productivity, engagement, morale and retention. You’re doomed if you ignore it while your competitors embrace it.
This blog gives covers the fundamentals of what everyone, from middle management to CEOs, needs to know about employee recognition.
What’s covered in this article:
1. What employee recognition is 2. Why employee recognition matters (the business case) 3. When to recognise your employees, and for what 4. How to recognise staff 5. Getting started on employee recognition
What is employee recognition?
By definition, employee recognition is:
“Communication that seeks to highlight or celebrate achievements, with the intent of reinforcing behaviour and building positive habits.”
That’s a very staid and plain way of describing recognition, however accurate it is.
When you recognise employees, you’re highlighting positive behaviour. Behaviour you want to see repeated and celebrated. We’ll go into details on what you might want to highlight later.
But for now, you can see from that definition that recognition has always existed. It was there every time someone said “good job.”
It just hasn’t always been understood or embraced as a tool for your business.
Peer-to-peer and social recognition are different
Traditional recognition schemes tend to focus heavily on top-down recognition.
Managers recognise employees and senior leaders recognise managers in turn. There’s nothing outright wrong with that, managers should recognise staff for their work. It’s just so constrictive. Peer-to-peer and social recognition put the hierarchy aside and let anyone recognise anyone.
Giving employees the chance to recognise anyone across the business is empowering. It offers them a voice, and an opportunity to talk about what’s important to them in the workplace.
How recognition and rewards interact
Your recognition efforts aren’t inherently separate from your rewards. But they’re not really the same thing, either.
We have a good longer read on everything you need to know about rewards here if you want to read up.
To summarise in a hurry: they’re connected, but separate. Recognition doesn’t have to involve any kind of cash-value reward, but rewards are inherently a form of recognition when they’re the result of behaviour at work.
Pay isn’t the same as employee recognition, by the way
Despite what the more curmudgeonly business leaders think.
Pay is a transaction. It’s cold. It’s also something employees fast become accustomed to. That’s why cash is so questionable as a reward. Our blog goes into more detail on that here.
The emotions you’re trying to create with recognition shouldn’t be associated with being paid on time. You and your employee have already agreed about what their work is worth. Recognition, and reward, are always in addition to being paid.
Why employee recognition matters
Employee recognition is more than just a feel-good exercise. Even though it does feel good. It’s a valuable tool for your business.
Companies that embrace recognition, and take the spirit of recognition the right way, see genuine benefits to their business.
The tangible outcome of embracing recognition is more motivated, productive and loyal employees.
No one wants to feel like their achievements aren’t valued or noticed. When staff feel unappreciated or ignored, they lose heart. It’s only a natural reaction.
By pointing out and highlighting achievements, we make sure people know they’re valuable.
This makes employees feel good about their work and their place at your company. Their morale will improve, improving the mood of the employees around them.
Receiving employee recognition, whether from peers or managers, is validating.
If you’re feeling a bit more callous, you might say to yourself: “Why do I care about employees being happy as long as they get the job done?”
Simple answer: happy employees do more work. They also do better work, they’re easier to collaborate with, and their happiness rubs off on other staff.
Feeling unappreciated is one of the biggest reasons employees cite when they leave a company. And recognition is a proven pathway to make employees feel more valued.
As we talked about in one of our longer read blogs, retention costs companies thousands of pounds a year. It costs as much as £30,000 to replace a skilled employee once recruitment, training and productivity dips have been accounted for.
There’s no real room for argument here. Not when your company can start recognising employees for free, and it could save you tens of thousands a year.
How employee recognition affects your company culture
When you embrace employee recognition, it becomes a feedback loop for your company culture.
What you recognise is by default what you treasure and want to promote about your workplace.
You’re signalling that to staff when you recognise them. It’s only natural human behaviour to seek out validation, and to seek to replicate behaviour that results in positive reactions.
Your leadership need to understand this
The link between recognition and culture is why it’s so important leadership understands their role in recognition.
They’re building a company culture, for better or worse. Whether or not they even know they’re doing it.
What your leadership recognise and reward is a way of telling staff how to behave. Regardless of whether your employee handbook says otherwise.
It’s essentially your staff getting invested in your company purpose and values. That investment influences their behaviour at work.
Employee recognition has a positive effect on engagement. As long as you get it right.
For many companies, embracing recognition is an extension of their company culture. Seeking and highlighting the value other colleagues bring to the company is a part of how they work.
For other companies, the recognition is what makes the values in your company come to life. By asking employees to express the company values when recognising employees, those ideals are kept alive in the workplace.
This makes it easier for staff to identify and invest in what your company stands for, improving their engagement with your business.
Where’s the proof?
We don’t advocate for the benefits of recognition for no reason. There’s plenty of evidence to show that recognition generates real improvements in your company. As long as you execute it properly.
When there are measurable, tangible benefits to employee recognition, you sort of have to be mad to refuse to take it seriously.
97% of public sector managers agree recognition improves morale, and 98% of managers agree recognition improves a sense of belonging
55% of employees say they would move for a company that clearly recognises its employee contributions , and recognition rich environments have a 31% lower turnover rate. 
Happy employees are, on average, 12% more productive, and and strategic peer-to-peer recognition improves productivity by 32%. 
Employee engagement increases by 61% when employee recognition programs are offered , and a 15% uplift in engagement correlates with a 2% uplift in operating margin. 
When to recognise employees, and for what
Employee recognition isn’t a magic staff happiness button. You can’t dish out recognition for everything and anything and expect to see the benefits in line. Pick your moments.
It might cross your mind that we talked about social and peer-to-peer recognition earlier. When your company puts the power to recognise in your employees’ hands, you have to give up a bit of control.
That’s no bad thing, staff need that freedom to feel in control. And you can keep the recognition on track with your social recognition platform – just ask staff to match all their recognition up to one of your company values.
Picking the right time to recognise staff
Choosing the right time to recognise – Use a similar checklist to our when to reward section but make some changes.
Much like rewards, it’s handy to have a little mental checklist. When you’re thinking about employee recognition, especially as a manager, think about:
Values – Ask yourself whether what you want to recognise is part of your company values.
Notable – Making a coffee, or completing standard job tasks isn’t notable. For recognition to be effective it has to highlight behaviour both the employee and management would acknowledge as notable.
Timely – Millennials especially feel the need to see quick recognition for the best work. But it doesn’t matter what generation your staff belong to, being close to the event is helpful.
Positive – Remember what we said about what you recognise becomes what you see in the workplace. Only recognise employees for behaviour you would want the public to see.
Repeatable – This harks back to what we said about recognition being about generating positive behaviour. If you want to see certain behaviours more often, it helps if what you recognise is repeatable. If not the actual task itself, then the spirit of the achievement.
Employee recognition suggestions
Take a look at these ideas as a starting point. Every business is different, so please don’t feel like you should be constrained by these suggestions.
Employee achievements – Put employee accomplishments in the spotlight and show they’re valued.
Longevity – The longer your staff stay, the more valuable they are. And the more important it is to keep them around. Recognise their longevity milestones to make it clear.
Good ideas – Improving processes, products or services with creativity or knowledge.
Problem prevention – Spotting a roadblock and prevent a crisis could save you huge amounts of hours and money fixing a problem.
Project delivery – Making sure vital projects go live on time.
Working on initiative – Acting on good ideas when the chance comes along and turning them into something workable and valuable to the business.
Helping colleagues – Offering time and care to help colleagues hit deadlines, or help other departments deliver projects.
Going above and beyond – Employees who go outside their job role and take responsibility for projects or ideas.
Putting values first – Finding ethical solutions to problems requires ingenuity and skill. That often merits recognition.
Hero of the month – Focus on your stand-out performer of the month. And, as we suggested in another blog, consider democratising that process and letting your staff have a say.
Milestones – Recognise your teams and employees when they bring you closer to organisational goals.
And many more possibilities – Without a crystal ball, we can’t look into your company and tell you what matters most in your workplace. Your values and your day-to-day needs will tell you that.
Focus on outcomes
The most effective employee recognition will focus on tangible outcomes.
Differences and improvements employees, and their colleagues, will recognise in the workplace.
By staying in the visible spectrum, so to speak, what you recognise is always easy to understand.
And it’s easy for employees to latch on to what’s important and encouraged in your business.
How to recognise your employees
Employee recognition channels
In broad terms, you have three avenues to recognise employees; verbal, physical and digital. For example:
Verbal recognition would include face-to-face talks, or vocally celebrating someone’s achievement in a huddle or department meeting.
Digital recognition would include highlighting achievements on your social media or your website. It would also cover using a recognition platform or an online wall of fame. You might also choose to send out emails to celebrate staff achievements.
Physical recognition uses items to create trophies. That might include literal trophies, but you don’t have to stop there. It also includes recognition letters, handwritten notes, certificates and placards.
Mix and match your approach
The best employee recognition schemes don’t just stick to one way of communicating. There are benefits and limitations to every approach, so it’s best to mix and match.
Verbal recognition is personal, immediate and emotional. But it’s fleeting. A digital recognition is more permanent, but needs a public element to influence other staff.
Trophies and plaques are nice mementos, but need an accompanying personal message for proper context.
Be funkier if you can
Get creative if your company culture and environment let you. Like we’ve said a few times already on this blog, if you get the basics right you can be as creative as you like.
Work the flavour and personality of your team and company culture into your employee recognition scheme.
Some companies hand out custom Lego miniatures. Others use stickers on the back of chairs, or a Wall of Fame on the wall of the office. You’re only limited by your imagination the boundaries of your company culture.
Platforms make employee recognition easy to manage
Using an employee recognition platform simplifies issuing, tracking and managing employee recognition.
Issuing recognition over a platform is versatile. You’re no longer bound by the need to be in the same room as the person receiving recognition. Email makes a nice alternative, but you forgo the benefits of recognition being public: a central, digital, visible place to recognise employees.
Tracking and learning
Platforms offer you a top-down view of employee recognition. You can see who receives recognition. And what they’re recognised for. This gives you valuable insight on how your company interacts. When recognition is quiet, or private, there’s no opportunity to use it as a business learning tool.
Often, recognition in between employees is private. Delivered through emails or verbal. In turn, it’s fleeting. When recognition goes public, managers can see it. There are two benefits to that. First, senior leadership can see the virtues and achievements of teams they don’t always get to interact with. Second, they can measure it and better understand the business.
While verbal recognition is personal and real, it makes it harder to incorporate values. Your staff live your values, they don’t generally sit around talking about them. A digital record lets you frame recognition in your values without being stilted or coming off awkward in a conversation.
It’s much easier to integrate rewards into your employee recognition with a platform. Many recognition platforms have reward options built-in, or have simple reward plug-ins. That makes it easy to top recognition off with a reward.
For more on the advantages of using a platform, read more on our Shout! employee recognition product page.
Or, if you’re shopping around, you can read our blog on how to pick quality employee recognition software.
How to get an employee recognition scheme off the ground
You could introduce an effective employee recognition platform with just the time it takes to plan and implement it.
Make sure you have a clear idea of what your company culture is about, and the behaviours and values you want to see reflected.
This will form the basis of which behaviours you want to recognise later on.
Your company’s leadership need to understand and buy into your values, and the concept of employee recognition.
This is important – the success of new ideas depends on buy-in for two reasons.
First, your senior leaders must believe it’s necessary, and must agree to put the resources aside to achieve it. Second, your middle management must have the motivation, and the breathing room, to execute the new idea.
Get a clear idea of what should merit recognition in your business. This will be based on the details of how your company works, and what achievement looks like in your company. Then communicate this decision to your management teams.
Tell your employees what to expect
Tell your staff about employee recognition. Explain why you’re taking employee recognition more seriously, and what kind of changes they can expect to see.
Name your scheme or concept
Give your employee recognition efforts a name. By giving it an internal identity, something that reflects your employees’ personality and culture, you make it easy to remember and become attached to.
Measure and reflect
Use an anonymous survey ahead of time to gauge how your employees feel. Ask about the areas you’d like to see influenced by an employee recognition scheme.
Ask your managers to keep track of what recognition they’re issuing, and when (assuming you don’t have a platform to manage this for you).
After enough time, ask your staff’s opinion again with another survey. A year would be enough time to get a feeling of your success.
However, you might want to use pulse surveys at shorter intervals for top-ups.
Good today, perfect tomorrow
Start with something simple, repeatable and effective. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to make something completely perfect before getting started.
Over time you can implement platforms, rewards, social recognition and more. But the benefits of embracing employee recognition are available regardless of whether or not you have a formalised piece of software.
Easy to learn, difficult to master
Once you have your head wrapped around the concept of recognition, it’s easy to get started. But like many worthwhile things, it’s easier to get started than it is to master.
Platforms, as we discussed earlier, are a great way to gain an understanding of how recognition is affecting your company. But you need the expertise and time inside your company to measure and understand what you’re getting out of them.
Take us as an example of employee recognition in action
Park Group, our parent company, has a company culture informed by four ideas. We call it our Trademark Behaviour. We always aim to be:
Collaborative – We value each other and we work together as colleagues, clients and partners so that we exceed our goals effectively.
Respectful – We appreciate the contribution and opinion of others; when we act with respect we optimise everything.
Empathetic – We are human and we value everyone.
Dynamic – We are curious about the world; we are passionate about agility and we love what we do.
We see our colleagues put these values into motion every day. How we treat each other, how we treat clients, and how we approach our work reflects those values. Leadership figures understand the need for recognition, and all of our colleagues are empowered to deliver it.
Recognition at Park and Appreciate is expressed over a variety of channels. We see verbal recognition straight after tasks, we see written recognition in notes and emails, we see recognition in our meetings and we see it in our internal communications.
Notably, you can also see it on our shared social recognition platform. By using a blend of techniques, we can see employees across department, divisions and sites receive recognition for their work.
Talk to us about your employee recognition scheme
Our Engagement Services team are experts in helping businesses deliver effective employee recognition schemes and platforms.
If you’re not sure how to get started with yours, or want to talk about using some effective recognition software, get in touch. Send us an email, use the web chat on this page, or call the number at the top and bottom of this page.
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An expert in compensation, Dr Franco-Santos argued that a cash, or cash-value, scheme only offers a temporary boost. Long term, they cause more problems than they solve.
We’re not surprised someone has pointed out there’s a danger to focusing exclusively on cash.
While we think those schemes are interesting, we think it’s a mistake to focus your peer-to-peer recognition scheme just on rewards. Recognition is what really makes a difference to your company.
Recognition is the real quiz
As we said, we’re surprised those companies are prioritising financial rewards over recognition itself.
Our platform, Shout!, puts the recognition before rewards for a good reason. Cash and cash-value rewards can encourage unusual, and even unethical, behaviour.
When only cash-value rewards are at stake, someone will almost inevitably participate in bad faith.
By putting recognition first, you put your company culture and the relationships between employees first.
The doctor’s orders
In her BBC interview, Dr Franco-Santos pointed to six assumptions that would have to be true to make a reward-focused peer-to-peer system reasonable.
We’ll share the expert’s list, and our response, but filtered through our recognition-first approach:
Performance can be measured in an accurate and reliable way
However, we’d argue the toss on this one. Recognition isn’t just about performance, it’s about culture and relationships.
There’s hard and soft metrics that need to be embraced. That includes turnover and productivity figures as well as engagement survey results and one-to-ones with staff.
Employees are unbiased
But who is? Everyone lives with their own set of pressures that influence our value system.
There’s always a separation between the pressures on a manager and the pressures shared between the team they manage.
Part of the foundation of peer-to-peer recognition is acknowledging that separation, and acknowledging that employees need a way to celebrate positive behaviour among themselves.
Employee pay attention to the “good” things their peers do
And our platform is the evidence, even just internally.
I know for a fact I can hop on to our internal deployment of Shout! and see employees recognising each other for achievements, being helpful, and more.
Employees have the knowledge to assess what matters to them, what reflects the company’s values, and highlight positive behaviour.
And, as we pointed out above, they can do that in ways that managers can’t.
Employees appreciate points or money above anything else
Definitely not true, but with a twist: employees value a feeling of appreciation almost as much as they value money.
In fact, a lot of employees would move just for a workplace where they feel like they’re an appreciated part of a team, even without a pay rise.
Recognition is what makes those staff feel valued.
Employees are willing to collaborate
Every day we see that employees are willing to collaborate.
We can only speak for our business, but being to collaborate and work towards a common goal is a vital element of our business, and we see that reflected in our clients too. In fact, collaboration between our own teams and our clients’ teams is also vital.
Everyone can think of a time in their life where money has poisoned a situation, socially or otherwise.
Focusing on building relationships between your staff members and your company culture is more valuable than any cash-value reward.
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Your employees’ engagement is important enough to justify priority on that level. You might feel a little bit overwhelmed by the providers, features and modules competing for your affection.
That’s no cause for panic. Refer to our checklist when you’re comparing and contrasting the field.
12 tips to pick the right employee recognition software
By credibility, we mean demonstrating a wider understanding of recognition and the role it plays in engaging employees.
If the supplier’s material is nothing but an unfiltered list of platform features, there’s a decent chance the developer is more enamoured with the software itself than how it actually helps your business and staff.
Ease of use
It’s unlikely your entire company is made up of tech wonks and millennials.
Employee recognition software should rely on familiar user interfaces, so staff will slip in and get to grips with minimal adjustment.
Recognition doesn’t have to be led by cash-value rewards, or even use them at all, but your employee recognition software should come with the power to incorporate them.
It gives you an extra string to your bow for truly excellent performances.
Not everyone has the budget to indulge staff with cash-value rewards on the back of a recognition platform. That’s where you need a bit of creativity from your supplier.
Ask yourself how the platform rewards top performers without having to use financial rewards.
We talk all the time on this blog about the benefits of employees recognising each other.
Worthwhile employee recognition software absolutely has to include the ability for employees to recognise one another. Manager-led recognition has its place but peer-to-peer is just as vital.
Recognition, especially peer-to-peer recognition, gets a boost from being public.
Your staff’s achievements are held up for their peers to see, and they become little trophies on a shared digital space.
A birds’ eye view of what’s happening on any platform you use is vital.
Keeping track of who is recognising whom, for what, and when, gives managers insights on how your teams are interacting.
That kind of understanding can drive managerial decisions to bring teams together or capitalise on already strong relationships to make projects succeed.
You don’t want a GDPR nightmare to ruin your brand new employee recognition software.
Make sure you know where your data gets stored, what kind of back-ups are in place, and how the supplier will respond to any outages.
While your staff will mean well when interacting with your employee recognition software, even good intentions can bleed into tricky areas.
Take a careful look at what kind of power your managers have to intervene in the software if it’s ever used in bad faith.
Suppliers will do everything they can to idiot-proof their software. But someone always builds a better idiot. At some point, you’ll have a problem and need help.
What happens when, despite the best efforts of all and sundry, the software falls over? You need to ask who will respond, what they’ll do, and what kind of time frame you can expect that to be in.
Never, ever buy or licence software based just on screenshots.
Insist on seeing a live demo and getting a chance to interact with the software live before even entertaining the idea of parting with your money.
Ask about a transition or implementation schedule before you buy.
Not only will it smooth the process if you have it ahead of time, but seeing that a company has navigated implementations and transitions before is a good sign of their competence.
Now it’s up to you
Run through our checklist, but most importantly use your own common sense and intuition.
If it’s too good to be true it often is. HR software is a buyer’s market; you can afford to shop around make sure you’re completely confident before making a decision.
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