So you’re thinking about recognition. That’s a great start, but before you dive into the “how” of recognition, my suggestion is to start with your “why.”
There are lots of reasons you might be thinking about recognition— everything from reacting to employee surveys, growing connections across a dispersed workforce, or finding new ways to simply show your employees that their employer cares about them.
This article gives insight and ideas with practical employee recognition examples from companies that Reward Gateway has partnered with to build an appreciative workplace culture.
Whether your company culture desperately needs a boost, or you’re taking your recognition efforts to the next level to retain your top performers, we can all benefit from more recognition and reward in the workplace. Reward Gateway research just revealed that 70% of people say that the last few years have impacted them negatively. The two largest impacts?
- 38% cite decreased wellbeing.
- One in four share they are less likely to go above and beyond.
But there is hope. The research also found that 69% of employees state their workplace wellbeing would improve if they were just thanked more. And employees that rate recognition in their company as poor are more than six times more likely to have stopped going above and beyond than employees who rate recognition as excellent.
Those are some powerful figures pointing to the true impact that recognition can have on overall employee engagement and productivity. So how can human resources leaders bring this to life in their company’s working environment?
Let’s look at a few examples of employee recognition to start.
Employee Recognition Strategies for Managers in Teams
Start Meetings with Recognition Moments
Let’s start with one of the easiest things you can add to an employees’ day-to-day to increase gratitude at work: Kicking off meetings with moments of appreciation.
I once asked the head of physicians in a busy Emergency Department to try this at her regular meetings. She was reluctant as it felt too cheesy for their usually fast-paced meetings, but I checked in after a few months and she said that, even though she sometimes forgets, her team reminds her. Her team members shared that, even though they spend their days saving lives, those five minutes are often the only time they spend focused on the difference they are making.
Brene Brown loves talking about building a regular practice of gratitude. Not only is this best practice about increasing positivity and appreciation, but it is also an amazing way to learn what is happening outside of your routine project updates. Adding this practice to a weekly meeting, means there are 50 more times a year when you recognize people in your organization.
Make the first point of the agenda “Thank you”. Use this to highlight a great effort or employee achievement from the day before, and open the floor for team members to give shout-outs within their team or across teams.
Not sure what to say when you're giving team members recognition? Our list of examples for employee recognition words is a helpful source of ideas.
Connect Employee Recognition to Performance to Impact
Employee recognition is a great opportunity to tie employee actions to your company’s core values, goals, mission, or purpose. This helps people on your team make the connection between what they do every day with the big picture of your organization's priorities and objectives.
When you tell the recognition story (online or in-person) focus on why it was important. A manufacturing company we were working with never missed an opportunity to tie in great work to how it saved on scrap, increased quality, or kept people safer. They found people took good work more seriously when it was clear how it supported the greater good.
Keep in mind that, while the benefit of the action may seem obvious to you, it may not be to others, and spelling it out makes the most of a recognition moment.
Is one of your organizational goals for this year to cut costs in production? Highlight how a successful initiative to decrease spending has impacted the company’s bottom line. Do a few simple projections to show the effect this will have in 6 months, 12 months, and five years. Now give the entire team kudos for making those gains possible.
Ask, “What are You Proud of?”
Frequent recognition is powerful, but many of us don’t see enough of what others are doing. The effort and care behind their work, or a big push to go the extra mile might have been missed. Especially between managers and their teams, it is important to uncover those other stories. The ones that, if left unnoticed, could lead to resentment or disengagement.
Fill in the blanks for yourself by asking employees, “What are you proud of?” This focuses people on what is working, and also helps you stay educated on the work they are doing when you aren’t around.
Periodically pick up a report, sales agreement, or another piece of work done by one of your direct reports. Ask them to share what they did to complete the work that others could learn from. Share the effort behind it with the rest of your team so that they can also understand the stories and innovation behind each other’s work results.
Celebrate Progress, not Just Finished Products
A mindset shift you or your managers might need is how high a bar people need to hit to be “deserving of recognition.” Do you wait for the entire project to be completed and analyzed before you give employees recognition for it?
Recognition of results is great, but don’t forget to appreciate the smaller actions that drove that result. Imagine sitting at a sporting event when the crowd is quiet unless the team scores actual points or goals. Brutal. Boring. Don’t have that happen in your workplace.
Thank your team for putting together an amazing pitch before you take it to the client. That way, their work is acknowledged whether the client goes for it or not.
Challenge Managers to Make Recognition a Habit
While peer-to-peer recognition will make it more likely great work gets noticed, employees will look to managers to determine whether the organization is taking their hard work seriously.
In healthy recognition programs, we usually see about half of formal recognition coming from the team of managers. Most managers don’t actively resist providing recognition, but they may struggle to remember and make it a true leadership discipline.
Here are three great examples of how I’ve seen managers build recognition into their schedules:
By adding it to their calendar:
Encourage managers to pick a time when they’re already likely to be at their computer, or when they need a “boost” in their week. Friday afternoons can be great for this. Use that slot to put time on their calendar for acknowledging the good or great work they’ve seen.
By baking it into an established habit:
Do your managers always review schedules on Monday? Or submit expenses on Friday? Is there a time to stretch their legs or refill their water bottles?
That set-aside time can double up as their “recognition time” to think through who has helped them, their team, or the company. Once they take time to think of a great story, the step of sharing it is much easier.
By setting a goal for themselves, and getting the whole team involved.
Sharing with their team that, as a manager, they’ve committed to increased recognition holds them accountable (in a good way) to make recognition an important habit. They can give the team permission to ask them, for example, if they’ve written a recognition for the week yet.
I once had a boss that told his three daughters they could quiz him when he got home about whether he had said, “thank you” that day. He hated to disappoint them, and was more likely to push himself to find time.
Recognition Strategies for Your Organization
Build in Layers of Recognition
First, consider how comprehensive and flexible your organizational recognition is. Differences in organizational structure, job type, employee location, and access to employee recognition program technology can make a big difference in how recognition should be structured.
As an example of employee recognition that covers all the bases, let’s look at the Reward and Recognition Pyramid we often use with our clients (see below). Here is how it works:
At the bottom is the most frequent recognition.
Example of Frequent Recognition:
Peer-to-peer eCards that anyone can send to anyone else.
The accessibility of this level is its strength, but if this is ALL you do, the impact of small incentives can start to fade. That is where the additional levels can add some spice.
Another layer of recognition is likely your formal acknowledgments like work anniversaries and birthdays— calendar milestones.
Example of Formal Acknowledgments:
Ordering a cake for the office to celebrate an employee’s birthday.
Up one more level, you might have rewards that are sent less frequently but with a higher impact. These are for those times when you really want the appreciation to stick.
Example of Higher Impact Recognition:
Manager-led rewards that are sent by a leader when an employee goes above and beyond to deliver the values or results. These differentiate between a day-to-day “job well done” and a higher performance action. .
Finally, formalized recognition that really gets people talking.
Example of Formalized Recognition:
Maybe you have quarterly or annual nominations in categories like Caregiver of the Quarter, or an Annual Safety Award. There are plenty of other employee award titles you can use to recognize your team.
Having a few levels of recognition allows you to have variety but also clarity and simplicity.
Make Recognition Stories Visible and Social
One in four employees cited a lasting effect of the last few years as feeling disconnected from their teammates and co-workers. We are hungry for news on what people are doing within and across our teams.
Don’t forget to make recognition stories visible to all to reinforce community and your shared purpose. A community healthcare organization we work with loves sharing recognition so their front-line employees, who often work on their own in client homes, can learn from and celebrate the great work of others.
Their digital recognition platform is a primary means for making recognition visible, but some managers take it the next step further and share specific recognition examples in frequently used communication channels or even on public social media. This publicly acknowledges and highlights the great work their teams do every day.
Have a Recognition Calendar to Maintain Focus
Something we’ve learned over the years is that you can drive year-round usage by putting together a recognition calendar. You shouldn’t try to do more than your team has time for, but a few simple events can keep things interesting. For example, don’t miss a chance to celebrate Employee Appreciation Day in March.
We have a healthcare client who wanted to ensure people were staying kind amid staffing challenges, so they provided weekly raffles for anyone formally recognizing others with their Kindness gift cards.
One of our higher education clients held a good-natured snowball fight this winter. When you were “hit” by a special winter-themed eCard, you were asked to pass along the recognition to two more people.
Ensure Employee Rewards are Flexible
In 2022 our research found that 74% of employees would use company rewards for essentials rather than luxuries. If you are providing rewards, that can take up a sizable chunk of your recognition budget and you want to ensure employees aren’t rolling their eyes at their choices.
I was working with a call center in Texas and in setting up their rewards program they knew, “If people can’t buy diapers with the program, they won’t want it.”
Many of the organizations I work with start with small, incremental rewards over time rather than providing large quarterly or annual bonuses. This aligns with a study from Cornell University that found more immediate rewards increase motivation more effectively than rewards that are delayed. The study found this to be true even when the delayed reward had a bigger dollar value.
Track and Reference Employee Recognition Metrics
A culture of recognition and mutual appreciation is something you build over time. The subtle, small shifts that lead to improved employee experience, and eventually larger employee retention and productivity increases, can be hard to see.
Recognition moments are often happening when leaders aren’t around. This is why finding ways to get and compare metrics is important to success over time.
You may not have hard numbers to track when recognition happens casually, but you can track:
- What percentage of managers start at least one meeting with a recognition moment?
- How many formal recognitions are being sent by department/shift/location etc. per week?
- Which eCards get sent the most? (i.e. Teamwork eCard, Shift pick-up eCard, Safety eCard, etc.)
- What percentage of employees say they receive recognition in your employee engagement survey?
Use these metrics to celebrate success and use your (often limited) resources to educate those teams that aren’t yet embracing recognition as a leadership discipline. You can also use these metrics to demonstrate the incremental growth in your employee recognition program over time to the board or during budget season.
Whether you are looking to boost your personal commitment to recognition within your team, or you are looking to rejuvenate and refresh a company-wide recognition program, I hope this article has helped you unpack the different layers of rewards and recognition you can offer to your employees. With manager alignment and the right technology by your side, it can be easy to put in place a successful recognition and reward program to nurture employee morale.
While adjusting and managing a successful program can seem like “work,” remember not to bite off too much in a quarter. You can gradually scale a recognition and rewards program over time. Some of our most successful clients roll out new additions to their programs in waves to better manage their strategy to keep their employees excited, and their to-do lists short!
Remember, all of the changes you’re making, whether they’re simple or more comprehensive, are all in support of increasing the wellbeing, connection, and engagement of your workforce to make your corner of the world a better place to work.
Looking for additional inspiration? Check out this action-packed article on Employee Recognition Ideas.