How can employers appropriately recognise employees’ efforts during a time of crisis?

Need to know:

  • Continual employee recognition, even during a time of crisis, can help enforce workplace culture and motivate employees further.
  • Letting employees know they are valued and their efforts are recognised can boost their wellbeing.
  • Employers must be careful to ensure that their recognition scheme does not exclude employees that are struggling due to the pressures created by the pandemic.

The Covid-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak has unsurprisingly had serious effects on the wellbeing of employees; a Barnett Waddingham survey, published in May 2020, revealed that 40% of UK employees have experienced increased anxiety over pay cuts, more than a third (39%) have experienced elevated stress, just over a quarter (28%) have suffered from sleepless nights, and 23% cited pay reductions as their biggest concern.

During uncertain times when many employees are working away from their usual workplaces, working different hours, or experiencing different pressures in and outside of their work, how can employers let them know that the efforts they are putting in are not going unnoticed?

Recognition during a crisis

For many employers, it may not be a priority to address reward and recognition during this time, due to the financial challenges that they face, however this should be just as important as tackling financial uncertainty during this period, says Phil Wilson, principal consultant and statistician at Great Place to Work.

“Although there are currently other factors, such as financial cuts and job security, that are higher priorities in the mind of employers, this does not negate the importance of recognition in continuing to build a workplace culture,” he explains.

“On the contrary, the historic importance of fair employee recognition and reward will most likely reassert themselves as people settle into new post-crisis ways of working.”

It is also important that employers think creatively about how they can develop their reward and recognition practices during this time and for the future.

Recognise employee effort 

Despite the additional issues faced by employers as a result of the pandemic, it is important to still recognise the efforts of employees. Sue Pemberton, head of employer services at Premier says: “During times of crisis, it is more important than ever to recognise the efforts of a workforce. The worries and concerns both inside and outside of work can easily become a distraction; helping people feel valued and their efforts appreciated can be an enormous boost to their wellbeing.

“Most managers will be juggling work commitments with trying to ensure their staff are managing in the new environment, as well as their own personal lockdown challenges.  Understanding these for each individual member of a team is not always easy, but recognising the extra effort needed by staff during periods of crisis in my view is essential. Not only for productivity and motivation, but arguably more importantly, the wellbeing of staff.”

The motivation of employees can fluctuate easily, especially during this time. That’s why it is important to receive good recognition from managers, and these gestures can go a long way, says Pemberton.

“These things [giving praise to employees] are not easy for some people to do though; it is dependent on the personality of the manager, their time pressures and how motivated they themselves are feeling. Are they getting the recognition they need?” she says.

A Great Place to work’s Covid-19 survey, published in June 2020, found that over one-third (37%) of employees, particularly those at the management level, fear that their work contribution will be undervalued as a result of having less visibility with senior leaders.

This has led to employees feeling the need to overcompensate by working longer hours or strategically increasing their visibility to senior leaders to enhance the perception that they are indispensable, says Wilson.

“The continuation of existing recognition programmes that reward specific behaviour, achievements, initiatives, and those that encourage team members to co-operate and share information can support with alleviating these feelings,” he explains.

“In addition to this, building new recognition schemes that reflect the current environment, and provide additional opportunities to shine a light on employees that have helped to encourage a positive remote working culture or who have made an impact in their community, can also provide a positive output.”

Inclusive recognition programme

Keeping in touch with and ensuring all employees are including within recognition initiatives is also important. Chris Bruce, managing director and co-founder at Thomsons Online Benefits, says: “People on furlough, for example, are still part of the workforce. They need to feel recognised and appreciated because when they’re asked to return to work, they will be expected to be immediately engaged and work as hard as the next person. If they have access to software that allows them to see and easily interact with the full scope of their benefits package, they’re far more likely to feel supported and invested throughout this strange period.”

But what are some of the ways in which employers can recognise an employee for discretionary effort? Creating a culture of saying ‘well done’ to employees regularly can significantly boost motivation during this period.

“Making it easy to say thank you is the most effective way to help managers, and staff, to do this,” says Pemberton. “Whether it’s a thank you, a happy birthday or congratulations for being with us for five years, the individual can feel that they have been acknowledged and not forgotten.”

Recognition could take the form of an award for a job well done; an accolade on a virtual, public noticeboard can help with self-esteem and motivate employees.

“On the whole, most people react really positively to a little nurturing and care, these systems make it easier to do this and can have an instant and amazing impact on their wellbeing, enthusiasm and motivation,” says Pemberton.” After all, we all want to have our efforts appreciated,” Pemberton says.

There is not necessarily a need for Coronavirus-specific recognition schemes, but rather the effective communication of current schemes can be effective.

However, with many employees working remotely, feeling unmotivated and worried about their job, employers could benefit from creating a reward and recognition programme for those employees who have not previously been recognised for their work, says Kate Cooper,  head of research, policy and standards at The Institute of Leadership and Management.

“The last thing that employers would want to do during this time is to create rewards based on performance, that creates discontent among people that never receive these awards,” she explains. “The next time a reward incentive is introduced, many employees may disengage with this.”

Instead, to create an appropriate recognition scheme during this time, it needs to be based around appreciating employees for their hard work, and not singling out individuals. Sending vouchers and cakes for the whole workforce, or just saying a ‘thank you’ can go a long way with employees throughout the pandemic.

Clarissa Valiquette, managing director at PSB Insights EMEA, concludes: “Returning to work will be a tricky balance for employers and employees alike, but a continuation of flexible policies, demonstrating empathy and providing clear guidelines and safety protocols will drive comfort and ultimately, employee engagement.”