How to create an employee recognition culture that boosts engagement

Jamie King, Xexec

The fact that you are asking this question shows that you understand the importance of employee recognition in fostering a happy and motivated workforce. The trick, then, is to instil a culture that encourages recognition across the board and ensures that your whole team are genuinely bought into this philosophy. Here are a few tips that I hope will help:

It’s all about managers

Getting managers on board with employee recognition schemes is hugely important – without their buy in it can be difficult to create a genuine recognition culture. In fact, we sometimes hear stories of management getting in the way in this respect. Some may not be naturally good at formally recognising the efforts and achievements of their team, whilst others seem scared that it will do more harm than good (“if I recognise this employee’s good work will it demotivate the rest of the team?”). Many managers will give the impression that they don’t want to spend budget and some don’t get recognised themselves, so are then reluctant to recognise others. When we are building an employee recognition scheme for a client, our first step is always to liaise with managers, communicate the benefits of employee recognition to them and involve them in the process. Managers need to understand the importance of recognition before any formal programme starts, so host briefings to ensure they are on board. This may mean dealing with any concerns they may have, or giving them the opportunity to be involved in the planning and strategy. After all, they know their team members better than anyone and this kind of insight is important when thinking about how best to reward and recognise employees.

Tie in core values

Linking staff recognition rewards directly to your organisation’s values ensures that your employees are engaged for the right reasons and in a way that will benefit the business and reinforce your culture. For example, if creative thinking is important to your organisation, make sure people are recognised for it. For those looking to nominate colleagues via a portal, ensure that rewards are very clearly linked to one or more of your core behaviours, whatever they may be. For those who are cynical about the effectiveness of recognition, this is a good way of linking your recognition strategy directly to your business objectives.

Work-related awards

Once you’re clear about the behaviours and values that you want to recognise and encourage, think carefully about the employee rewards that you offer. Work-related awards, including opportunities for learning and development, are a great way of supporting your employees’ long-term engagement in the business. For example, giving them additional responsibility or the opportunity to pursue a personal interest within their role lets them know that they have earned your trust and respect. Opportunities for learning and development, particularly for millennials, are often seen as more attractive than financial rewards. Make awards meaningful by tying them into individual interests and performance objectives.

Technology, app based alerts and social recognition

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When it comes to implementation, technology can have a major impact on your organisation’s recognition culture. People are more likely to engage in things that are pragmatic and user friendly and online portals and apps allow for reward and recognition nominations to be made quickly, easily and on-the-go. We have found that facilitating instant recognition really encourages engagement. One organisation we worked with was seeing less than 20 nominations a month whilst running a paper-based system and this increased to around 70 a day when they moved to an online portal that could be accessed anywhere by employees. It’s important to build your portal with your own workforce in mind. Are they computer literate? How many of them don’t work at a desk?  These are all factors that should feed into the development of your technology infrastructure.

Social recognition tools should also be a consideration here, reward and recognition should be visible to others and these can be an effective way of communicating successes and spreading the message that you value and recognise your team. After all, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that peer-to-peer recognition is as important as recognition from management or leadership. This could include sending app-based alerts when rewards and gifts are awarded, or utilising existing social networks that your organisation may already use, such as Facebook or Yamma. For some clients we have built a ‘like’ function (similar to that on Facebook) within their recognition portal which encourages employees to publicly support their co-workers’ awards ensuring that any recognition is visible to all. Another option could be to develop a CEO Award where your CEO can send a message of thanks to an individual employee each month, which can then be shared on a portal for all to see.