Engage Your Peeps Through Recognition

Engaged employees play a significant role in the workplace success; studies strongly support this notion. It is also intuitive that an engaged employee is motivated to perform better than the one who is dissatisfied with an organization.

Engaged employees are more productive, pay closer attention to the quality of their work, tend to think “outside the box” on how to improve management and business processes. Employee engagement relates to stronger customer relationships – happy employees are more capable of making customers happy. Moreover, engaged employees stay longer with their companies and are less absent – both physically and mentally. Organizations with an average of 9.3 engaged employees for every actively disengaged employee experienced 147% higher earnings per share (EPS) compared with their competition in 2011-2012*.

On the other hand, disengaged employees can “break” their companies – literally. According the latest Gallup Workplace Engagement report (2013)*, disengaged and unmotivated employees cost the American economy an estimated $450 to $550 billion per year, or an average of 46% of their salaries. This accounts for lost productivity, absenteeism, and quality defects. Employees who are actively disengaged (showing their unhappiness through their behaviors, not just a passive attitude), attribute to this cost through workplace theft and by undermining the work of others.

The Gallup survey identified several engagement trends at the post-recession workplace. Professionals are more engaged than lower skilled workers. Small companies (less than 10 employees) have the highest employee engagement (42%). Employees who work remotely less than 20% are most engaged, however the engagement level decreases for those who work remotely most of time. Thus, it would show that an average employee likes some level of flexibility, but also needs consistent connection with others. Finally, the Gallup survey found that Traditionalists (born 1925 through 1942) have the highest level of engagement (41%), while Baby Boomers (born 1943-1960) have the lowest level (26%).

Employee engagement and motivation drivers may be different for all employees depending on age, individual personality differences, situational needs, and a type of job. However, organization research is demonstrating that employee recognition and appreciation are significant engagement drivers for all age groups, and most personality types. Often the most effective ways of showing recognition and appreciation are not expensive and are not time involved. Nevertheless, appreciation and recognition are still often overlooked in an organization. Some insights to consider while creating an engaging workplace:

Attach recognition to real accomplishments and goal achievement. Praise someone who went beyond and above, and possibly worked overtime to complete your team’s project on time. Reward someone with a half-day off who demonstrated the highest client satisfaction or helped the newest team member get trained.

Keep recognition random and with an element of surprise. The most effective recognition is an unexpected one. A thank you letter and a cookie placed on employee desk may have a more positive impact than an employee of the month title. Catch employee’s positive behavior, such as handling a customer, and praise that behavior in the moment.

Overall, reward programs that are predictable and are not attached to real accomplishments (such as Holiday bonus) are less effective that random recognition. Even more so, predictable reward programs may create an entitlement sense among employees, thus best is to replace them with more meaningful recognition strategies.

Tailor recognition to the individual. Rewards are most motivating when tailored to the individual and his or her distinctive needs. For instance, $30 pet store gift card may have a more positive effect than a $30 check for an employee who is a pet lover. The gift card shows that you know and care about your employee’s individual needs.

Recognize employee in a group setting. When employee’s achievements are highlighted in the presence of others, it increases a sense of appreciation – “not only my boss, but my peers are also aware about my good deeds…” Also, recognition in a group setting promotes a team spirit and allows others to learn about desirable behaviors at workplace.

Utilize simple, yet fun and impactful ways of recognizing and appreciating:
• Performance Certificates (most valuable team player; most productive employee; most valuable in developing others) – be authentic
• Gift cards and catalogues
• Office breakfast
• Ice cream social gatherings
• Picnics outside office
• Day off
• Flexible schedule
• Spa days
• Balloons, chocolates, and flowers
• Thank you notes and letters. They are even more powerful, when sent to employee’s home.
• “Smileys”
• Instill humor at workplace. Theme dress-up or fun contests, such as blowing balloons, can be simple, yet effective ways of lightening atmosphere, and reconnecting with your employees.

Most importantly, treat and believe that your people are your most valuable asset. Praise and appreciation have to honest and authentic – embrace your employee’s behaviors not only by your mind, but also your heart. Apologize when you are incorrect. Show that you care about your employees beyond work environment, and celebrate their successes (e.g. graduation, professional license).

While recognition and appreciation are often placed at “the back burner” with a mindframe of “that’s their job anyway”, let’s remind ourselves, that organizations success depends on its people. Thomas Watson Jr, said “I believe the real difference between success and failure in a corporation can be very often traced to the question of how well the organization brings out the great energies and talents of its people”. Appreciate and recognize your employees to unleash their great energies!

*State of the American Workplace: Employee Engagement Insights for US Business Leaders. (2013) Gallup.