12 Powerful Tips to Build an Employee Recognition Culture
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employee recognition culture

12 Powerful Tips to Build an Employee Recognition Culture

About 65 percent of the people in one survey reported that they received no recognition over the last 12 months for their work.In the same report, 89 percent of employers feel that most employees leave their companies to earn more money. However, most workers who leave their jobs cite lack of appreciation as a major reason for seeking other opportunities. HR departments, which are challenged to recruit and retain the best people, are the prime movers for implementing a recognition culture that motivates and rewards employees them with essential psychological rewards that extend far beyond material incentives.

Spending money on routine company gift cards isn’t the same as offering personalised and specific praise based on an employee’s performance. Gifts and incentives can reinforce any verbal praise, but providing honest, authentic and thoughtful employee recognition is one of the most critical things leaders and HR departments can do to foster a positive recognition culture where people enjoy working. This is proven by organisations with the most effective recognition strategies have 31 percent lower turnover rates due to voluntary migration of staff members.

Best Practices for Employee Recognition Culture

Your employees are your company’s most valuable resource, but many organisations still struggle to retain top talent. One study found that an innate desire for recognition drives company loyalty and employee retention because 93 percent of respondents expressed a desire to be recognised at least once each business quarter. About 75 percent of employees who receive favourable feedback and recognition express job satisfaction. Conversely, studies show that employees who don’t receive praise and feel disengaged have high turnover rates, decreased empowerment, poor team skills and unsatisfactory job performance.

That’s why a formal employee recognition program is so important for your organisation regardless of industry, size or customer base. The best practices for recognising employees include:

  • Establishing solid criteria for work performance
  • Recognising people from all areas of operations
  • Rewarding people based on objective accomplishments and not subjective opinions
  • Ensuring that all qualified employees are eligible for any rewards or incentives
  • Fostering a recognition culture where informal praise is frequently offered
  • Aligning performance benchmarks with the company’s goals, culture and succession strategy
  • Providing opportunities for advanced training and career development as part of staff recognition

In addition to the general practices just mentioned, the following 12 specific recognition culture strategies are effective ways to recognize and reward your employees:

1. Make It Personal

It’s critical to be specific, personal and accurate. Nothing could be more counterproductive than getting the facts wrong and recognising someone for general work while ignoring specific accomplishments. Use positive words, and engage the employee to show that you really understand what he or she has done and how difficult the work was. If you can reward a person based on his or her interests, then the recognition has more meaning. Verbal communications are the most important aspect of an effective recognition culture, but it’s also important to write about the recognition in a note, letter, company newsletter or personnel file.

2. Provide Opportunities for Each Worker to Contribute

Some workers don’t get the chance to excel because of the nature of their jobs or reduced expectations for certain types of work. Employees who do their jobs well – even manual labour that might be viewed as demeaning – should be able to earn opportunities for expanded responsibilities, training for job advancement and cross-training in other company operations. For example, a dishwasher or janitor in food service might be recruited to perform food-prep duties or learn how to work one of the stations on the line. In more professional settings, low-level workers who perform their duties meticulously might be recruited to join trade associations, special projects or civic and philanthropic teams that represent the company.

3. Magnify Recognition through Multiple Communication Channels

Verbal communications is the most effective way to recognise employees, and getting this praise from an immediate supervisor is the most powerful form of recognition. That said, some people will always feel that talk is cheap. The best strategy is to back-up verbal praise by publicising employee accomplishments across multiple forums such as company newsletters, team meetings, company whiteboards and other media. If the accomplishment is newsworthy, consider contacting the local newspaper or an industry trade journal with a press release about what the employee has accomplished.

4. Offer Beyond-the-Call-of-Duty Perks

Staff members who consistently perform at the highest levels might earn special privileges. These might include the following ideas:

  • Better parking space
  • More flexible hours
  • Paid time off
  • Quality incentives such as company-furnished luxury car rental for a day or week
  • Celebration events for teams such as a party, company picnic or dinner
  • Paid training program for earning a certification, developing new skills or pursuing other educational programs
  • Opportunity to work on a special team

Remember that personal thanks, publicity and outside recognition can augment any physical rewards and are usually more important than objective rewards. Communication is the key to motivating, rewarding and recognising superior work.

5. Motivate with Financial Incentives

Although financial incentives aren’t always the best motivators, they can certainly demonstrate appreciation for work well-performed. The best financial incentives are more open-ended and unpredictable because they motivate people to work their best at all times. The awards can vary from work that generates revenue to rewarding those who perform the most conscientious customer service. Financial incentives might include increases in commission rates, monetary rewards for quality work and reaching sales goals, rewards for promptness and attendance and bonuses for creative work ideas that streamline business operations.

6. Enlist Supervisors to Recognise Superior Performance

Too many supervisors concentrate on quality control by emphasizing mistakes and correcting work habits instead of praising their charges for well-done work. Getting a pat on the back from an immediate supervisor is one of the most powerful incentives for working harder. Your employees want to know that they’ve done a bang-up job, but outsiders might not even understand what constitutes a job that’s really done well. That’s why praise from a supervisor ranks as the best recognition. Supervisors know when a job’s done well, and good leaders make people feel valued and important. Verbal recognition is the important part, but if appropriate, this can be accompanied by a gift, financial incentive or promotion to duties with greater responsibility.

7. Give Holiday Rewards and Bonuses

Many companies use performance-based systems to reward their staff right before the holidays. The best practices for awarding holiday bonuses include offering a standard bonus or gift package and rewarding people for outstanding performance with special awards, extra cash bonuses, holiday gifts or recognition for yearly performance. This is a great venue for announcing employees of the year in different departments and upcoming promotions in the new year.

8. Facilitate Peer to Peer Recognition

The critical issue in today’s HR recruiting environment is that many workers are more loyal to their careers and industry than to the company for which they work. Millennials especially prefer to build strong reputations among their friends and associates. Employees often prefer recognition from their peers than acknowledgement at the office, so many companies implement peer-to-peer recognition programs to engage millennials and the new generation of flexible workers. Peer to peer programs were ranked third in importance in one survey of the most common recognition programs. One report found that 57 percent of HR departments reported greater employee engagement due to peer-to-peer recognition programs.

9. Recognise People’s Passions and Community Accomplishments

Strong HR management increasingly focuses holistically on employees in an interactive and supportive environment. Workers love to be recognised for their outside activities, hobbies and passions because it prevents people from feeling as if they’re just cogs in the business machine. Passions can also work as rewards in their own right. Many companies allow their employees to spend 20 percent or more of their time working on passion projects that might include community outreach or raising funds for national and international charitable programs.

10. Design an Impressive Office Trophy with Gamification Strategy

A rotating trophy or plaque can generate enthusiasm that’s out-of-proportion to its cost. Of course, the more impressive the trophy, the more likely it will generate friendly competition. However, even something simple can generate intense competition – just look at professional wrestlers and martial arts enthusiasts and their efforts to win a championship “belt.” Trophies aren’t absolutely essential. Gamification strategies can be used in various ways to reward and motivate your employees to to reach higher performance standards. Games and incentives create the kind of company culture that rewards outstanding performance and fosters team collaboration and reaching company goals.

11. Use Technology and Social Media to Publicise Accomplishments

People don’t live in a vacuum in today’s environment of instant communications, so it’s important to publicise important accomplishments and even human interest items in the company’s social media forums. Tweets and text messages can reinforce the recognition and inform the company’s customers and stakeholders where to read more about the subject on the company’s website or Facebook page.

12. Manage Incentives Across Company Departments

Some employees are clearly more valuable to a company than others, but creating a culture of recognition should never be limited to the top jobs. Each person should have opportunities to earn recognition, rewards and advancement because low-level workers are those who will move into greater positions of authority if they remain with the company. Limiting recognition to the perennial top performers will discourage others from trying to earn appreciation. A well-managed program rewards people from all areas of the company’s operations.

The curious thing about employee recognition is that simple recognition programs work just as well or better than elaborate incentives with too many rules and restrictions. Employee Recognition and positive motivation are powerful tools for getting the best out of each employee. The tips outlined above are good starting points, but depending on your business and industry, you can custom-design other rewards and recognition programs that reflect your organisation’s particular needs. Recognition can be as simple as hand-written notes or verbal praise and as complex as a performance-based bonus system designed to increase employee engagement.

Ari Kopoulos

CEO at EmployeeConnect