Employee Recognition: Who Cares?

Posted in : HR Updates on 12 April 2017
Olga Pollock
Phoenix Natural Gas Ltd

Employee recognition is undoubtedly an important engagement technique with organisations varying in their approach to it ranging from formalised recognition schemes such as donuts for everyone to informal gestures such as giving staff a pen for ten years’ service.

Perks and thank-you

But who is right? Should we recognise employee’s efforts by rewarding them through an array of perks such as enhanced pay, family friendly working, free beer and pizza (or fruit for the more health conscious employer), life assurance, health insurance to name but a few?

And who cares? Well according to a research by Forbes, ‘organisations that give regular thanks to their employees far out perform those that don’t.’. In addition, The Canadian ‘HR Council’ lists a range of business benefits to staff recognitions including improvements in morale, loyalty, motivation and retention. However, others would argue that by focusing our attention on elaborate benefits, we are missing the point of what really engages staff.

The Square Wheel or the Round Wheel?

In her Ted Talk, Claire McCarty argues that while such benefits are important, they should not be used in isolation to what really works in terms of staff recognition and motivation.

She describes how, in organisations today, we have a lot of staff benefits. Recognising employees is apparently easy through gift certificates and pizza! But she goes on to ask how come two-thirds of the workplace don’t feel engaged despite such offerings? Do our employee recognition efforts work and re-focus people back on their work? If the answer is ‘no’ then Claire calls this a ‘square wheel’ as opposed to a ‘round wheel’ approach that focuses people back onto their work and on their team through a shared vision. She highlights that all the fun benefits should be in addition to the more important practices such as regular staff feedback; being specific when giving praise; celebrating team success; asking for feedback and being cautious when publicly praising someone where there may be ten other people that contributed to that success. Claire then discusses how recognition doesn’t have to be a big deal. Something as simple as an email of appreciation can be very powerful. Developing a shared team vision is also an important process so that team members can identify how important they are in supporting the wider organisation.

Establishing relationships

In his talk during the Legal-Island HR Network session on the 08/12/2016, Craig Thompson, Director of Vibrant Talent Development, spoke of the importance of establishing relationships in the workplace and learning how to move beyond money as a motivator. By line managers getting to know their staff, they can tap into what motivates people on an individual level and reward accordingly. While this relates to staff motivation, there is an undeniable link to the recognition of achievements which in turn motivates staff to do better.

Employee recognition schemes

So what of the employee recognition scheme? Such programmes aim to offer staff the opportunity to nominate a colleague for their achievements. This could be anything from excellent customer service or putting in extra hours for an important project.

There appears to be widespread support for a peer to peer approach to staff recognition over a top-down management one. There is a view that nominations are more credible if they come from a colleague rather than management who may have favourites. There is also scope for team recognition whereby groups of staff are recognised collectively.

The nominee or nominees gets recognition publicly and in turns feels a great sense of pride thereby boosting morale and engagement. Not only does the nominee reap the benefits but those that nominate enjoy a feel-good factor while everyone else aspires to their best in the hope that they’re ‘up for nomination’ next. So in theory all parties are happy. But is that the reality?

Critics of employee recognition schemes would argue otherwise. They believe that rather than improve engagement, such programmes can actually breed resentment among those that did not get a vote but who believe that they are equally or more deserving of such. Perhaps there are the unsung heroes that put in all the graft only for someone else scoop the prize. It is for this reason that employers need to exercise caution when implementing a recognition scheme.

The right culture

In order to avoid a well-intended recognition scheme from turning sour, I believe there needs to be a culture of recognition whereby recognising achievements is embedded into day-to-day operations. According to the Forbes research, companies that scored in the top 20% for building a “recognition-rich culture” actually had 31% lower voluntary turnover rates! They did highlight however that through their research it was found that ‘reward-based rewards’ have little impact on organisational performance. Interesting!

While recognitions schemes can be a fun way to reward achievements across the organisation, recognition needs to in real-time and sincere. This is where line managers need to be clued in to what their staff are doing and maintain regular communication with them. Team meetings are an ideal platform to share success stories and by making them public should provide the impetus for staff to put forward their peers through the staff recognition scheme. A simple thank you goes a long way but needs to be specific to the act to ensure it is well received. How about considering giving managers coaching on  employee recognition to ensure they are bought into the process and understand how to do it effectively? Personalised letters or emails from the CEO to an individual or to the entire company are incredibly powerful in terms of recognition at no cost. Simple, sincere gestures are arguably more important than grand, expensive rewards. As Claire McCarty points out in her TED Talk, a pen left on an employee’s desk for ten years’ service may have little meaning but if it is personally presented by the CEO, this can have a huge impact.

Claire suggests using ‘check-ins’ to build in recognition practice into the working culture. Every time you meet as a group, plan a minute or two for everyone to take a turn to share appreciation, a story, to ask for help or to share their own wishes, hopes and dreams. This can take seconds but builds such conversations in as part of the culture to give people the opportunity to talk.

Of course bigger awards can form part of your recognition scheme balanced against more personalised, timely praise which should form a more robust framework of employee recognition. The HR Council warns that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to employee recognition and it can be very insightful to ask employees how they would like to be appreciated. By celebrating achievements this will also support the wider performance management process as there will be handy record of achievements for staff to pick from at performance review time. Just another chance to recognise good efforts.

This article is correct at 12/04/2017
Disclaimer:

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Olga Pollock
Phoenix Natural Gas Ltd

The main content of this article was provided by Olga Pollock. Contact telephone number is 07845 147030 or email olgapollock@googlemail.com

View all articles by Olga Pollock