Our lives in 2021 look a lot different than they did even one year ago. We’re disconnected from our coworkers and social lives, anxious about the future of our world, and burnt out from endless Zoom calls. With these changes permeating not just our own personal lives, but our employees’ as well, HR leaders must adapt our employee engagement strategies in 2021.
So what do our engagement priorities look like in 2021?
Remember January of 2020? We were wide-eyed and blissfully unaware of the challenging year ahead. Back then, HR teams were primarily focused on hiring—winning the war on talent and recruiting great minds to join your organization.
Today, the dialogue has shifted and People leaders are focused on taking care of the team they have. Specifically, we’re thinking about how to:
- Retain great employees
- Create opportunities for authentic connection
- Improve employee wellbeing and morale
While there are many tools organizations can leverage to support these high-priority goals, here at Blueboard, we believe recognition is a low-hanging fruit and a great place to start. Recognition programs have a direct link to retention, engagement, and morale, and most companies likely have a program in place for their employees already. But there’s always an opportunity to improve and adapt.
How to adapt your recognition programs in 2021.
1. Recognition as a tool for employee retention.
How you respond to your workforces’ needs impacts their decision to stay or leave. While employee needs have varied as we navigated the rollercoaster of the last 12 months, the consistent and overwhelming consensus is that recognition is an important factor that can influence retention. Here are a few ways to adapt your programs to build employee loyalty:
Empower your managers to recognize moments that matter.
One in two employees have left a job to get away from a manager, which is a clear signal that managers have a significant influence on employee turnover rates. Recognition programs exist in most companies, but oftentimes the guidelines are unclear or lacking in awareness and training, so managers miss the opportunity to participate.
Empower your managers to directly recognize their team members to strengthen their relationships. This is especially important in a remote world, where the employee’s manager might be the only person who has direct visibility into their work: if the manager doesn’t see their value, who else will? Seeing the value of your employee’s work, and connecting it back to company goals and priorities, fosters their sense of purpose.
Manager-driven employee reward and recognition programs can also reinforce new expectations for great work. Instead of focusing solely on quantitative metrics like NPS scores or number of deals closed, empower your managers to also recognize and celebrate more qualitative contributions - employees who make positive contributions to the company culture, live your company values, or step up to support their teammates.
Create authentic moments with personalized recognition efforts.
Two challenges of remote work impacting our ability to share personalize rewards are shipping logistics and lack of awareness of each other’s personal lives, interests and hobbies. Starting with shipping - many of your staff may be taking advantage of not having to come into the office, and are touring the world (if only Airbnb had loyalty points, am I right?). Others may be finding solace and security in returning to live with family. Needless to say it’s complicated to track everyone down, and a pain to physically ship gifts to a high number of employees. And without access to a mail room, the last thing you want to do is to wait in line at the USPS.
Additionally, we’re not in the office which means we’re missing out on the in-person settings and collisions that naturally introduced the conversations that kept us in touch with life outside of work. No one wants to be the person that drags on Zoom meetings with personal chit-chat, but as a result, we didn’t know that Mary’s baby girl just said their first word, or that Amir is thriving in quarantine with his new herb garden. These are the conversations that popped up at lunch, or when walking back to your desk from the conference room - and helped us to stay connected to each other's personal passions, interests and desires. Without these opportunities, managers can struggle to choose what to reward their teams with - and with that friction, most will just give up.
Take the pressure off and excitement high by letting employees choose an experiential reward—whether that’s a virtual sommelier session for the adults or science projects for the family, or for those getting out and about a golf lesson or much-needed massage. Give your employees the opportunity to decompress and spend meaningful time with the people they love.
Recognition programs we recommend to improve retention.
Anniversaries present the perfect opportunity to celebrate an employee’s contributions to the company, whether it’s their first year or their tenth. Celebrating these milestones are an opportunity to highlight specific employee accomplishments, and encourage them to continue growing in the year ahead.
2. Let recognition create opportunities for connection.
Your employees crave human connection. Loneliness was already classified as an epidemic by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) before COVID-19 hit, and the situation has only worsened since then.
Unaddressed, a lack of community can negatively impact the mental health, morale, and productivity of your employees. Recognition programs present great opportunities for connection—even in a remote or distanced world. Here’s how:
Open up additional channels for recognition.
In a remote world, annual or quarterly recognition can feel too infrequent for employees. To adapt, open up additional channels so celebrations and shout outs can become more frequent.
For instance, create aSlack, Microsoft Teams, or other community channel that’s dedicated to celebrating work wins across your company. While less structured than a formal recognition program, it still allows for meaningful moments of connection every day across teams. Have fun with emojis and consider creating custom graphics that represent your company values like we do here at Blueboard. Engaging with values emojis helps to reinforce how specific behaviors and achievements support the greater business needs.
At Blueboard, we also empower managers to highlight a company value demonstrated when sending their reward. With our Slack integration, the company value selected auto populates into their reward announcement message, continuing to keep values top of mind. (Psst… we’re also getting ready for a similar integration with Microsoft Teams).
And if you’re more of the connector who loves the art of the pen (vs. the emoji or gif), encourage teams to send a personalized appreciation note through our Employee Appreciation Hub. Choose your favorite design, write a personal note, and we’ll take care of the rest.
Another plug for tying recognition to your company values.
We realize that certain milestones may be out of reach as a result of the pandemic, especially as companies continue to navigate unforeseen industry challenges. As a result, many organizations are now rooting recognition in their company values, which increases feelings of belonging as employees are reminded they’re part of a bigger mission. Not to mention, without congregating at the office each day, we physically don’t see our values as regularly (remember, those painted on your walls?), and you don’t want them to collect dust.
Our clients at The Trade Desk recently refreshed their values and used them as an anchor for their spot recognition program. This gave their employees the opportunity to step up to the plate and demonstrate the company’s values during these challenging times.
For instance, they created a virtual "bring your whole self to work" series to celebrate Pride Month. Employees volunteered to be on a panel discussion and brought their company values of openness, full-heartedness, and generosity to life. The company used this as an opportunity to recognize and show appreciation for their “culture champions” with Blueboard rewards.
Recognition programs we recommend to build connection.
Spot recognition programs are the perfect vehicle for value-based rewards. They’re effective because they acknowledge someone who has done an outstanding job but are also inherently flexible and can be adapted to fit whatever goals your organization decides to prioritize, and be delivered at the frequency of your choice.
3. Invest in rewards that increase wellbeing and morale.
When employees don’t feel their best, they won’t be motivated to perform their best. Knowing that 78% of adults in America say the pandemic is a significant source of stress in their lives, it’s clear that wellbeing needs to be a priority in 2021.
Thankfully, employee recognition is one of the most powerful levers you can pull when it comes to improving both wellbeing and morale. But it’s important to be thoughtful about your approach. Here’s what we recommend:
Give your employees a choice.
It’s important to remember that everyone recharges in different ways. Some people feel energized from spending quality time with family, while others need a sweaty workout to feel like themselves. That’s why choice is critical when it comes to recognition on any level, but specifically for recognition that supports wellbeing.
Offer rewards that foster greater wellbeing, of all forms.
When planning your rewards and incentives, ensure you’re offering options that foster health and wellbeing of all forms - physical wellbeing, mental, and emotional. Physical wellbeing may come to life through rewards like learning to surf or a pack of virtual yoga classes. Mental wellbeing may look like a creative pottery class, or monthly art kits to create and explore your family. And emotional wellbeing is all about connection, with yourself, and your loved ones. Let employees choose a yoga retreat in Tulum, to go horseback riding, or to take a fishing trip (soaking up fresh air and a cold beer).
Sound complicated to whip up these awesome experiences? It’s not. We help companies gift employees with their choice of rewards that support their whole self (here are just a few of our favorites that you can deliver in just a few clicks).
Recognition programs we recommend to improve wellbeing.
No matter what program you have in place, you can focus your rewards to celebrate employee wellbeing. At Blueboard, we offer a curated menu of experiences that can help promote a healthy lifestyle through physical activity, creative projects, or quality time spent with loved ones.They’ll be choosing something that allows them to recharge in the way that’s best for them.
Use employee recognition programs to support your 2021 goals.
While 2021 presents unique challenges, it’s also an opportunity for organizations to step up and demonstrate their investment in their employees. Adapting your employee recognition programs to align with the changing needs of your workforce is one of many ways you can help retain your top performers, create more opportunities for connection, and support the wellbeing of your workforce.