Employee Recognition

Why employee recognition is important and how to make it count

This article will cover why employee recognition is important, and how to make sure it’s impactful and memorable. But first let's dive in about what employee recognition is.

What is employee recognition?

Employee recognition, or marking an employee’s milestones, achievements, and contributions at work, needs to happen year-round. This is especially important in our remote and distanced workplaces where we’re disconnected from each other. While "employee recognition" is often used synonymously with "employee appreciation", the two are distinct and both are necessary in order to increase engagement, improve employee retention, and build a positive work culture.

Recognition programs, like those we offer at Blueboard, are well worth the investment. Beyond supporting the goals above, an effective employee recognition program empowers managers to connect in authentic ways with their team. They reinforce what great work looks like at your company, whether goal-oriented or workplace culture-related (i.e. celebrating employees living your company values).

Every year, on the first Friday in March, companies across the world celebrate National Employee Appreciation Day. It’s a great opportunity to show your team how grateful you are for their hard work, but it shouldn’t be the only time of year you do.

Especially in our cemented hybrid work environment, your employees crave recognition more than ever. A few quick stats that caught my attention:

  • When asked what leaders could do to improve engagement, 52% said “Give me recognition”
  • 82% of employees don’t feel their managers recognize them enough for their contributions, but would feel more motivated if someone did

Additionally, according to CEB/Gartner, only about 10% of companies measure the impact of their employee recognition programs. If you’re going to invest resources in employee recognition, you have to know if it's working. 

To provide more insight into how you can effectively measure your programs, and why it’s so important to do so, we spoke with a panel of experts including:

They started the conversation by examining the relationship between employee engagement and recognition. Then, they explored actionable strategies to measure recognition sentiment, build a business case for employee recognition, and how to make it a company-wide priority. 

Watch the full recording, and keep reading for more:

What is employee engagement?

A clear definition of employee engagement is a critical starting point, because it has a direct impact on your employee recognition efforts. For Adam and Emplify, this is defined on three levels of head, heart, and hands:

  1. How employees think about the business with their head.
  2. How employees feel about the business with their heart.
  3. How both of these impact the work they do with their hands.

In effect, Emplify has tied employee engagement into the intrinsic motivation of the individual. They want to know if someone is motivated to bring their best every day, and they consider how often their employees may not feel like their best efforts are noticed. 

In the context of your own company, you can take Emplify’s example and augment it with three additional drivers for employee engagement. Each one ties directly to employee recognition—when recognition is missing, these three areas are negatively impacted:

1. Shared values

The shared values driver indicates how your employees align on their work every day and revolves around questions like: 

  • Do I have a shared sense of destiny with the people on my team? 
  • Do I feel as if I’m on an island, or are we doing something collectively, together? 
  • Do I feel seen by my peers? 

2. Meaning

Meaning focuses on the internal, psychological drivers related to a person’s sense of self, like whether or not their current role is fulfilling. On one level that means their compensation, titles, and the good work they do. However, meaning is also about an employee feeling seen. If they don’t feel seen, the sense of meaning can diminish and they might pull back or become disengaged at work.

3. Purpose

It’s crucial to connect the dots between the purpose of the business and the purpose of the individual. Employees want to be certain they’re giving their all for a mission that matters, and it’s going to be worth their effort. 

Understanding the key areas of recognition sentiment.

Measuring employee engagement is one thing, but measuring the impact your recognition has on driving engagement is another challenge. That’s because it can be difficult to capture the data and sentiment surrounding a recognition experience for your employees. 

“We know it’s challenging for HR leaders to find qualitative and quantitative data to present true ROI on a recognition program. Ultimately, a program is based on something that makes employees feel amazing, so at Blueboard we focus on both business ROI and social ROI to be representative of the entire story.”—Alicia Cafarelli, VP of Client Success at Blueboard

Business ROI.

One way to measure business ROI for an employee recognition platform is to send a survey. At Blueboard, we send a post-experience survey to every recipient after they complete their Blueboard employee reward. It’s designed specifically to rate their experience, and to measure how their Blueboard reward influenced their engagement sentiment by asking questions like:

  • Motivation: After receiving my Blueboard reward, am I motivated to perform at a higher level than expected of me?
  • Employee retention: Is Blueboard a great tool for retaining top talent?
  • Company culture: Is Blueboard a great tool for building a more positive company culture? 
  • Appreciation: After receiving my Blueboard reward, do I feel more appreciated at work? 

When planning your employee recognition and rewards program, it’s important to keep these four metrics for success in mind, to make sure your program is delivering value.

Social ROI.

Alicia stresses the importance of showing the social impact recognition can have beyond the quantitative engagement data. She encourages companies to capture quotes and positive feedback about the most memorable moments from an employee’s reward experience to tell the complete story.

“You need to evaluate both types of ROI (social and business) because recognition is about people. Your people made an intentional choice to work at your company and spend their time there. Recognition allows you to make the intentional choice to appreciate them in return.”—Alicia Cafarelli, VP of Client Success at Blueboard

Building a business case for recognizing employees.

Not all companies and leaders understand why they should care about recognizing employees for their good work. It’s an important barrier to remove if you’re looking to expand the scope of your current program or starting one from scratch. 

Adam reinforces the importance of data in making your case, and its ability to influence effectively at an executive level. It shares the truth of the business and it also shows the impact recognition has on your priority business metrics. 

However, if recognition isn’t prioritized or taken seriously at the top, you may have to build a positive work culture of recognition within your immediate team first. Start small and then expand your efforts, best practices, and learnings across the company at large over time. You can do this by circulating stories from your team members, or showing the impact recognition and rewards has made on your direct team. 

“The reality is, recognition drives business impact. This isn’t fluffy stuff. This is bottom-line, transform-the-business kind of stuff. Employees will be motivated to stay longer [because of recognition programs] and do better work. But sometimes it’s a slow process to prove it.”—Adam Weber, Chief People Officer at Emplify 

You can also tie your business case directly to retention. It costs, on average, 150% of an employee’s one-year salary, or potentially higher depending on their level of knowledge, when they leave your company. But according to Bersin by Deloitte, a study of companies who have implemented meaningful employee appreciation recognition programs saw voluntary turnover rates decrease by 31%, meaning 1 in 3 employees won’t walk out your door. 

If you can retain employees, the recruitment costs, lost productivity cost, and productivity training costs are quantifiably decreased for your company. 

Prioritizing recognition at your company.

Our panelists left us with a few key takeaways that can ensure recognition stays top of mind. Above all else, remember that it’s about people, and if you want to prioritize recognition you have to prioritize your people. 

“People have a choice where they work, they want to be proud of their company, and they want to belong. Appreciate that they choose to stay with you.”—Alicia Cafarelli, VP of Client Success at Blueboard

Alicia recommends an anniversary rewards program or spot recognition program as two great places to focus your efforts. Double down on the motif of choice as well: they choose to stay at your company, so give them a choice in how they want to be recognized. 

Don’t be afraid to ask how they would like to be recognized as well. Not everyone wants a big, public shoutout at a company all hands meeting or a cash bonus on their next paycheck. 

If you’re going to solicit feedback from your employees on ways they want to be recognized, or how you could improve your programs, you have to use it. For Marcus, it’s all about the follow-through here.

“If you don’t follow through on employee feedback received, you’re better off not even asking for it in the first place. You have to address someone’s thoughts, opinions, and ideas so they don’t feel they’re being glossed over.”—Marcus Sheanshang, President and CEO of JBM Packaging

Last, Adam recommends that you equip managers with the tools and resources they need to recognize and foster a positive work environment where employees feel recognized. A lot of managers aren’t given enough training on recognition and why it’s important. 

Spend time showing them why recognition is important for them, their team, and the entire company. If you’re looking for more resources to help empower your managers, make sure to check out Adam’s book, Lead Like A Human: Practical Steps To Building Highly Engaged Teams.

Employee recognition matters every day.

While employee recognition needs to be a constant priority for your company, it doesn’t need to be an overly elaborate program that delivers larger-than-life experiences every day of the year. As awesome as that would be, sometimes a simple “thank you,” a quick shout out on your company Slack channel, or a special appreciation note can reinforce someone’s choice to work at your company and bring their A-game. Check out other fresh ideas for employee reward ideas for appreciating your employees all year long from Blueboard.

Make sure you watch the full webinar recording for more in-depth conversations around employee recognition, how it impacts employee engagement, and examples of recognizing employees at other companies. If you want to learn more about how Blueboard can power your meaningful recognition and rewards programs, request a demo today.

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