Picture this: you oversee Talent at a ride-sharing company that just launched in five new, major markets. Adoption is growing, and you’re exceeding your sign-up goals. It’s time to celebrate! All-hands meetings, retreats, and off-sites are a great time to pop the champagne and celebrate the collective success of a company, but is it enough?
If company-wide events are the only time your employees are being acknowledged for their work, it may be time to reevaluate your recognition efforts. The best employee recognition programs are authentic and personalized, which is challenging to accomplish when it’s given to the entire team vs. the individual. While there’s certainly a time and place for company-wide recognition, it shouldn’t be the only component of your program.
You may be asking: what’s wrong with team recognition all the time? It seems easy, resourceful, and effective to recognize a group of people simultaneously instead of tailoring appreciation for every high-performing individual. On the surface, this seems like a passable solution that keeps employees content, but problems will eventually bubble up.
There are several reasons why individual recognition reigns supreme over team recognition, which we’ve outlined below — along with concrete tips that you, the overseer of your company’s culture, can use to establish a more balanced recognition program.
1. Individual Recognition Highlights the Key Players
Let’s take a walk down memory lane to your university days. Most of us have had the experience of being assigned to a group project in school, doing 90% of the work, and having the rest of the team reap the benefits. It’s a similar situation in the workplace (minus the slackers, we hope!) Certain employees may invest more effort or provide contributions that are instrumental to the successful outcome of a project.
While everyone should be appreciated for their work, there should also be a recognition program in place that allows the manager to give special thanks to the key players. Otherwise, contributions by those team members get watered down or equalized across the board, which can be extremely demotivating. It may even discourage them from putting in the same level of effort the next time around.
A 2017 report by Mental Health America found almost half (44%) of workers felt skilled employees were unrecognized for their work. Eventually, those talented individuals will leave in search of a company where their work is noticed and uniquely acknowledged.
2. Individual Recognition Discourages Slacking
The same is true of the opposite situation. If there are team members who don’t “pull their weight" on a project but end up with the same level of recognition as everyone else, there’s no motivation to work harder on the next assignment. They know they can put in minimal effort and get absorbed into the group's collective success, which obviously promotes an unproductive culture that will inevitably lead to disengaged members on the team.
You may be wondering then: what’s the value of an engaged employee? Engaged employees, driven by meaningful recognition efforts, are 20% more productive. Imagine how personalized recognition efforts can benefit individual team members, and therefore lift the collective production rate of the overall group during the next team project. More on calculating the ROI on engaged, motivated employees in our Recognition ROI eBook.
3. Individual Recognition Supports Personal Development
Additionally, not recognizing an employee’s contributions is a missed opportunity for professional growth. Recognition can serve as a tool for keeping track of an individual’s performance — it helps them identify when they’re progressing in the right direction, against clearly stated growth milestones or role achievements.
Also, if someone does great work and the manager simply glosses over the accomplishment, the employee may start to doubt their value or feel bitter about the lack of acknowledgment. This is already a problem: 45% of employees reported that they have not been recognized in six months or more, negatively coloring the way they perceive their work.
4. Individual Recognition Strengthens Relationships
Developing a rapport of consistent, candid feedback can strengthen the relationship between a manager and their employees. Beyond just feedback, personalized recognition from a manager to an employee is incredibly meaningful and will motivate individuals to work harder. Balancing both constructive and positive feedback creates a culture of trust, where the employee doesn’t have to worry about their performance all the time because they know that good work will be rewarded and sub-par work will be brought to their attention quickly.
5. Individual Recognition Sets the Standard for Excellence
Individual recognition highlights the exact action, achievement, or behavior that your employee embodied, setting them up for future success as they understand what’s expected of them. For instance, let’s say one of your front-end engineers turns around a redesign on a high-pressure timeline without introducing any new bugs. When providing a personalized and meaningful employee reward afterward, be sure to explain why the employee is receiving it (“I was really impressed by your composure and ability to deliver a high quality product over a short period of time” ).
This way, it’ll be clear exactly the standard of work that’s expected of the employee. Just make sure any employee reward is shared in a timely manner — showing your appreciation three months after a project ends is not impactful!
6. Individual Recognition Creates Buzz and Social Sharing
A welcomed side effect of creating a strong, customized recognition program is that employees are likely to share their positive experience with people in their network, whether it’s via word-of-mouth or on platforms like Glassdoor or their go-to social media site. Which, in turn, attracts qualified talent to your company! These days, benefits and perks are so competitive that having a unique offering can really help your organization stand out. Read more on the difference between recognition and perks on our blog.
Tips for a Successful Recognition Program
At the end of the day, it’s all about balance. As the person overseeing your company’s culture, it’s important to pinpoint right moments for team recognition vs. individual recognition. Here are a few tips for creating a holistic program:
Tip #1: Assess Individual Impact
After any big milestone — whether it’s a product launch or a big client win — take a step back and assess which employees within the group made the biggest impact. Was there an engineer who stayed up past midnight for several days to make sure a feature was running smoothly by the deadline? Or maybe a PR team member who snagged a glowing company feature in a top-tier publication?
Once you identify these individuals, find a way to reward them outside of company-wide celebrations so they know you’re aware of their great work. If you manage a lot of people and aren’t sure where to start, it can be helpful to talk to the project leads to point you in the right direction!
Tip #2: Provide Recognition That Matters
The last thing you want to do is identify the stars of a project and hand them an Amazon gift card, which isn’t a very personalized or thoughtful way to demonstrate your thanks. Instead, try to get a sense for the employees’ personality and what they might enjoy. Pro tip: you can’t go wrong with experiential employee gifts!
Not only are they more memorable, but Blueboard’s wide catalog of employee experiences makes recognition personalized to the employee’s unique needs — from glassblowing classes to salsa dancing lessons to a couple’s massage — there’s something for everyone.
Tip #3: Empower Managers with the Tools to Succeed
Make sure your managers actually have what they need to recognize their employees. This means making it crystal clear that individual recognition is a priority at your company, providing them with ideas and options for unique employee rewards, and educating them on best practices for giving real-time, candid feedback. Simply developing a recognition program, without publicizing or educating your leaders about it, is a wasted opportunity.
Once you have all the pieces in place, you can take your recognition program to the next level by using Blueboard to reward employees with their choice from hundreds of experiential employee rewards - we make it fun, and easy to give.
How are you rewarding individual employees and wider teams? Share your ideas with us in the comments section below!