Employee recognition is the timely, informal or formal acknowledgement of a person’s or team’s behavior, effort or business result that supports the organization’s goals and values, and which has clearly been beyond normal expectations. Appreciation is a fundamental human need. Employees respond to appreciation expressed through recognition of their good work because it confirms their work is valued. When employees and their work are valued, their satisfaction and productivity rises, and they are motivated to maintain or improve their good work. Therefore, it is important that you measure current workplace attitudes towards employee recognition.
Despite the unquestioned benefits arising from employee recognition, one of the mysteries of the workplace is that recognition invariably is done badly, if done at all. Few organizations have well-established and accepted formal or informal employee programs in place. Therefore, employee recognition remains an undervalued management technique. What’s more, COVID-19 is accelerating the need for employers to frequently acknowledge employees’ hard work, according to one workplace expert.
Observing current attitudes by managers, supervisors and other employees can be a guide to the state of employee recognition in your organization. The attitude of upper management invariably sets the precedent for everyone else.
The more senior the management, the less open they are to try out new things like employee recognition activities. The less that management or peers value recognition now, the harder it will be to convince them to change.
Linking recognition behavior to performance management will be the key to behavior change towards employee recognition activities. In other words, if employee recognition behavior is one of the criteria on which managers and supervisors are judged, it will be a powerful force for change in attitudes and behavior. In view of this, one of vital determinants of success in establishing an employee recognition program is to sell the CEO and senior management on the benefits of employee recognition activities.
Current attitudes towards employee recognition
The answers to the following questions will indicate the extent to which employee recognition is used in your place of work (you can also do this location by location to form a general view. You can quantify the answers to these questions by allocating points according to the scale shown under the list of questions.
Questions to ask yourself or others
- When you walk through a workplace, to what extent do you see visible signs of recognition – objects like banners, photographs, and humorous cards about employees’ contributions?
- Are people able to be playful about recognition in the workplace (humorous posters and gifts, spontaneous celebrations and mementos)?
- If you speak to employees at random, could they tell you about being involved in or observing recognition activities in the past three months?
- Is everyone is able to join in employee recognition activities – they are not just formal activities organized by the human resources department?
- Are employees, especially supervisors and managers evaluated on the extent of recognition they give others?
- Are there widely used ways to recognize the efforts of employees?
Scale of points
- 1 point – very frequently
- 2 points – frequently
- 3 points – somewhat frequently
- 4 points – infrequently
- 5 points – rarely or never.
Add up the points from the answers to the questions, ie 1 for very frequently, etc. If your total is 18 or below, your workplace is already receptive to employee recognition and features some of its positive elements. If your total is higher than 18, the organizational culture hasn’t been in tune with employee recognition and therefore a lot of groundwork needs to be done to convince management of the merits of introducing it.
‘Selling’ employee recognition to senior management
It is not worth embarking on an employee recognition program unless there is clear support from the top. After determining management attitudes towards employee recognition, you can move to gain this support it may be necessary to conduct a pilot or introductory program in a work unit in which the manager or supervisor is a definite supporter of the concept. Or, if the timing is right, you could initiate this in your own area first, especially if you are a supervisor or manager.
It is important with these early projects to base them on achieving tangible results.
For instance, a unit manager could initiate a suggestion scheme for cost savings in a production process. For every demonstrated dollar amount of cost savings resulting from an employee or team suggestion, the manager could arrange a night out for the team, or any of many possible ideas. In this way, the value to the organization of such recognition activities could be clearly measured and therefore proven. This beneficial result should be communicated widely through the organization, especially to senior management. In fact, it would be a good idea to involve a senior manager in the scheme, eg in the initial briefing of staff and in the presentation of awards.
If the process is simple and uncomplicated, it will be easy for employees to give each other recognition for their achievements.
Communicate frequently about successes
One way to tell others about successful examples of recognition is to run a regular piece in your organization’s staff publication or intranet about people who have gone out of their way to recognize the contributions of others. The focus is therefore on the giver rather than the receiver, thus providing a good model for others to follow. Of course, some coverage of the recipient’s achievements could be made elsewhere in those media.
Equip bosses with the tools to praise their teams and team members
Some managers are likely to be uncomfortable or unsure how to properly give effective recognition to their employees. You can deal with this by providing managers with presentation briefing notes and speech tips, congratulatory letter, note and certificate templates. When managers have easily accessible tools for recognition, they are far more likely to support recognition programs. My article on “Key organizational principles for effective employee recognition” will help you to develop the structure of a recognition program for guidance to managers.
- Recognition is foreign to the experience or inclination of many managers and supervisors, so you should arrange for senior management to direct them to attend compulsory recognition training. Otherwise, the managers and supervisors are likely to evade such obligations.