Enhancing Employee Recognition through Effective Communication Strategies

Bob Nelson, a leading US consultant in employee recognition, examined why certain managers gave recognition to their staff while others didn’t. He conducted a survey because he believed communication is vital for better employee recognition, and wanted to explore the topic further. He conducted a national survey of 34 organizations, exploring the motivation for the use of employee recognition, questioning the managers about their behavior and the communication it conveyed: whether it stemmed from past experience with the behavior, present reinforcement of the behavior, or future expectations of the behavior.

He found that managers who were high users of recognition tended to have initial positive experiences in using it. Their good results gave them the confidence to keep using it.

In contrast, managers who didn’t use employee recognition behavior seemed to be caught in a negative cycle. They didn’t have positive early experiences with it and therefore resisted applying it.

Dr Nelson’s findings also suggested that to trigger a positive cycle of recognition use, it may be more important for managers to have had a positive personal experience in receiving recognition than merely being given recognition tools and programs.

Research shows the value of employee recognition

A 2019 survey by SurveyMonkey and Bonusly found:

  • 82% of employees considered recognition an important part of their happiness at work
  • 38% preferred to receive positive feedback in 1:1 meetings with their manager, and 25% preferred to receiver it at team meetings.
  • 89% of executive-level leaders believed recognition was conducted fairly at their company – but only 62% of people in intermediate positions agreed with them.

Only one in three US workers strongly agreed they had received recognition or praise for doing good work in the previous seven days, according to Gallup analysis in 2016 – “Gallup’s data revealed that the most effective recognition is honest, authentic and individualized to how each employee wants to be recognized.”

In addition, a survey quoted in the Harvard Business Review in 2016 found 82% of employed Americans didn’t feel their supervisors recognized them enough for their contributions.

Knowing how and why to recognize good work

When you embark on an initiative to introduce employee recognition program, use these key organizational principles for effective employee recognition as a guide. One of the key issues is whether managers actually know how and why to recognize their employees. Of course, there are two elements to employee recognition. The first aspect is to actually see, identify or realize an opportunity to praise someone. If you are not in a receptive frame of mind you can easily pass over many such opportunities. This happens all too frequently.

The other aspect of employee recognition is, of course, the physical act of doing something to acknowledge and praise people for their good work.

You can measure how well managers identify good opportunities and then actually do something to recognize employees by testing through face-to-face questioning of the managers and their staff and by written questionnaires to staff.

Employee surveys should include questions about employee recognition. If not, such questions should be added. Recognition isn’t complicated, but it shows up on most employee surveys as being poorly handled. The results can then be used as tangible proof of the need to train managers in the required skills.

Managers need to be able to praise and recognize their peers in other branches and divisions. Peer pressure and recognition at all levels is a very strong motivator, so it should be actively encouraged. Employees at any level should praise and recognize their peers. Peer pressure and recognition is a very strong motivator, so it should be actively encouraged in the workplace.

Communication is a vital part of recognition

Through your wide-ranging PR role as the eyes and ears of the organization, you become aware of work well done throughout the organization. You become aware of good work while gathering information for employee publications and other typical communication tasks. You can communicate about these good achievements and their long-term benefits in the realization that communication is vital for better employee recognition:

  1. Offer employee recognition ideas to help to drive formal and informal programs of employee recognition.
  2. Supply articles and photographs in employee publications, including the intranet and Facebook, and occasionally in external media about high-achieving employees.
  3. Arrange informal functions in which the supervisor or manager thanks the person or team for their work.
  4. Directly encourage managers and supervisors to spontaneously recognize employees for their efforts (giving them a ‘pat on the back’).
  5. Arrange photographs and certificates of the employees and their awards or similar, in common areas.
  6. Model the desired behavior.

In addition, you can communicate about the long-term benefits that come to high achievers in the workplace:

  1. Conduct interviews with the manager of your organization’s career advancement programs (probably your HR manager) so you can publicize these activities in the organizational intranet or Facebook.
  2. Include profiles of high-achieving employees in recruitment features in print or online publications.
  3. List employees who have been promoted, proving that career advancement is possible from achieving good results in the workplace.
  4. Include a career management section on the organizational intranet, which summarizes all information and resources about career advancement.
  5. Ensure that top managers reinforce positive messages about high achievers and career advancement opportunities when they speak to employee groups.

You can play a valuable role by training or arranging training in presentation skills, specifically in how to conduct recognition activities, to assist supervisors and managers to improve the way they recognize their staff for work well done. Many managers have never had such training, and because good communication skills are expected as a ‘given’ in a job, some are reluctant to admit they need assistance in this area. This activity is important because research and workplace performance confirm that communication is vital for better employee recognition.

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