Employee recognition programs have been proven to boost employee engagement, which is linked to higher productivity, lower turnover, and increased profitability. Communication is key in connecting desired attitudes and behavior to rewards.
Recognition programs can vary from top-down to peer-to-peer and from informal to formal. Top-down recognition requires consistent involvement by upper management and direct managers. Some studies show that recognition from a CEO is more meaningful than from a manager or peer, while others argue that this type of recognition can appear insincere or forced. For example, Paul White, author of The Vibrant Workplace: Overcoming the Obstacles to Building a Culture of Appreciation explains, “When employees do not believe that others are genuine or sincere in their communication of appreciation, reactions include cynicism, lack of trust, disbelief, skepticism, resentment.”
To avoid insincerity, be sure that the program aligns with company values/mission, is widely promoted and encouraged, and comprehensively adopted by management. Gallup's data reveal that the most effective recognition is honest, authentic and individualized to how each employee wants to be recognized. Regardless of the messenger, all forms of recognition should be reinforced by company values, and come from a genuine place of gratitude to avoid forced or mechanical perceptions. The rewards offered should also represent the employee’s preferences. For example, if all employees are rewarded with the same gift card or generic award, the recognition itself can lose its luster and become less powerful as a motivation and engagement tool.
A recognition program is a manifestation of company culture. The best recognition programs align with company values and mission. That involves branding the program to reflect the company’s most valuable mantra or statement. Does the company value customer service and honesty? Creativity and coaching? Empowering people? Start with values when developing the tagline or foundation of a recognition program. From values, develop a list of related behaviors to be recognized. For example, a restaurant chain which values customer service and positive attitudes may recognize teamwork or a great attitude as key behaviors.
A recognition program should reflect core values, and those values should permeate the company–from day-to-day operations to the employee experience, the company mission should be clear and present. To effectively communicate values, develop a consistent promotion plan for the recognition program and be specific about which behaviors, attitudes, and actions will be rewarded and why. If employees know that teamwork is highly valued (and rewarded!) they are more likely to step up and help others achieve common goals. Create a brand for the recognition program that aligns with the look and feel of the organization and incorporate the brand with emails, flyers, posters, postcards, social media banners, etc. to connect values and behavior to rewards.
A 10% improvement in employees' connection with the mission or purpose of their organization would result in a 4.4% increase in profitability.
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