It is crucial for any organization to secure its human resources.
Yet, ensuring existing employees stay engaged and motivated can be quite challenging, while the competition for top talent is getting fiercer and fiercer. As a result, it is quite often our skilled and trained employees are poached by other companies, ruining our investments in time and money.
Having a functional employee recognition program is key to cultivating employee engagement, maintaining positive morale, and establishing a strong company culture. Yet, the actual implementation of employee recognition can be complex: every employee is unique with their own preferences and needs, and if we rely too much on traditional, overused methods, it might be perceived as inauthentic by the employees.
With that being said, here we will discuss some of the most important employee recognition best practices you should know so you can offer genuine, intentional, and creative recognition that your employees will find meaningful.
Why Recognize and Appreciate Your Employees?
Why do we need a functional employee recognition program in the first place? Here are some key benefits to consider:
- Improve employee morale and motivation: according to a pretty recent survey by OGO, 40 percent of surveyed American workers would be more motivated to perform their work if they were recognized more often.
- Lower turnover rate: more than 63% of 1,500 respondents who feel that they were adequately recognized said that they are very unlikely to look for a new job at least in the next six months.
- Retain your top talents: your top talents are arguably your company’s most valuable assets, and by making sure they are recognized and appreciated, you can prevent recruiters and other companies from poaching them.
- Identify low/non-performing employees and act quickly: with a proper recognition program in place, you’ll also be able to quickly identify low-performing and non-performing employees so you can act quickly whether to help them develop or, in worst-case scenarios, fire them.
- Drive employee engagement: a study has shown that recognition and appreciation can help improve employee engagement. Upon receiving recognition, the employees will feel more valued, which can motivate them to be more engaged in their day-to-day jobs.
- Improve bottom-line productivity: by improving motivation, morale, and work quality of individual employees and your team, ultimately you’ll improve your organization’s productivity.
Employee Recognition Best Practices
1. Define clear criteria for recognition
What is worse for employees than being not recognized? It is when they feel another employee is unjustly recognized and appreciated when they didn’t receive any.
Thus, it is very important to decide which behaviors and actions you will incentivize, and communicate these behaviors clearly. When defining what actions to appreciate, refer back to your organizational values and overall objectives.
While an employee recognition program shouldn’t be rigid, it is good to create guidelines on what behaviors will be rewarded and how a specific behavior will be rewarded.
For example, salespersons will always get a 10 percent bonus if they achieve $100,000 in sales target. However, we should always remain flexible.
2. Know your audience
Your employees are unique individuals, and it is important to understand that they may have unique preferences on how they would like to be appreciated.
While in general, informal praise/applause should be public so the whole team can also be motivated, some people may feel that it is embarrassing and may prefer private 1-on-1 recognition instead. Also, for some people, mandatory time off might not be desired.
It is important to try, as best as you can, to learn about each employee’s preferences and personalize the recognition efforts accordingly so they’ll be meaningful and authentic. During 1-on-1 sessions, don’t be afraid to ask employees about their preferences, or alternatively, you can also run surveys.
3. Frequency and Timing
In most cases, frequent and regular recognition is better, but some employees might prefer you save up and only recognize them on big accomplishments. Again, don’t be afraid to ask your employees about how they would prefer to be appreciated.
When appreciating accomplishments (successful project, tenure anniversary, etc.), however, it is important to be timely. You can, for example, give informal recognition on the spot for a specific employee who has just achieved a sales target, then reiterate the appreciation during regular team meetings to invite applause from other team members.
4. Tangible VS Intangible Rewards
Many companies and employers assume that recognition rewards should always equal money. However, while indeed most employees would be happy with monetary rewards, in some situations non-tangible rewards like praise, emblematic rewards (i.e. trophies), and experiential rewards can actually be more effective.
In general, when planning a recognition program, we should try a varied approach:
- Tangible monetary rewards
Promotions with salary raises and bonuses are obvious, but for smaller accomplishments, we can also try low-cost options like giving gift cards, which are more versatile. Employee recognition solutions and systems offer an easy way to offer personalized gift card rewards for your employees.
- Non-tangible rewards
Employees may also find non-tangible rewards like being featured in a wall of fame, getting trophies, and others as meaningful.
Alternatively, you can offer experiential rewards like tickets to sports events, vouchers to their favorite restaurant, and so on. You can also use gift cards for various forms of these experiential rewards.
5. Give your employees a choice
Again, don’t assume you know what your employees want, and it is always best to ask your employees what types of rewards they would find meaningful.
Create a shortlist for potential rewards, as we’ve discussed above, then send a survey for your employees so they can provide feedback on which rewards out of these options they would prefer. Giving your employees a voice and choice in your employee recognition program can actually increase the chance of them finding the program significant.
While an employee recognition program can certainly be effective in improving your employee’s morale and productivity while lowering the turnover rate, it is crucial to make sure the employee recognition program is memorable and meaningful, or else it will be counterproductive.
By implementing the five best practices above, you’ll have a solid foundation to create a functional employee recognition program on your own.
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I am Adeyemi Adetilewa, a media consultant, entrepreneur, husband, and father. Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Ideas Plus Business Magazine, online business resources for entrepreneurs. I help brands share unique and impactful stories through the use of public relations, advertising, and online marketing. My work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Addicted2Success, Hackernoon, The Good Men Project, and other publications.