Recognition for a job well done

Reward and recognition programs are often grouped together, but savvy employers also realise the value that standalone recognition programs can bring to engagement

SOMETIMES IT’S the little things in life that have the biggest impact. This is clearly seen when it comes to the powerful yet underutilised impact of recognition in the workplace. For any employee who has worked long hours to meet a deadline, a few words of acknowledgement and thanks from the boss can do wonders for morale and self-esteem. And of course, words don’t cost a thing. So why do so few organisations and managers truly embrace the power of recognition?

Standalone recognition
Jeremy Salter, employee solutions lead at Grass Roots, says that while most organisations understand the power of recognition and its real value in terms of encouraging the right behaviours, they are still falling into the trap of rewarding those behaviours instead of just recognising them. While it’s best practice to group the two together, Salter says the emphasis lies too heavily on the side of reward.

“We know that many organisations still invest significantly more time, effort and money on rewarding the right behaviours than they do recognising them,” Salter says. “Recognition is often contingent upon reward, and levels of recognition activity are dependent on reward budgets.”

Fortunately, the situation may be changing. These same organisations are now refocusing their efforts on increasing the standalone value of employee recognition. Salter says new technologies and a new generation of employees have created both a need and an opportunity to rethink employee recognition and the relationship between recognition and reward.

Making recognition work Is the best approach to keep recognition separate from reward? It’s not unusual to hear of employers (and service providers like Grass Roots) delivering both programs hand in hand, and Salter suggests this is indeed the best approach – with one important disclaimer.

Making recognition work 
Is the best approach to keep recognition separate from reward? It’s not unusual to hear of employers (and service providers like Grass Roots) delivering both programs hand in hand, and Salter suggests this is indeed the best approach – with one important disclaimer.

“We’ve found that what matters most is not if both are present; rather, what matters most is the relationship that exists between them,” he says. For example, issues arise when recognition is contingent upon reward or when reward becomes a financial measure of value.

“Our approach is to separate the act of recognition from reward and over time
to reduce an organisation’s dependence on reward,” Salter says. “We achieve this by increasing the standalone value of recognition within an organisation.”

Avoiding entitlement cultures
This separation of reward from recognition should not be underestimated. It’s been said that ‘entitlement cultures’ are becoming the norm in Australian workplaces and that some workers – especially younger workers – need an almost constant flow of positive reinforcement, not to mention financial reward, for simply doing their jobs. Employee recognition needs to be applied consistently and fairly, but care must also be taken to ensure this recognition does not become an expectation or entitlement. As expectations, your sincere recognition efforts can become entitlements. For example, if the boss invites employees to lunch every time they work overtime, the lunch becomes an expectation. The recognition for a job well done loses any value. Additionally, for those who miss out, it becomes a source of dissatisfaction.

“Our approach is to separate the act of recognition from reward and over time to reduce an organisation’s dependence on reward” - Jeremy Salter

Technology: the game changer
Social technologies have helped businesses to make recognition a powerful standalone motivator. Social recognition from peers, managers and other stakeholders has increased the value of recognition by making it more immediate and visible. Recognition for a job well done has become easier to give and more motivational to receive. The standalone value of employee recognition is further enhanced by integrating it with other business processes, including talent mapping, performance reviews and onboarding.

“The social element of recognition is very important,” Salter reiterates. “Recognitions appear in live recognition feeds that others can comment upon and like. Having your peers see you being recognised in this way amplifies the value of recognition. It positively reinforces an organisation’s values.”

Willis Towers Watson’s Global Recognition Survey asked participants to specify the organisational context in which they had received their most fulfilling recognition. The majority said their best experience had occurred within their teams or work groups (35% of the respondents) or at the department level (37%). The report stated: “Clearly, people most value appreciation for accomplishments that are familiar to and significant for one’s direct peers. At the broader organisation level, the accomplishments of an unfamiliar person from a distant department are bound to have less meaning.”

Yet social recognition goes further than empowering and encouraging peers to acknowledge the work of others: it reinforces peer relationships and serves a number of important functions, including communication, coaching and social support. “Socially astute leaders understand this and use social recognition as a powerful and authentic way to communicate,” says Salter.

And if recognition and reward do indeed work best hand in hand, technology has also changed and improved the delivery of rewards. Digital reward options are on the rise – and delivery takes minutes rather than days. In-store redemptions can be made with a smartphone. However, while technology has changed things for the better, Salter warns that it remains simply a tool. 

“Technology can remove certain barriers to recognition but it cannot remove them all,” he says. “Technology will only help those who are motivated to recognise. It won’t motivate those who are not. The motivation to recognise comes from the belief that recognition is important. In our experience this belief is driven more by the actions of leaders than the latest technologies.”

Again, the Willis Towers Watson’s Global Recognition Survey makes the link between manager recognition and performance clear. The report states: “Strong manager performance in recognising employee performance increases engagement by almost 60%, from 33% of employees giving a favorable engagement score to 52%. Even in low-engagement workplaces, recognition from immediate supervisors and managers has a dramatic effect.”

A culture of recognition
Indeed, leaders play a crucial role in creating a culture of recognition. A culture of recognition means there is a shared belief in the importance of recognition and the values against which behaviours are recognised. A culture of recognition exists when recognition becomes an everyday behaviour within an organisation. As an organisation’s culture is the sum of all behaviours, a culture of recognition encourages employees to recognise value in all behaviours, big and small.

“Organisations that reserve recognition only for the extraordinary will not develop a culture of recognition,” says Salter. “I believe a culture is not something you set up. It’s something that evolves over time. The actions of leaders are key. If an organisation wants to create a culture of recognition the leaders of an organisation should be visibly active within a recognition program. A social recognition makes recognition activity visible to all. Those leaders who do not recognise are as visible to employees as those who do.”

For those doubting the power of recognition it’s worth remembering that human beings are motivated by more than money. They crave positive feedback, recognition when they put the hard work in, and acknowledgement from peers and leaders. It’s the inner glow one gets from knowing an achievement or goal has been seen, appreciated and celebrated.

Grass Roots is the world’s largest provider of integrated customer and employee engagement solutions. Our clients trust us with their three most prized assets: their customers, their employees and their brands. In Australia, we are pioneering new ways to communicate, recognise, reward and inspire people to improve the performance of our clients.


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