Use Employee Recognition to Strengthen Your Business

Employee recognition and employee appreciation don’t just make employees feel good about themselves. They actually establish the foundation for a strong positive culture and a more productive workforce. Studies continue to show strong connections between recognition and retention, and between appreciation and better health — both physical and mental. Here’s why implementing a formal employee recognition strategy could be a strong move for your business.

Recognition Matters

At a time when organizations appear divided on the value of workplace recognition programs, it’s worth taking a look at what the numbers say. A 2017 survey of full-time employees found that:

  • Almost half of workers reported not having been recognized in the past six months or more, and 16% said they had never been recognized at all.
  • Workers who recognize their peers’ work are more likely to be engaged, love their job and recommend their workplace to others.

Better recognition and appreciation programs present powerful opportunities to move your organization’s culture in the right direction while differentiating you from slow adapters who resist the idea that employee recognition is a high-return investment in their people.

Common Milestones for Employee Appreciation

Employee recognition programs are commonly triggered by some achievement tied to their length of employment, their performance as noticed by colleagues and supervisors, or positive customer feedback. Beyond business metrics, many organizations have designated some form of recognition for success within health and wellness programs.

Most of these recognition efforts are top-down, initiated by leaders to award the efforts of front-line employees and managers. That work is important, but don’t overlook the power of peer-to-peer employee recognition programs. These programs tend to be a more streamlined option, as they connect the reward more directly to the activity. They can reduce the resources needed to administer the program. Without middle-management administration, peer-to-peer programs can also feel like a more authentic way to connect with the business.

Most importantly, peer-to-peer programs offer a double benefit — they actively and publicly engage both the employee giving and receiving the recognition. When JetBlue implemented its peer-to-peer recognition program, it found that for every 10% increase in people reporting being recognized, the company netted a 3% increase in retention and a 2% increase in engagement.

Best Practices for Peer-to-Peer Recognition

You don’t necessarily need dollar incentives for effective peer-to-peer recognition. Even just giving or receiving a simple “thanks” can do wonders for physical and emotional health. Still, different workplaces will require different rewards. Here are a few good options.

  • Notes and certificates. A system of recognizable certificates makes it easy for employees to share and collect recognition. You can color-code or brand the notes to highlight values or performance you want to encourage. Consider having, for example, one kind of recognition for a job well done and another for going beyond the job to help a co-worker or give back to the broader community.
  • Shared trophy. A symbolic token of success — whether a traditional trophy or a quirky stuffed animal would better suit your office culture — can create a community-driven incentive for recognition. This trophy can occupy an office or cube for a week or two, after which the owner gets to bestow it on the next peer who’s earned some appreciation. It can be fun just figuring out where the trophy is at any given moment.
  • Bulletin board. Another way to allow for affordable, easy recognition is to create space in a common area for employees to leave a note or tally points to recognize peers for work well done.
  • Add to an existing program. Imagine that you assembled a team to work on a special project and have just given each participant a pair of movie tickets to recognize a milestone. Take that recognition to the next level by giving participants four tickets instead. Two tickets are for them to use. The other two should go to employees who, even if they weren’t directly on the project, still made its success possible.

Even better, ask employees how they would like to recognize each other. Turn it into a contest — and give public credit to the winning concept. Of course, not just any idea will work across the entire business. Make sure you have some checks and balances in place to ensure that employee recognition is somewhat evenly distributed across functions and levels. Pockets of the organization can sometimes become super-users and exploit programs in ways that other employees can start to perceive as unfair.

With a few guidelines in place, peer-to-peer recognition can take your employee appreciation program to new levels of effectiveness with a negligible increase in expense. Do it well and implement it quickly to reap the benefits in enhanced retention, engagement and productivity.

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