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What is social recognition?

8th Oct 2021
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One topic I keep coming back to in these blogs is the importance and benefit of social recognition. As something that can have such a profound and widespread impact on organisations in any industry, it’s important to know how to get this right. So, what exactly is social recognition? And how can companies best implement this rewarding strategy?

Defining social recognition

In essence, social recognition simply describes any time employees empower or acknowledge each other for a job well done. More specifically, a social recognition, or peer-to-peer recognition programme involves sharing experiences, awarding achievements, and extending congratulations to our colleagues. What this means in practice is that employees are encouraged to regularly talk with, thank, and celebrate one another, for both team and individual achievements.

Moreover, this need not only apply to work achievements: an effective social recognition programme also recognises employees’ personal milestones and life events, such as getting married, having a child, or even just a birthday. This approach allows employees to form more authentic connections with one another, which in turn leads to greater engagement and therefore productivity at work.

Why we need social recognition

A common problem in the workplace, however unintentional, is a lack of recognition. This was the case even before the pandemic. For example, a 2019 Workhuman survey found that one in five UK workers have never received recognition for their work, and one-third of respondents said they wished their manager showed more appreciation for their efforts.

Many employees, especially those working from home, may feel like their hard work is going unnoticed and unappreciated. Naturally, this can lead to a decrease in engagement, and ultimately a decrease in employee retention. After all, if employees feel undervalued in their current job, they are far more likely to search for a new one.

Social recognition, with its focus on frequent peer-to-peer gratitude and rewards, instils a sense of appreciation and acknowledgement at every level of an organisation. This is particularly the case when social recognition is implemented as a digital and non-hierarchical solution, as this truly ensures that everyone at an organisation can get involved – no matter their seniority or physical location.

As an example, BP recently launched its first global peer-to-peer reward and recognition solution, Energize! According to Susan Snelling, Head of Global Reward Operations at BP, the programme has been especially helpful in engaging the company’s non-office-based workers. Overall, Energize! has resulted in 50% lower turnover for new hires recognised through the programme, and 66% lower turnover for employees who receive three awards per year. In this time of the ‘Great Resignation’, social recognition is a great way to ensure employee retention.

Multiple applications

There is vast variety in the potential uses of a social recognition programme. In fact, the main benefit is that it can be used for anything, depending on the organisation and their employees’ preferences. For example, employees may choose to recognise or award one another for a successful campaign launch; a promotion; or a work anniversary. Organisations can also choose to assign various tiers to their rewards system, ensuring that the level of achievement is matched by the level of award. This ensures consistency across the recognition programme, which gives it further legitimacy, and means employees are confident to know how to use it most effectively.

It is also worthwhile to base awards on your company’s values – so that your social recognition programme can also help your employees embody those values and contribute to a positive company culture. For example, recognising the success of a major campaign demonstrates the values of innovation and dedication. Celebrating something personal, like a birthday, contributes to the value of a positive, inclusive, and more human workplace.

Different types of social recognition

As well as many uses, social recognition can also take many forms. For example, it may be a simple e-thanks or shout-out, or something more concrete like a bonus or other monetary award. In fact, the combination of a written thank you along with a tangible reward is often the best way to ensure someone feels truly valued and appreciated.

With this in mind, you may be wondering: “what is the best form of social recognition?”. In reality, this is a bit of a trick question. Different types will suit different organisations – after all, employees are unique individuals with their own preferences. What is important however is that any social recognition programme is hardwired into the very operations of your organisation – it should be as commonplace as sending an email. Naturally, this may take some time for employees to get used to, but this is where leaders can help by setting clear expectations and leading by example. In the long term, social recognition is most effective when it is regular and implemented across the entirety of an organisation, with all employees involved.

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