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5 steps to building a better recognition strategy

5th Aug 2022
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In Workhuman’s recent research with Gallup that studied the recognition experiences of more than 12,000 employees across the globe, we found that only one in four employees strongly agree they feel connected to their culture, and only about one in three strongly agree they belong at their organisation.  

The research also found that being “overworked and underappreciated” is a common experience. It is also a recipe for burnout. Overall, 25% of employees report being burned out at work “very often” or “always,” indicating that for a quarter of the workforce, energy, motivation and productivity are dwindling.  

Leaders need to take a step back and re-evaluate which programmes and practices need to be prioritised to create a workplace where everyone wants to be – where everyone is respected for who they are, and can bring their whole authentic selves to work. Where they can be human.  

And if companies can’t or won’t put the human at the centre of work, employees are more than happy to look for opportunity elsewhere, with WorkhumaniQ finding that nearly four in ten are planning to look for a new job in the next 12 months. The UK and Ireland in particular have more job seekers than anywhere else: 46% of workers in the UK and 42% of workers in Ireland are looking for new jobs, compared to just 36% in the U.S. and Canada. 

Organisational leaders need to show they care about their employees by celebrating who they are and what they bring to the table. When employees are recognised for their contributions and achievements, they feel that they matter. Workplace recognition is critical here to building an employee experience that meets employees' human needs. 

Building a better recognition strategy 

Recognition programmes are nothing new, and the benefits are undeniable. In Workhuman and Gallup’s research for example, found that when recognition hits the mark, employees are 73% less likely to “always” or “very often” feel burned out, 56% less likely to be looking or watching for job opportunities and 44% more likely to be “thriving” in their life overall. They’re also 5x as likely to feel connected to their culture and 4x as likely to be engaged. Creating a culture of recognition can also save a 10,000-employee company up to £12.8 million in employee turnover costs annually. 

But we also found that 81% of leaders say recognition is not a major strategic priority for their organisation and nearly two in three leaders say their organisation does not have a budget allocated to recognition. So, although there is great promise and benefits to recognition strategies, there is still more work to be done, and recognition only works when done right. 

First, organisations can maximise their recognition efforts by targeting the five pillars of recognition: (1) fulfilling employees’ needs for recognition, (2) giving high-quality, authentic recognition, (3) ensuring equity, (4) embedding recognition in their culture, and (5) personalising it.  

Leaders can also take these five steps to build a better recognition strategy: 

Prioritise recognition. Recognition strategies deserve the attention of business and HR leaders’ if they are to be effective and their benefits realised. So, set aside the time, money and effort needed to make sure you get it right – for your people and for the bottom line. A good place to start is to audit the current state of recognition at your organisation and see where changes and improvements could be made – is it delivering the impact you want? Are you seeing trends of where it isn’t being used to its full potential? – and where it’s working well – can you replicate these elements elsewhere across the programme to take it that step further? – so that you know your investment is being used wisely.  

Set an example. When leaders provide and share recognition themselves, then people across your organisation will be encouraged and empowered to replicate the process and share their gratitude with each other. If leaders recognise managers for example, who often receive the least recognition in an organisation, there is likely to be a knock-on effect that ripples all the way throughout a company with employees across the board wanting to acknowledge each other’s’ work. As a result, employees will know that their work is appreciated and that their contributions to the company are important, which in turn boosts their engagement, productivity and employer loyalty.  

Make recognition accessible. There’s no point in having a recognition programme that’s difficult for people to access, so make is as easy as possible everyone to give and receive recognition. They’re likely to give more recognition as a result, and it also ensures that everyone in an organisation, no matter their background and abilities, can be part of a culture of gratitude. In addition, make sure it’s simple to give all types of recognition, from monetary to point-based, and that managers are equipped with the resources they need to make recognition possible for everyone.  

Incorporate recognition into your culture. Recognition shouldn’t be a separate function that sits siloed within HR – it should be part of your core values and embedded into the company culture, so that everyone knows that recognising hard work is important to everyone. This can be done, for example, by making recognition a habit, such as encouraging people to recognise their colleagues daily, or by setting aside designated times and events to celebrate one another.  

Train managers. Manager participation and buy-in are a fundamental part in getting the most out of recognition strategies, as managers are an important conduit of recognition for employees. So, make sure managers not only understand how to effectively give recognition on a regular basis, but that they also receive it regularly themselves so that they understand the impact in can have. Take the time to educate them on why recognition matters and also provide options for how they can deliver recognition in the workplace. Guiding them with specific actions to motivate employees and build strong teams through positive feedback is great way to start.  

Recognition is a powerful tool for improving the employee experience and business outcomes in the process. In today’s new world of work, there has never been a better time to re-evaluate how you recognise your humans and their hard work, and look to see where improvements can be made that benefit everyone. 


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