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Mind the recognition gap

6th May 2020
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Feeling appreciated at work and having our contributions recognised are central to workplace happiness. As every business owner will know, employee happiness and engagement are directly linked to staff retention. In fact, nearly eight out of every 10 employees cite ‘feeling unappreciated’ as a main reason for quitting their jobs.

During the current crisis, keeping staff engaged and motivated has become even more important. Gartner has estimated that during periods of disruption, employees’ desire to be recognised for their contributions increases by about 30%. 

Not only has staff engagement become more important, it has also become more difficult. As remote working restrictions make effective internal communications more challenging, businesses must take care to avoid creating a ‘recognition gap’ that could cause a post-lockdown exodus.

The remote recognition gap

The boom in remote working has been met with a surge of technological solutions for every day-to-day office process. But while video calls can function in place of face-to-face meetings, and instant messaging is recreating the small talk of the proverbial ‘water cooler’, it is extremely difficult to adequately replace the smaller aspects of workplace communication.

Throughout the day, we give and receive feedback and recognition, often without even meaning to. From a change in tone to positive body language or a passing smile, recognition goes far beyond annual reviews or congratulations at the end of a large project. However, with colleagues separated and now communicating digitally, businesses must be careful not to let the smaller bits of recognition slip through the cracks, as that is where disengagement occurs.

The importance of feeling valued 

Humans are naturally social beings, and build communities to support each other. Many of us find that our mental wellbeing is closely linked to feelings of community and purpose. The office is one place where we are able to experience these feelings and work as part of a wider team.

As many mental health experts have noted, the danger of remote working is that without these communities of support and recognition from our peers, people will slip into feelings of isolation and loneliness. A recent study by The Mental Health Foundation found that nearly a quarter of UK adults had experienced loneliness because of the current lockdown.

This means that team morale and the recognition of successes, large and small, are at a premium in a remote working climate. The benefits of a collaborative, engaged and social team are not just restricted to employee mental health either; they underpin almost every performance and productivity metric. For example, the Global Happiness Council estimates that a meaningful increase in workforce well-being can yield a productivity increase of roughly 10%.

Codifying recognition

How do we resolve the challenge of giving recognition during a period of mass remote working? To help prevent those crucial pieces of smaller pieces of recognition from falling through the cracks, businesses should try to make codified recognition a norm among teams. Rather than stick to the old medium of non-verbal, implicit, and subtextual recognition, teams need to embrace verbalised, explicit, and overt ways of recognising one another.

To make codified recognition a norm in their organisation, people should be encouraged to congratulate and recognise any wins they see within and between teams. This recognition and celebration of successes, both individually and as a team, is crucial to fostering the feeling of togetherness that will be lacking for many in isolation.

The future of engagement

It is paramount that businesses pay attention to the well-being and happiness of their staff while working remotely and separated from their work communities. Short-term solutions will inevitably leave businesses with problems further down the road as ways of working adapt and change with advances in technology. The changes imposed across the economy by this sudden shift towards remote working won’t simply be reversed as lockdowns come to an end.

The sudden shift to remote working has proved to many office-based businesses that it is a feasible option for staff. As a result, adoption of remote working on a more permanent basis is likely to grow once the current crisis is over. Solutions to managing remote teams should not be viewed as short-term, stopgap options, but a means of operating with a modern workforce without sacrificing the benefits of the office. That means that more codified means of promoting employee engagement are here to stay.

This boom of remote working has fast-tracked years’ worth of digital transformation in the HR sector. Businesses must harness this and tackle the recognition gap at the heart of remote working. Remote workforces need not be isolated workforces.

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