5 Ways to Use Recognition to Quickly Raise Employee Engagement

recognitionThere is a simple formula for a high performing workforce, according to Gallup research:


Yet these three key attributes only exist in 5 percent of workers. The percentage of actively disengaged employees rises from 18 percent with three to ten years of tenure to 21 percent with more than ten years. To frame this another way, a 5th of the nation’s most highly tenured employees could care less about their employer or their performance; they are simply tuned out. Gallup reports that employee disengagement is a huge problem that is costing U.S. employers $450 to $550 billion in lost productivity every single year.

Dobiquity has identified the top reasons employees have for leaving a job as insufficient pay (44 percent), limited career paths (43 percent), lack of challenging work (30 percent), work-life balance (28 percent), and lack of recognition (27 percent).  Another report by ADP concurred, suggesting that “One of the main reasons employees leave their jobs in lack of appreciation or recognition.” So why does recognition matter so much to employees? Human beings are hard wired to need and seek approval, which results in a feeling of inner peace and security.

For many employers, the easiest and quickest factor among these five to change is recognition. In fact, you can make dramatic improvements in this area within a short time frame by implementing these five steps:

  1. Start a Peer Recognition Program: Using the company intranet, create a form that enables employees to nominate one another for a weekly or monthly award. The nominations alone should be viewable to all employees to maximize the reach of those who can be positively impacted. Awards can even be split into categories for performance, inspiration, leadership, community spirit, going above and beyond, or anything else that aligns with the company culture. Many companies we know have sophisticated peer recognition programs in which employees accumulate points that they redeem for prizes, like Amazon, Starbucks, or restaurant gift cards. Peer recognition is also valuable in building team cohesion and chemistry.
  1. Rewards from Managers: Consider creating a budget for gift cards that managers can purchase to reward employees on a weekly or monthly basis, based on performance, teamwork, filling in for others, or working extra hours to complete projects. Many programs from websites like Restaurant.com and Groupon allow you to give “gift cards” in increments of $25 or $50 that actually cost much less, but can be redeemed for the face values. Just make sure the employee receives something tangible and immediately redeemable, rather than having to wait for something to arrive in the mail.
  1. Reward Plaques or Trophies: Handsome wall or desk plaques that call attention to specific achievements, and can be accumulated over time help to give employees that much-needed proof of recognition. Whereas the Starbucks gift card gets redeemed and thrown away, the plaque lasts forever and is proudly displayed for others to see, creating even more motivation among coworkers to achieve similar recognition. The low-tech aspect of these rewards makes them easy to overlook, but dollar-for-dollar, it’s hard to beat the impact these can deliver, instantly and over the long term.
  1. Informal Notes from Management: Not every recognition program needs to be formalized, but it isn’t a bad idea to formalize the practice of regularly handing out hand-written notes to deserving employees (and sending them to remote workers). Why not make it a company policy that all managers should write a certain number of hand-written recognition notes within a specified time frame? Notes convey a sincerity that other programs can’t match, and allow the voice of the manager to come through in a more personalized way than more formal programs allow. Employees enjoy sharing these notes with family members and people who are close with them. Notes endear managers to employees, creating relationships that lead to stronger retention.
  1. Online Wish Lists: Every employee gets to fill out a “wish list” of gifts they would like if they reach specified achievements or milestones, as indicated by their managers. As these awards are earned, a corresponding email arrives to say “We succeed because of employees like you…” or something similar, reflecting the company’s appreciation of the employee.

Once you begin to see results from instituting employee recognition programs like these, you’ll want to diversify them. Use some that reflect the personal voice of peers and managers and others that come from top leadership or the company as a whole. Be creative and enjoy the process of meeting your employees’ most deeply felt needs.