An ongoing culture of recognition is key to employee engagement.
By Debbie Bolla
How engaged are your employees? Not very—according to the results of Gallup’s State of the American Workplace survey. Its finding is turning heads: 70 percent of the United States workforce is actively disengaged in their current positions. And it estimates that active disengagement costs $450 billion to $550 billion per year. But recognition providers know all too well that there are proven tactics to increase employee engagement and encourage their workforce to reach their full potential.
“The conversation has shifted to recognition and engagement as a key focus,” says Cord Himelstein, vice president of marketing and communications for Michael C. Fina. “Now recognition is in the top few things people talk about to understand the power of engagement of employees.”
There are many platforms to deliver recognition as a driver of engagement. Rob Catalano, vice president of marketing for Achievers, breaks it down into five approaches:
Peer to peer: opening up recognition to every employee and establishing an expectation and cadence around it.
Results-based programs: driving specific behaviors for specific corporate goals.
Company value programs: aligning corporate values to programs, and recognize the behaviors that support them.
Social: ability to share and recognize on social platforms both internal and external to company.
Insight: tools that give managers insight into how their team is interacting with each other, who’s accomplishing particular goals.
Whatever the type of program, it’s important to note that a culture of recognition needs to be embraced by the entire organization, especially at the managerial level. Gallup’s research found that managers are primarily responsible for their employees’ engagement. Aon Hewitt reports that employee engagement increases by 20 percent if managers recognize their employees weekly instead of monthly, and increase by another 35 percent if managers recognize employees daily. Bottom line: recognition is powerful, and frequent recognition is even more powerful.
“Recognition is an important vehicle between supervisors and their employees,” notes Scott Shibley, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Inspirus. “Recognition is a critical tool to engagement. Combined with open lines of communication and a positive work environment, you’ll create more opportunities for employees to be engaged.”
Creating and promoting the best-places-to-work-type environment plays a critical role in the recognition-engagement equation. Shibley says, “The most effective recognition programs for engagement are those that speak to the culture of the company.”
Paul Gordon, vice president of sales for Rymax, agrees. “Your organization needs a recognition program that is the core and DNA of the company. The best companies to work for have very good programs that recognize employees. It’s important to have a strategy that works.”
Recognition Breeds Commitment
In fact, Nelson Motivation reports that organizations with a culture of recognition have employees who are seven times more likely to stay with the company and 11 times more likely to feel committed to their jobs. And the reverse dynamic also exists. According to the United States Department of Labor, 43 percent of Americans leave their jobs because they are not being recognized.
Carl Camden, president and CEO of Kelly Services, believes in acknowledging and rewarding both its permanent and temporary workforces. Recognition is embedded so much so in the culture of the company that it’s almost an expectation. Camden recalls how surprised one employee was when her work anniversary wasn’t observed. “Acknowledgement is important,” he says.
“The employee was upset that her one year anniversary wasn’t recognized in her department so I called her and let her know she was appreciated.”
Acknowledging high-quality work and years of services at all levels and locations is key to Kelly Services’ program, which is administered by Michael C. Fina. And it works. “My primary source of qualitative ROI is the letters, Facebook messages, and LinkedIn comments I receive,” says Camden. “I expect to get 50 to 100 responses a month, and if I don’t, I am surprised and will look into it.”
Achiever’s 2013 Guide to Recognition recommends five best practices to building a culture of recognition:
Executive buy-in. Cultural change has to be driven from the top down, so it is critical to get the support of senior management.
Administration. Although today’s technologies make recognition programs easy to execute, a program manager can help spearhead efforts and measure the specific metrics that need to be hit for success.
Communication. Email, intranet, mobile messaging—find out the best way to communicate the program’s processes and goals, and keep employees updated.
Equity. Make sure your employees understand any changes and improvements to the program.
Ongoing optimization. Is the program working? Determine its success through employee surveys and measurement of metrics. Adopt change management if the program isn’t working, and innovate if the program is working, so that success will continue in the future.
Not all employees will be motivated to be engaged by the same drivers, and it becomes even more apparent when comparing generational preferences. Catalyst.org reports that the current workforce is made up of four generations, all with different recognition needs.
“Everyone wants to be recognized at work, but [among different] generations, it’s a matter of what is being said to them, and what resonates with them,” explains Jeffrey Fina, chief business development officer of Michael C. Fina. “The workforce has changed but there is still a need to focus on the employee experience.” Figure 1 on page 13 from the company breaks it down by motivators and rewards:
Traditionalists want their actions to connect with the good of the company. Reward service and loyalty.
Baby boomers need to see how their actions make a difference. Reward to promote and recognize performance.
Gen X needs flexibility to get the job done on their schedule. Reward to recognize personal goals and needs.
Gen Y connects responsibility with personal goals. Rewards equal tangible evidence of credibility.
“People that have been in the workforce for a long time may have planned to retire, but are extending their careers,” says Inspirus’ Shibley. “They have a different mindset than younger workers, so a broad spectrum of recognitions needs to take place.”
He says that all types of approaches—from traditional to progressive—need to be enlisted. A blending of peer to peer, points based, and performance based systems combine for a diverse program that contributes to a positive, engaging work environment.
But in the near future, the dynamic will shift once again. “By 2014, 54 percent of the entire workforce will be Millenials,” reports Rymax’s Gordon. “That’s a different employee base in terms of their expectations, how they get information, and how they want to be rewarded.”
Kelly Services’ Camden sees the impact of recognition across his entire workforce, but especially among younger workers. “It’s much more important to my under 30s,” he says. “It’s an expectation—they expect to be recognized.”
Recognition will continue to evolve to cater to the changing needs of the workforce in order to keep them engaged. Technology will be a driver of the future. It will allow for programs to be more accessible and fluid among all workers. Rymax’s Gordon points to the recent adoption of gamification in recognition programs.
“It’s a big part of our focus right now,” he says. “It has an element of fun and is something that is going to continue to engage people to participate.”
Take, for example, a recent year-long program they launched for a client that culminated with a scavenger hunt for the top achievers. When employees reached their goal or sales number, they accumulated points. The ones with the most points were able to participate in the hunt and win prizes, which was linked to being a strong motivator.
The impacts of recognition will continue to expand outside the traditional realm. When acknowledgement is a large part of the company culture, it can be perceived as an advantage throughout the entire employee lifestyle—from recruiting and onboarding
to succession management. It creates the perception of a great place to work, and nowadays, there are several social vehicles to perpetuate that reputation, including LinkedIn and Glassdoor, says Himelstein.
“It’s a changing marketplace,” says Inspirus’ Shibley. “For a longtime this industry was stagnant, but it’s changing very fast. Our clients are now needing more of a partner and a consultant in recognition.”