Many organizations understand that employee recognition is important, but most struggle to actually implement a meaningful strategy that makes their employees feel appreciated. This struggle is puzzling because recognition doesn't need to be complicated. It really is quite simple: On a frequent basis, employees want to feel like someone else notices and cares about their work and sees the value their contributions bring to the organization or team. And they want their peers to celebrate successes with each other.
Employees aren't giving and receiving recognition often enough
It sounds so simple, but according to a global study conducted by the O.C. Tanner Institute, organizations are failing to recognize and appreciate employees frequently enough. The O.C. Tanner Institute told respondents that recognition can be something "as simple as having others acknowledge, notice, value or care about your work." The Institute then asked how often they gave and received recognition over the past month. Among the findings:
Twenty-nine percent of employees hadn't given someone else recognition in the past month.
Thirty-three percent of employees hadn't received recognition from someone else at work in the past month.
At these frequencies, most organizations won't see the ROI they are expecting from their recognition programs, and it isn't because recognition doesn't have a large impact on employees. It's because organizations aren't providing the recognition experiences employees need at a frequent interval. Employees need praise for on-going effort, results that matter and loyalty to the company.
Organizations fail to accomplish true social recognition
More than just the types of recognition employees receive, companies don't do a good job making recognition social. Many organizations have falsely bought into the idea that social recognition means something similar to Facebook or some other social media site where online social interaction is all that matters. The same study asked how often employees observe other people receiving recognition at their organization; 41 percent of employees said they hadn't observed someone else receiving recognition in past month (20 percent hadn't observed recognition for over a year). Having two out of every five employees report that they haven't observed others receiving recognition in the past month doesn't sound very social.
Unsurprisingly, the study showed that when employees gave, received, and observed recognition, often there was a large impact on increasing employee engagement, growing innovation, and improving work results and product of employees.
To be successful at social recognition, a company needs to foster a culture in which employees celebrate together often. To achieve this, all employees need to give, receive, and observe recognition. Organizations need to create an environment where it isn't uncommon for employees to encourage each other by recognizing effort, to celebrate with each other when great work is accomplished and to revel together in an individual's loyalty to their company and team. Ongoing effort should be recognized weekly or even daily, results should be recognized as employees accomplish great work and loyalty should be recognized on employee work anniversaries for the best results.
There are differences in how employees want to receive praise
As with almost everything, there are differences with how individuals want to receive praise at work. These differences span many areas and include generation-specific differences. Most notably, the study found that the actual act of giving others recognition has a much larger positive affect for millennials than it does other generations. Millennials are the generation that values recognition and social connection in the workplace more than any other -- and it isn't just on the receiving end. In fact, 80 percent of Millennials in the study indicated that the act of giving someone else recognition makes them want to stay at their current organization for longer, but only 57 percent of baby boomers and 76 percent of Generation Xers said the same. Additionally, 81 percent of responding Millennials said that the act of giving recognition better connects them to their organizations products and services, but only 57 percent of Baby Boomers and 76 percent of Generation Xers said the same. It seems that creating a social recognition culture is a good strategy for retaining the Millennial group -- a generation generally perceived as jumping ship and being entitled.
In the end, there is an inherent human need to feel like one has accomplished something. At its core, employee recognition is the mechanism that organizations use to signal to employees that they have accomplished something good. There will always be differences in individual preferences, but there will also always be a fundamental human need for recognition.
Jordan Rogers is the manager of research and measurement at O.C. Tanner, the world's leading employee recognition and engagement company. In his role, Jordan helps research how appreciation impacts employees across the globe and what companies can do to insure their employees are producers of great work. He has extensive experience in data analysis and survey research and he has consulted with a wide variety of organizations across the globe. He is a graduate of Brigham Young University with degrees in both economics and political science, and he is currently seeking his master of science in predictive analytics from Northwestern University.