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Public Employee Recognition is more important than private. Here’s why.

It’s long been a corporate practice that employee recognition is left for annual reviews or company anniversary programs. These once or twice a year moments are important, but are not going to be what motivates employees to work smarter. An annual increase in compensation and a t-shirt marking someone’s 10th year at a company is not what improves company morale or reaching new goals.

Part of the reason? Everyone gets these things, no matter if their work is outstanding or simply hits basic marks. In fact, based on a survey of businesses, 87% of recognition programs are rooted in tenure but companies scoring in the top 20% for building a recognition-rich culture (i.e. individualized praise) had 31% lower voluntary turnover rates.

Wants versus Needs

Based on these statistics, we can see that what truly motivates people to exceed expectations in the workplace is tapping into their psychological needs. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the need to be appreciated and the need to belong rank highest with compensation and benefits at the bottom. The reason for this? Compensation is not recognition and vice versa.

While money and insurance certainly support key needs, feeling valued and wanted by peers is what pushes people to meet high-reaching goals in the workplace. An example of this comes from Marla Tabaka, author of The Successful SoloistShe writes about a client who was his company’s top performer by a landslide and received bonuses for his hard-earned contributions. Yet, despite the influx of money each year, he felt incredibly undervalued because he did not receive any recognition outside of this monetary exchange.

The lesson for managers here is that money doesn’t always talk. For employee recognition to truly be felt, it should be personalized to the person or team receiving it—everyone earns a salary, not everyone achieves recognition.

The Anti-Hierarchy

When considering how to recognize employees for a job well done and considering how they rank needs, it’s also important to consider who doles out the recognition. Most studies on employee recognition programs determines that peer-to-peer praise is more powerful than from top-down.

While it’s still important for managers to acknowledge the value they place on their teams, a top-down approach implies that only someone of great importance can determine someone’s worth in a company. For this reason, employing a system of peer reviews or peer participation to acknowledge a team member is gaining popularity. Peer approval directly benefits someone’s sense of belonging, which is crucial for employee happiness.

Do the Right Thing

Implementing a system in which colleagues are acknowledging one another’s good work “creates a culture of ‘doing the right thing’”. It can be as simple as a thank you as you pass someone on the way to the breakroom or note in the company newsletter, It can also be more involved, like a system of points that each employee can hand out as they see fit.

Some companies are even turning to social media to truly make their appreciation for their employees heard–”[s]ocial networks like Facebook and Twitter encourage peer-to-peer acknowledgement where people can comment on and share posts, allowing visibility by customers, partners, suppliers, and others.” Using someone’s newsfeed is the modern equivalent of a comment card, which, yes, does still exist but who carries a pen to fill it out anyway? This type of public praise includes not only the people someone work’s alongside, but also those they sell to or partner with to get their job done.

No matter if you use Snapchat or a token to show your thanks, the warm and fuzzy feeling someone gets after receiving praise (more technically, the dose of Oxytocin to their brains) will push them to continue their exceptional work. Who doesn’t like feeling good?

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