Peter B. Grazier, author of the article “Starving for Recognition: Understanding Recognition and the seven Recognition Do’s and Don’ts,” believes people have a tendency to underestimate the importance of recognition. “We just don’t seem to thank people enough,” he notes. “However, a few years ago, I came across a Harris Poll of several thousand workers that asked, ‘What two or three things do you want most in a job?’ The first three more frequent answers were (1) a good salary, ( 2) job security, and (3) recognition for a job well done.”
Recognition is important because it sends a powerful message that the recipient is important. It says the organization cares about good performance.
Although recognition programs contribute to employee satisfaction, they also serve as a company communication tool that reinforces and rewards the direction of a company. According to Susan M. Healthfield, About.com, “When you recognize people effectively, you reinforce with your chosen means of recognition, the action and behaviors you most want to see people repeat. An effective employee recognition system is simple, immediate, and powerfully reinforcing.”
The most successful businesses or associations are the ones that have reward and recognition programs in place to acknowledge excellence on a regular basis. Whether it’s a formal or informal program, studies show tangible awards—trophies, plaques, ribbons, medals, and other personalized items—have proven to be the most effective way to give recognition, even better than money or gifts.
Historically, praise and recognition in the workplace have been handled from the perspective of, “If you don’t hear anything, assume you’re doing a good job.” In contrast to this old industrial mindset, the new knowledge-based worker relies and depends upon praise and recognition as a way to define what is valued by the organization. Today, praise and recognition are communication vehicles for what is deemed important.
Formal Versus Informal Recognition
Research shows that companies find a balance of formal and informal recognition is an effective way of keeping employees motivated and happy. According to Greg Boswell, OC Tanner Recognition Company, the move to make informal recognition part of a corporate recognition strategy has been due in part to companies that are working to improve employee retention. In a study conducted by Robert Half International, 47% of executives surveyed said that recognition and praise were the most important factors in keeping an employee satisfied. However, it’s often through formal programs, such as career achievement or employee service awards, that management can implement communication tools and effective training with the power to impact the entire company. “Formal recognition has the unique potential to tie every employee’s achievements to a company’s values and business goals,” said Boswell. “With ongoing formal recognition as a foundation, informal programs can be added to encourage spontaneous appreciation.”
Regardless of the size of the company and the scope of the work, all employees deserve the chance to be acknowledged for their contribution to the success of a company. It’s clearly a win-win situation for business: when people feel valued, they feel better and they perform better. It also feels good to be the giver.
- 33% of people receiving cash awards will use it to pay bills.
- 20% of people will not recall what they used a cash award for.
- Often cash awards are considered income and seen as an entitlement not as effective as a tangible award.
Why People Need Recognition
Recognition boosts self-esteem and performance.
People need to feel important, satisfied, and inspired to perform to their fullest potential.
Recognition signifies that someone notices and someone cares.
It satisfies a person’s essential needs and leads to new motivation, improved performance, and higher self-esteem.
Recognition is increasingly important in today’s business environment.
Competition for the best workers is intense. At the same time, the importance of human resources is paramount—a company needs to obtain extraordinary results from ordinary people. Yet another factor is the attitude among today’s employees—who value job satisfaction over most other criteria.
Bottom line—an organization that wants to be competitive absolutely needs to make employees feel valued so they perform their best work on a daily basis and stick around to make a continuous contribution.
Recognition isn't just for the person who performed well.
It’s also a message to other employees about the type of performance that gets noticed in an organization. Management consultant Rosebeth Moss Kanter says, “To the rest of the organization, recognition creates role models and heroes and communicates the standards of the kinds of things that constitute great performance around here.”
Saying Thank You: More than Just Words: A Conversation with Dr. Scott Jeffrey
Dr. Scott Jeffrey is an assistant professor of management and marketing, at Monmouth University in New Jersey. He received his PhD in Managerial and Organizational Behavior at the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business.
Q: Why do you think recognition programs are important?
A: Recognition is a key in any business or personal relationship. As I have become fond of saying, “never underestimate the power of thank you.” Money and other tangible rewards are necessary, but not sufficient. Employees in general need to feel valued by their organization and if they don't, then negative behaviors will follow.
In particular, employees will start to withdraw from the organization. Psychological withdrawal will probably be first. An employer will see more of “warm chair attrition,” where the employee is there but not really mentally engaged in the tasks. That or cyberloafing, spending a lot of time on Facebook, for example. Following that will be physical withdrawal. Missing meetings, coming in late, calling in sick, etc., eventually leading to departure from the firm.
Q: Based on your research, what types of recognition programs are preferred among individuals?
A: That all depends on stated preference or actual work. Most employees when asked will say that cash is the best motivator. However, some of my research has shown that cash is, in many cases, inferior to a tangible (merchandise or travel) reward. Tangible rewards which are difficult for a person to purchase on their own (justifiability concerns) and are carriers of social utility (trophy value) are more beneficial than those that do not.
Q: What's the psychology behind tangible versus nontangible awards?
A: I personally do not consider a trophy/plaque/etc. an award per se. It is the physical instantiation of that award, the item that allows people to think back to the performance that lead to its receipt and as a trigger to engage others in conversation about that performance.
However, simply the trophy is not enough either. A trophy or memento has to represent the performance to the employee, not simply be the final item. Cash lacks trophy value and social reinforcement attributes which increase the perceived value of the award over cash.
How to Recognize
Employee recognition is not just a nice thing to do for people. Employee recognition is a communications tool which reinforces and rewards the most important outcomes people create for your business. When you recognize people effectively, you reinforce, with your chosen means of recognition, the actions and behaviors you most want people to see repeat. According to Susan M. Healthfield, About.com, an effective employee recognition system is simple, immediate, and powerfully reinforcing.
“When you consider employee recognition processes,” Healthfield says, “you need to develop recognition that is equally powerful for both the organization and the employee.” The following are the most important issues to consider if you want the recognition you offer to be viewed as motivating and rewarding by your employees and important for the success of your organization.
- All employees must be eligible for the recognition
- The recognition must supply the employer and employee with specific information about what behaviors or actions are being rewarded or recognized.
- Anyone who then performs at the level or standard stated in the criteria receives the award.
- The recognition should occur as close to the performance of the actions as possible, so the recognition reinforces behavior the employer wants to encourage.
- You don’t want to design a process in which managers select the people to receive recognition. This type of process will forever be viewed as favoritism or talked about as “It’s your turn to get recognized this month.”
Careful planning is the most important part of an effective awards program. When developing one, you should consider the following.
- Identify the program’s purpose and objectives. Do you want to establish a stronger identity for your organization or match the personality of the recipient? Do you want to recognize individual or team achievements? Answers to these questions will help you design the right program for your organization.
- Decide what kinds of awards you want. The key to successful recognition is selecting the appropriate kind of award. Tangible awards have proven to be the most effective way—better than money or other means—to say “thank you” or “good job.” In deciding whether to give a plaque, pin, or desk accessory, keep in mind that an appropriate award is
- representative of what is accomplished
- attractive enough to wear or keep at home or in the office
- consistent with the purpose and image of the organization
- right for the level or importance of the achievement
- in line with the company’s budget
- well-crafted with the highest quality materials affordable.
- Establish a budget and schedule. There are many ways to recognize people and the most expensive are not necessarily the best. It’s best to work with an award professional who can help design a budget to meet your objectives and get the most with the funds you have. They will also help you schedule your orders to get what you want without having to pay rush charges.
- Plan for the awards presentation. Part of what makes an award memorable and appreciated is the way it is presented. Think ahead about how and when you will present the awards.
What to Recognize When You’re Recognizing: Top 5 Misrecognitions
It’s not that you don’t know who to recognize. It’s not that you don’t want to recognize them. It’s that you don’t know how to recognize your colleague for a job well done. Understand how to effectively recognize your peers by avoiding these five common misrecognitions:
- “Good job, Ben.”
- “Thank you for submitting your proposal last month.”
- “Thanks for your help.”
- “The meeting today was good, thank you for hosting.”
- “Jen, Katie, Mark, Dave, Michelle, Vanessa, Andrew, Sarah, Matt, Alex, Heather: excellent job hitting your sales targets.”
1. “Good job, Ben.”
Why it doesn’t work: Did Ben win an award? Did Ben close a sale? Did Ben get promoted? Leaving your coworker confused isn’t the only repercussion of this vague recognition. Be specific in your recognitions to drive repeat positive behaviors that get your business results.
Make it work: “Good job on your presentation at the meeting today, Ben. It was articulate, concise, and provided great insight to our Board members.”
2. “Thank you for submitting your proposal last month.”
Why it doesn’t work: Last month? Last month! Sure, you can’t be expected to read every proposal the instant it’s submitted, but timely feedback is crucial to employee engagement. Try and align your feedback with the present moment to make employees’ contributions feel valued in real time.
Make it work: “Thank you for submitting your proposal last month. I finished reading through the entire document today, and I am excited to speak with you further about this idea.”
3. “Thanks for your help.”
Why it doesn’t work: Ok, wait a second. Do you think in a few weeks from now your employee will have any recollection of what this thanks was for? An effective recognition is a meaningful recognition. Provide the employee with details about how their actions met or exceeded expectations.
Make it work: “Thanks for your help today, Megan. Not only did we hit our deadline, but your positive attitude also made the workload manageable.”
4. “The meeting today was good, thank you for hosting.”
Why it doesn’t work: Yes, this recognition is specific, timely, and meaningful, but the impact can be maximized by aligning it to your company’s core values. By referencing your values in recognition, employees feel like they are working toward something greater than themselves.
Make it work: “Good leadership skills were displayed today, Mike. I respect how you brought the team together in a meeting to create better alignment.”
5. “Jen, Katie, Mark, Dave, Michelle, Vanessa, Andrew, Sarah, Matt, Alex, and Heather: Excellent job hitting your sales targets.”
Why it doesn’t work: Recognizing too many people for one thing discounts individual accomplishments. Perhaps many people were involved in one achievement; in this case, if you give out one recognition, ensure that you specify everyone’s personal contributions.
Make it work: “Jen, Katie, Mark, Dave, Michelle, Vanessa, Andrew, Sarah, Matt, Alex, and Heather: Excellent job hitting your sales targets. Everyone reached an outstanding personal achievement and I look forward to discussing this with each of you further in our one-on-ones.”