More Than Money: The Real Benefits Of Employee Recognition
Whether calendar year or fiscal year, the new start is a great time to plan employee recognition: how you keep track of and acknowledge your team’s hard work, and store up extra goodwill and motivation for the year ahead.
Many large companies have a system or software in place for employee awards and rewards. But whatever the size of your working unit, you can strengthen the culture of appreciation. You’ll be able to enjoy its benefits: productivity, a better work environment, and a more stable team.
Here’s a bit more on recognition and some of the best ways to recognize employees.
What employee recognition is and why it matters
Employee recognition is simply noticing and saying thank you for specific actions taken and goals met, big and small. From company-wide Employee of the Year awards to a handwritten thank you note, giving credit where it is due shows employees that you see, hear, and genuinely value them and their contributions.
“But it’s their job to do things well, and we pay performance bonuses,” some might say. “Why do they still need to be told and recognized?” Because even the highest-income among us work for things besides money: acknowledgement from the people around us, to see new places and faces outside our homes, and to feel we are making progress in life.
Work is not a picnic or social club – but at eight hours plus commutes or time-shifted phone calls, our colleagues are part of our lives whether we like it or not. Your employees need you to see them, as individuals as well as those who produce what you sell. This is especially true if your team is hybrid because you have fewer day-to-day interactions to build your relationships on.
Being valued, supported and “feeling seen” gives us a sense of belonging – to the company and to our specific team. It gets us past the tough days, misunderstandings and disappointments that are inevitable in any office. We work harder for the group’s benefit, hoping that our teammates will do the same for us.
Employee recognition is part of engagement and team building
You hear the words “employee engagement” a lot. Employee engagement refers to non-work activities that promote camaraderie and bonding: Christmas parties, outings and family days, employee sports teams or hobby clubs, and giving back to the community.
Employee recognition is part of this. Some companies organize work-related learning trips for the whole team. Others have catered lunches, movie nights, or company-branded giveaways that allow employees to show off where they work.
This is great for big companies. But for SMEs, the good news is that it does not have to be expensive. It’s more important that you know each team member well, and understand what is important to them and their families – which is something a small or medium-size business can do far better than a big conglomerate.
Read more: 5 ways SMEs boost employee engagement
This is not about treats and giveaways. It’s showing our teams that we appreciate their extra hours, agonizing commutes, or the mental and physical toll that work takes even when we’re off the clock. Your team should feel they are part of something bigger: a company and team they can be proud of, believe in, and commit to.
Better Recognition = Better Retention
You want good people to stay, grow, and help you build. Recognition is a big part of that.
You invest a lot to find and train the right people, only to lose them to higher-paying competitors. Yet year after year, studies show that employees leave not just for more money, but due to a lack of appreciation.
People work hard for their paycheck and for a team they care about. But when they burn out or feel taken for granted, the calls from persistent recruiters become more appealing.
On the other hand, when they see deserving colleagues recognized, your best people see a growth path and a future with your company. They see their opinions heard, their ideas come to life, and they have a sense of ownership in the bigger goal.
While that doesn’t cancel out a higher salary offer, it can be a powerful incentive to stay.
8 ways to recognize employees at work
Recognition should be consistent year-round. If your team only hears good things from you a few times yearly, it feels like an obligation rather than genuine recognition. Take these easy steps to create a culture of recognition in your team:
Train yourself to spot the good things.
Get in the habit of finding five small, good things from your team members to recognize every week. Ask other teams, clients and suppliers for feedback, and keep a specific desktop folder for it. Plus point: it’s so much easier when you need year-end numbers to nominate someone for an award.
Get to know your team’s preferences.
We are all different. Some people glow when they get a shout-out, while some would prefer a quieter email, card or coffee catch-up. A group merienda is fun, as long as you’re not allergic or have your daily client check-in at the same time. It’s all part of knowing your team better, as individuals.
Recognize small wins.
We all perk up when friends notice our new haircut or shoes – not a big thing, but it’s nice to hear it from others! Similarly, whether it’s a major client or simply a particularly good output, “Thank you. Great job.” goes a long way.
Add a few lines in the company email blast, newsletter; or internal social media page, or mention it during a town hall. Many employees are uncomfortable announcing their accomplishments. But if they deserve it, they will appreciate that you did it for them.
Support them in external competitions.
If a team member shows interest in joining a competition – whether professional skills, sports or performance – sponsor what you can in entry fees and off-hours practice time. And of course, be there to cheer them on.
It doesn’t have to be big: their favorite drink, a lunch somewhere fancy, gift certificates or some surprise personal time. It’s not about the cost, it’s that you know them enough to know what is meaningful to them.
Encourage peer-to-peer recognition.
Recognition is not just from the top down. It is even more meaningful when your peers tell you that you did a good job, or helped them do theirs. Give each team member a number of “gold stars”, with space for a short personal note, that they can give to those they want to appreciate. Have them vote for “work buddy of the month/quarter.”
Lead by example.
Be vocal, simple and sincere. Don’t overdo it or make mountains out of molehills. Try to give your team the acknowledgment, credit and effort you want from your direct boss or c-suite.
Employee recognition requires that you invest personal effort and time, even more than money. But it pays dividends in motivation, productivity and retention. As you get to know your employees better, you may find yourself becoming more inspired and productive as well.