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How to create a culture of recognition no matter where you work

When someone says their job is challenging, that can be either good or bad. Best case scenario, challenging work keeps people engaged by preventing boredom. Worst case, it wears them down until they can't take anymore. And, more often than not, the deciding factor is usually a lack of recognition at work. That's why you need to know how to recognise employee efforts properly.

So, what is recognition all about, anyway? We don't just mean being able to notice what your people are doing (although that's definitely a factor). All the perceptiveness in the world won't help if you don't do anything with that information.

So, when we talk about how to recognise employee efforts, we actually mean showing recognition. This could be a simple "thank you." Or it could be positive formal feedback, or anything in-between. It's not enough just to throw money at people. If you want productivity, innovation and loyalty from your staff, you have to show that you value their hard work.

Why recognition at work is so important

It's hard for us to overstate just how vital a system for employee recognition is for your business. It's not only a way of improving their working lives, but of supporting business success too. So, before we break down how to recognise employee efforts more effectively, let's look at the potential benefits:

How recognition benefits employees

Without communication, feedback and recognition, our jobs can start to feel like hamster wheels. You keep pressing on without seeming to make any progress until you end up burning out.

Recognition acts as an intrinsic motivator, rather than an extrinsic one like money. It's also a very good way of boosting morale, keeping your people happy in their roles.

Don't believe us? Well, a Curiosity at Work survey found that 82% of employees are happier when you recognise their contributions. It's a form of strengths-based management, which has become a very popular approach with employees. And, besides, kindness costs nothing, y'know.

Another major benefit of recognition at work is that it improves employee visibility. If someone's really knocked it out of the park, make sure everyone knows. It'll improve their social standing with colleagues, and even help them get a promotion or a raise down the line.

And, finally, recognition can even lower job stress and improve employee wellbeing. Offices where employees can give peer recognition show higher overall wellbeing scores than other workplaces. On top of that, recognition's role in building social bonds can even lower the incidence of poor employee health.

How recognition benefits businesses

Employees aren't the only ones who stand to gain from a work culture that promotes recognition. Understanding how to recognise employee efforts can even benefit the success of the business itself.

Take employee turnover, for example. Few things burn a hole in the company budget like sudden, unexpected staff departure. Pre-pandemic, the average case of turnover in the UK cost employers £30,000. And, three years later, it seems like everything's getting more and more expensive. But do you remember that Curiosity at Work survey from earlier?

It also found that nearly two thirds of people who "usually" or "always" get recognised at work reported being "very unlikely" to seek new employment. Compared to that, only 11% of people who "rarely" or "never" got recognition said the same thing.

But recognition does a lot more than prevent a worst-case scenario. Understanding how to recognise employee efforts motivates people to go the extra mile. In other words, if you want discretionary effort from your people, recognition at work is the way to go.

Recognition encourages employee advocacy

See, that's the thing about discretionary effort. You can't force it, no matter how much you want to. You can order people to work harder all you like, but that doesn't mean they actually will. It stems from passion and peak engagement, and really, nothing else. Case in point, research from Temkin group compared customer service quality to rates of employee engagement. Businesses with poor customer service had an average engagement rating of 49%. But those with "significantly better" customer service averaged 79%.

Sure, you can encourage it with extrinsic motivators like performance bonuses. But people will only put in extra effort or go beyond their job description when and if they want to. So, what else can we say about the business benefits of recognition?

Well, beyond how it ingratiates your current employee base, it also helps to improve your public business profile. And that's because, at the end of the day, people talk.

Glassdoor and LinkedIn are only two examples of how people share their workplace experiences. Treat your employees poorly, and your pool of applicants may dry up. But, if you support employees professionally and highlight their achievements, they'll come away with a positive experience. Treat them right, and even ex-employees can be some of your biggest promotors.

How to build a culture of recognition at work

Now that we've laid out the facts and figures, it's time to get down to brass tacks. Let's go over some tips on how to recognise employee efforts at work.

Improve your communication

Step one of how to recognise employee efforts is to revisit your communication practices. How employers communicate with their people can vary a lot between companies. While some are very attentive, others have a lot of room to improve. Regularity is key here.

Aside from keeping you in the loop, checking in regularly gives you more frequent opportunities to provide recognition. It even helps you to enable peer recognition, which we'll cover more in a moment.

When it comes to recognition, start on the micro level before you go macro. What we mean is, give recognition personally first before you go shouting about it. That way, you can see how they feel about publicising their achievements. Employee visibility is often a good thing. But spare a thought for your introverted staff, who might prefer to stay out of the spotlight.

Be transparent with your people

Transparency can be a controversial topic in the workplace. But, more often than not, it's the better choice to make. That extends to your formal recognition policies too.

If the way you hand out recognition at work is shrouded in mystery, people will just assume it's down to your whims. And, at that point, they won't care if you compliment them or not.

When you fail to be transparent, people start making assumptions to fill in the blanks. And, whether they're true or not, those assumptions can be toxic for engagement and workplace culture. People will assume favouritism and double standards, which will make their motivation plummet. But what about actual favouritism?

Avoid favouritism and be even-handed

Employees are people first, as are you. So, it's only natural that you'll like some people more than others. If employees really were faceless cogs, it'd be a lot easier to treat them all the same. But they aren't cogs, and as a manager, you've got professional standards to maintain.

You may get on with some people more than others. But you can't let that seep into how you treat them as staff. Hard work is hard work, no matter who it comes from. If you're overlooking high performers because you're too busy patting your mates on the back, you've only yourself to blame.

When you can't be even-handed, it doesn't matter how transparent you are. If anything, being open about favouritism will push turnover at an accelerated rate.

Encourage peer recognition and feedback

While you shouldn't underestimate your influence on your team, you're not the be-all and end-all of employee recognition at work. That accolade actually goes to your employees.

Take this study from the University of Madrid of 1,800 employees. These researchers found that peer recognition was nearly twice as significant as manager recognition. And it's not just about quality, but quantity too.

If you're doing your job as a manager, you're keeping a lot of plates spinning. Promoting peer recognition can help to take some of the pressure off. You don't have to be all-seeing and all-knowing. Your people will catch the moments you miss, and can highlight them during their next check-in (if you use one!).

Don't forget that personal touch

Managers may be busy, but that's no excuse to be lazy about how you provide recognition at work. It's the personal touch that makes all the difference. It may be easier to send out generic congratulatory emails, but to what end?

If you can't even take the time to write a personal note or say thank-you in-person, don't expect much. It'll only come off as a box-ticking exercise that makes people lose faith in the whole process. At the end of the day, copy-pasted praise is totally meaningless.

Great employee recognition isn't all about money

We're not saying money doesn't matter. If you won't pay a decent wage, your employees won't feel very valued at all. But fair wages is just step one in showing appreciation.

In fact, compared to performance-based cash incentives, recognition is more effective in the long-run. Giving people money all the time makes it the norm. It'll stop motivating them, but its absence will upset them. Recognition just works. It's the gift that keeps on giving. Plus, unlike performance bonuses, recognition is free.

Document employee recognition

One reason employees hate performance reviews is that they're worried their boss isn't being objective. Whether it's hyper-focusing on failures over successes, or only recalling recent months out of the year, employees hate it.

So, when you recognise an accomplishment, document it. Keep a list for each employee, or highlight it in a check-in response. The same goes for any peer recognition they get.

That way, come review season, you've got a handy list of positives to look back on. This can make all the difference in re-defining how your people think about performance reviews. It's also a key component of strengths-based management.

Never underestimate the power of a thank-you

There are all kinds of ways to offer or follow up on recognition. You can throw out the stats, how they improved efficiency or customer response rates. You can give them a promotion or pay rise, or a shiny new company car.

But, for our final tip on how to recognise employee efforts, we're keeping it simple. Don't underestimate the power of simple gratitude. Like nothing else, taking the time to thank your employees humanises both you and them.

Even a simple act of gratitude or praise can make an employee feel like they belong. When it comes to big company initiatives, individuals fall through the holes. Taking the time to say thank you and well done is how you fill in those gaps.

Learn how recognition at work is a major part of being a better manager, in our latest best practice guide. Get your copy below 👇