Organisations are constantly seeking innovative ways to motivate and engage their employees. Financial incentives and career advancement opportunities obviously play a crucial role. But there’s another tool that can prove effective in driving job satisfaction and productivity by tapping into the power of making employees feel truly valued: recognition rewards.
Acknowledging employees’ efforts can help to foster a healthy work environment where people are more motivated, committed and engaged.
A culture of recognition
Rameez Kaleem, managing director at reward consultancy 3R Strategy and author of the book A Case of the Mondays, points to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management showing that 77% of employees feel more engaged when they receive recognition for their work.
“Meaningful recognition can also be used as a strategic tool to encourage teams to support your company values and drive tangible results for your business,” Kaleem insists.
What’s more, economic challenges and changes in the workforce mean building a culture of recognition is more important than ever.
Jane Hulme, HR director at Unum UK, explains: “Ensuring everyone feels included, acknowledged and recognised can go a long way towards mitigating significant business risks, particularly during tough economic times.
“Employees like a pat on the back for good work – two-thirds of Gen Z say they need feedback from their supervisor at least every few weeks in order to stay at their job,” she adds.
Well structured rewards
Providing a recognition programme, therefore, can boost morale by enabling employees and teams to highlight each other’s accomplishments and celebrate successes. Moreover, according to David Danzig, european director at recognition specialist O.C. Tanner, coupling this recognition with reward can create a potent positive force.
“Employees need to feel appreciated and valued in order to stay with their employer and choose to go ‘above and beyond’, and by linking recognition moments to rewards, this can be especially powerful,” he says.
However, it’s imperative that recognition reward initiatives are well structured and not merely perfunctory. Chris Ronald, VP B2B EMEA at Blackhawk Network, believes that the success of such schemes is reliant on the organisation’s ability to “build it into its DNA, making them a habit and part of the culture”.
The challenge, though, is balancing this approach with making sure the rewards are still spontaneous enough to preserve authenticity and remain meaningful.
“The best way to do this,” says Ronald, “is by rewarding little and often. Showing that you care for and appreciate your employees throughout the year keeps morale high and staff happy. And by making the rewards unexpected and unrehearsed, the experience is more genuine – employees feel recognised for specific actions, rather than receiving something because it’s built into the quarterly plan.”
Keeping it simple
Nevertheless, such schemes needn’t be a hugely complex undertaking. “Recognition and rewards can be simple to implement,” argues Matt Russell, Zest CEO.
“For example, at Zest we encourage employees to vote for colleagues who deserve recognition on a quarterly basis, awarding them champagne and amazon vouchers.”
Chris Last, strategy director at Vivup, also believes in keeping it simple. “Begin with the end goal in mind,” he advises. “It’s key to consider what the business wants to achieve from a new recognition strategy. Linking to the long-term business plan helps drive performance while connecting to company values helps set good examples so employees know they’re making a difference.”
Last emphasises the importance of “knowing your audience” and creating an inclusive platform. “This could be because you have an offline or overseas population, or many other factors. The programme needs to work for each audience segment.”
Senior management should be included too, since they need to set an example and get fully involved in recognising employee action.
Consistency is also essential. “If a reward and recognition strategy is at the top of the agenda for one week and then goes quiet for the next two, it will lose engagement and credibility very quickly,” Last observes.
Another key to success is ensuring the recognition rewards align with employees’ preferences.
“To design an effective recognition scheme, employers should be creative, but they must also take the time to understand the values of the company and needs of the staff,” advises Ronald of Blackhawk Network. “Having personalised rewards for individuals, things they actually want, will provide better motivation than making assumptions.”
Vivup’s Last recommends surveys with “finely constructed questions”, not only to help shape the strategy, but also to provide necessary feedback and baseline metrics. “Do these quarterly, or at least six-monthly, across different issue areas and ask open questions around both reward and recognition,” he suggests.
A full programme can incorporate recognition platforms that provide points-based awards with a range of items to choose from, according to Hulme of Unum UK.
For example, TechNET IT Recruitment introduced a large array of recognition rewards to maintain high energy levels among employees and keep consultants motivated.
“We decided to introduce a ‘deal wheel’ which allows our consultants to spin a physical wheel full of enticing perks every time they make a placement,” explains managing director Shayne Simpson. “The choices range from £100 vouchers to well-deserved half days and free breakfasts for the whole team, and we find this is a fun incentive on top of commission while injecting a bit of fun into the week.”
A lasting impact
While such initiatives can be highly effective, Last warns: “Don’t fall into the trap of making it all about monetary or tangible rewards. People really want to be recognised for their efforts, and peer-to-peer recognition epitomises this approach.”
Vivup launched its own recognition and reward app for its employees in late 2021. Since then it has seen nearly 17,000 moments of recognition acknowledged and celebrated. The provider’s latest employee engagement survey reported a jump in positive employee responses, from 83% to 95%.
Recognition – regardless of the type of award it carries – can go a long way.