How Employee Recognition Programs Strengthen Workplace Culture

How Employee Recognition Programs Strengthen Workplace Culture

Building a strong workplace culture is a great goal for companies from small startups to Fortune 500 enterprises. But what goes into creating a positive, productive workplace where employees love to come to work? There are plenty of variables - competitive salary and good benefits help, as does a comfortable workspace or the flexibility to work from wherever works for the employee. (Good snacks in the office kitchen don’t hurt either!)

But the most important element is recognizing employees for a job well done. A decade of research shows that happier employees are 37% more profitable and 31% more productive - so what are you doing right now to make your company a more pleasant place to work? From a simple thank-you to a formal recognition program, you need to make appreciation and gratitude an integral part of daily life at your company.

Why is recognition so critical, and how can you build a workplace culture where recognition is top of mind and just a touch of a button away? Let’s find out.

Why Recognition is Important

Close your eyes for a moment and think back to your five best moments at work in the last few years. One or two might be completing a big project, or making an important presentation, or getting a well-deserved promotion. Those are all satisfying work accomplishments that make you proud, and are fun to look back fondly on.

But at least a few of your most memorable moments - the ones that still give you a warm, fuzzy feeling - are moments of recognition. That time an executive sent an email to your boss praising your latest work, or a recent glowing performance review from your supervisor, or an unexpected shoutout in a team meeting from a colleague who you helped out - these are the moments that make us feel seen and appreciated for our hard work. 

The Recognition Gap

This might seem like an obvious insight - that people are happier when they are recognized for doing a good job. But a Gallup Poll shows that in the last year, 65% of people received no recognition for good work in their workplaces. That’s a pretty stunning gap - no wonder there’s a pretty serious employee engagement gap right now.

It’s a basic human need to be seen and recognized for our efforts - hearing gratitude for our contributions is so rewarding. And it’s such a small ask that not getting any recognition for a year, or longer, can feel incredibly demotivating.

Don’t take our word for it - survey after survey has shown the critical importance of recognition in employee happiness, engagement, productivity, and retention.

  • 70% of employees say that their motivation and morale would increase massively if managers said “thank you” more.
  • Employees who don’t feel recognized are twice as likely to quit within a year.
  • 40% of employees would put more effort into their work if they were recognized more often.

This list of stats could go on and on - the amount of data around recognition and its impact on every area of your employee experience and workplace culture is pretty vast. And yet still too many companies don’t invest in ways to make recognition easy, intuitive, and encouraged in their workplaces. 

What Good Recognition Looks Like

Recognition is more than just saying thanks - although if you’re currently not doing any recognition at all, that’s a good place to start! And it’s moved well beyond the realm of the “employee of the month” picture put up in the breakroom (judging by how commonly those popped up as a joke in sitcoms, it was a pretty ineffective means of recognition).

As more and more HR professionals, leaders, and managers have come to recognize the importance of… well, recognizing people, there are more options than ever to create a program that is effective and engaging.

Types of Recognition

There are several different kinds of recognition that can improve your workplace culture - each of them is important, and combining them gets you even better results.

The most common kind of recognition is from managers to their direct reports. Since this is a relationship where feedback should (ideally) flow frequently, it’s important that managers take time to recognize when their reports do something well. And since managers usually have a pretty direct line of sight into what employees do every day, they’re well-positioned to spot the big ones as well as the small ones.

There’s also recognition that comes from higher-ups - the executive team, or the boss of your boss, or a few levels above. Even just one line of thanks can be powerful coming from this group - it’s deeply motivating and rewarding to know that someone at a much higher level has noticed and appreciated what you do.

And then there’s peer-to-peer recognition - the under-appreciated powerhouse of the bunch. It’s actually 36% more likely to have a positive impact on financial results than manager-only recognition. This might seem a bit counter-intuitive - doesn’t praise from someone higher up in the hierarchy carry more weight than a peer? But colleagues at the same level often have a deeper appreciation for what goes into the day-to-day work of the team. 

Making Recognition Part of Your Culture

The heart of recognition is gratitude. By making recognition a cornerstone of your workplace culture, you’re telling employees that the work they do every day for your business is seen, and it’s appreciated.

While the paycheck is certainly a motivating factor for most people in their jobs, it’s also vital to know that all the hard work and thought we’re putting into our jobs every day is being noticed, and that the people around us appreciate that work. Recognition is a major factor in creating a positive workplace culture - one where employees enjoy coming to work, and feel engaged and fulfilled with the work they do. It’s pretty hard to feel engaged with your work when no one pays attention to it except for you. 

Encourage All Kinds of Recognition

Encouraging all three forms of recognition - from managers, from leaders, and from peers - helps create a culture where employees feel supported and rewarded from all sides. It encourages collaboration between peers, productivity, innovation, and creativity.

Making your workplace a space where employees enjoy coming to work, and feel supported and engaged when they’re there, is what building a healthy workplace culture is all about. When employees feel that others only notice them when they make a mistake, there’s little incentive to excel at work or to take creative risks. But promoting recognition helps balance out the negative interactions from mistakes - which we all make - with positive reinforcement as well.

So how can you incorporate recognition into your own company culture? It’s not enough to just tell people to say thank you to each other more - it’s pretty rare that people just don’t know how to do that! You need three key factors to help your workplace integrate appreciation effectively.

1. Setting an example from the top

Leadership in companies of all sizes comes from living the values you want to encourage in every employee. Sure, you can send out a company-wide email saying you want to encourage recognition, but that’s not going to make a serious impact unless there’s leadership from above. That definitely means making sure executives and leaders know their contributions are valued too - but it can also mean investing in programs and technologies that make recognition seamless and easy (more on this below).

2. Thinking about recognition the right way

To be truly effective, recognition should be frequent, it should be thoughtful, and it should be specific. Showing appreciation only once or twice a year is still pretty frustrating, when employees are doing good work every day. And generic recognition is as effective as no recognition at all - which is to say, it’s not. Great positive feedback is telling someone exactly why you liked exactly what they did - the work they put in, and the impact it had on the team, the project, or the company. When it’s specific, it’s memorable.

3. Making recognition easy

Often, the reason companies are struggling to encourage recognition isn’t because employees and managers aren’t willing to do it - it’s that they’re busy with their jobs, and the existing recognition technology or system is cumbersome or clunky. Investing in a recognition that makes giving an award or a shoutout as easy as hitting a few buttons in Slack or Teams means that there’s no barrier for busy people to work recognition efforts into their day. And that means recognition becomes an integral part of your workplace culture. 

Recognize Someone Today

Encouraging recognition strengthens workplace culture for every company - a simple thank you has an incredible effect on retention rates, productivity, and profitability. And making recognition a habit - and an easy-to-keep one - means your employees will feel appreciated and engaged every day.

If you're looking for a cost-effective and deeply integrated recognition solution that works with the tools your business is already using every day, then check out HiThrive.