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What Type of Recognition Do Employees Want?

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There is always the debate about what type of recognition do employees actually want. Is it the promise of monetary bonuses for stellar performance and big achievements, or is it through regular recognition with non-financial rewards? There is no right and wrong when it comes to recognizing your team, and there can most certainly be a combination of different recognition strategies at play all at the same time. 

Employee recognition should not follow a one size fits all approach. Organizations need to take into account the cultural norms, geolocations and lifestyles of all its employees. What appeals to one, may not appeal to another. When creating the rewards you’ll be offering for recognition, choose useful and desirable awards, accommodating for a diverse workforce. Understand what your employees want.

In a Gallup workplace survey, employees were asked what types of recognition were most memorable for them. The top 5 included: public recognition or acknowledgment via an award or a certificate, private recognition from a boss, peer or customer,
receiving or obtaining a high level of achievement through evaluations or reviews, promotion or increase in scope of work or responsibility to show trust and then a monetary award such as a trip, prize or pay increase. With this in mind, below uncovers some of the different types of employee recognition: 

Financial Recognition vs. Non-Financial Recognition
Undoubtedly, financial rewards and recognition – including salary raises, gift cards and special commissions – have a firm track record in terms of boosting levels of employee engagement and motivation. So, it’s important for employers to make sure that monetary rewards are indeed part of their employee engagement strategy. Nevertheless, these rewards should not be relied on solely in order to engage and recognize employees. Firstly, many employees already expect certain financial rewards (e.g. annual raises and bonuses) when working for a company on a long-term basis, while in some roles, such as sales, financial rewards like commissions are also usually expected. For this reason, employees may need an extra level of recognition that highlights their value, sustaining or increasing their engagement as a result.

Non-financial recognition may take on many different forms. Companies can think outside the box for non-monetary recognition, such as parking in the director's spot for a week, extra days annual leave, a gift certificate for a day out, a donation made to a charity of the employee's choice on their behalf. These rewards may also include acknowledgement in the form of custom e-cards or a hand-written thank you note left on an employee's desk. 

Annual Recognition vs. Regular Recognition
The Christmas season often seems to be the time for organizations to say thank you to their employees and a big well done. This is generally a time of cheer and celebration. The more traditional ways of recognizing your employees are done through award ceremonies and end of year functions, and are usually more formal in nature. Employers and employees alike, really look forward to these momentous recognition milestones. The employees who are recognized do indeed feel great, cared for and of value to the business. This is a very effective way to engage and motivate employees as they know their efforts will be recognized.

However, on the other hand, there is a newer way of thinking whereby recognition should be frequent and all year round. Recognition shouldn't have to wait until December to be given. Budget is usually what puts these so called ‘nice/must have’ schemes at bay. It’s very common that a lot of organizations think it will break the bank and cost thousands, however the opposite is true. This is particularly important, as according to WorldAtWork 2019, a lack of leadership support and perception of cost are the top reasons organizations cite for not having a recognition program, whereby only 2% cite ‘having no interest or finding no value’. Companies and business leaders can implement and start with informal thank you's, a team meeting to acknowledge a milestone or even a bottle of champagne for the team to cheers a specific achievement. Frequent informal recognition can have an accumulative effect, where if an employee feels acknowledged, cared for and valued, they will act positively again. This domino effect can spread like wildlife, but the opposite is also true. Disgruntled, unhappy employees can spread misery, pull the mood down and bring others down too.

Public Recognition vs. Private Recognition
In every team, there are those who love the spotlight and public attention and those who prefer a more discreet way of working. Organizations can use both ways to recognize their teams. Public recognition can include gathering the team together and announcing what a particular employee has achieved and presenting them with a recognition reward. Employers can also use a slightly more indirect public recognition method, such as announcing the employee on their intranet, through internal communications or if they have a recognition program in place, they could upload it to their winner's wall or social recognition feed.

Others may prefer being recognized in private, such as a 1-1 meeting with their boss, a hand-written note or a positive email congratulating them on a great achievement. Again, there is no right or wrong when it comes to how this recognition is handed out and received. Often these employees are internally motivated and don't require a turn in the spotlight in front of everyone to be productive. As exciting and encouraging as public recognition may be for some employees, it can have the opposite effect on those with quieter temperaments. These private expressions of recognition do help boost employee self-esteem and motivation. 

Formal Recognition vs. Informal Recognition
According to WorldAtWork 2019, most companies rely on a combination of formal and informal recognition to express appreciation formal programs on the rise. Formal recognition is most often associated to the use of a dedicated reward and recognition platform or scheme. These platforms may be linked to the company's core values and beliefs, whereby rewards will be given when behavior is aligned with a particular value. Formal recognition has a nomination and selection process, just like the Grammys do. So, a manager or team member will nominate a colleague for a particular job well done and they will be rewarded accordingly. Examples could be of years of service to the company, performance awards and innovation awards.  

Informal recognition can also be done through a dedicated reward and recognition platform. The most popular ways to informally recognize would be through peer-to-peer recognition where employees can nominate employees, through giving personal e-cards for various milestones and occasions, through announcements on winner's walls, etc. When employees recognize each other for their contributions and success, this encourages greater team morale, co-operation, collaboration, and shared values. The problem with manager-only recognition is that it doesn’t always bring employees together and encourage a sense of team spirit, which is why a combination of both peer-to-peer and manager-to-employee recognition is optimal.

By taking note of the link between employee recognition and employee engagement, employers can strive to treat their employees with respect and in doing so, will benefit from improved engagement and return on investment.

For more information on how to connect employee recognition with employee engagement, check out our e-book.

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