The Power of Employee Recognition

By Sylvia Melena, M.A.
 
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Employee recognition is a powerful tool for engaging employees, promoting great organizational performance, and achieving customer service excellence. It is a vital element that influences employee motivation.
 
Seven Elements of Employee Motivation
 
In the previous post, we reviewed the research conducted by Krüger & Rootman which focused on the following seven elements of employee motivation:
 

  1. Interesting and Meaningful Work
  2. Recognition and Feedback
  3. Employee Involvement
  4. Working Conditions
  5. Strong Leaders
  6. Company Policies and Environment
  7. Compensation[1]

 
We also touched on Element 1 – Interesting and Meaningful Work.   In this post, we will go over the second element, recognition and feedback.
 
Element 2 – Recognition and Feedback
 
Krüger and Rootman’s research determined that, of the seven elements above, recognition and feedback was the second most influential in terms of employee motivation.[2] Recognition and feedback are ways of letting employees know that their contributions in the workplace matter and do not go unappreciated.
 
The Impact of Employee Recognition
 
When leaders make employees feel valued, appreciated and supported, they have a positive impact on overall employee satisfaction and mental health.  This positive impact empowers and mentally strengthens employees, giving them resilience against the demands of the job and the associated pressures and stress (McLean 1999, Huxley 205).[3]  The more leaders build their employees’ resilience through recognition and positive feedback, the more employees have the strength and motivation to handle the challenges that come along the way.
 
Employee recognition is also one of the most powerful tools managers and supervisors can use to improve customer satisfaction. Employee recognition promotes satisfied and motivated employees who, in turn, effectively serve and satisfy customers.[4] And satisfied customers have a direct, positive impact on your company’s bottom line.
 
Another added benefit of employee recognition is that it reinforces what is important to the company in terms of expectations, priorities, and values. By recognizing employees, managers and supervisors send a very clear message about what really matters to the organization.
 
Effective Employee Recognition
 
For recognition and praise to be effective, you can’t let it go on auto pilot.  Recognition needs to be genuine, meaningful and thoughtful.   Nelson (2001) determined that the most powerful employee recognition is immediate, valuable to the employee, and provided for real accomplishments.[5]
 
Timely, Specific, and Meaningful
 
When you recognize employees, be timely and specific and do it for something that has real meaning.  As soon as you observe great performance, take the time to give recognition and praise.  Point out the specific action and why it is worthy of praise.  Avoid simply relying on easy phrases like “great job” and “good work.”  While there is nothing wrong with including these types of phrases in your recognition, they alone do not sound either sincere or meaningful.
 
For recognition to have an impact, you will need to exert a little more effort and add the specifics.  For example, you may write:  “Jane, thank you for dropping everything to help us meet the grant application deadline! I know it was a last-minute request, and yet you jumped right in with a cheerful attitude. I truly appreciate your teamwork and expertise in helping us acquire the funds to help more families in need!”  I know this will take more time and thought. However, it will let Jane know that her contribution and sacrifice did not go unnoticed and will reinforce the mission of the organization.
 
Frequent
 
Recognition and positive feedback need to be frequent.  It is not sufficient to recognize employees at the annual employee recognition event.  Even once a  quarter and once a month are not enough. For recognition to engage and motivate in a powerful way, it must be ingrained into your culture.  It must flow continuously from supervisor to employee, employee to supervisor, and peer to peer.  It must flow out genuine gratitude and fill the atmosphere.
 
Personalized
 
Recognition also needs to be personalized. You must get to know your employees and find out what type of recognition is meaningful to each individual. For instance, when it comes to formal recognition, some employees may be thrilled to receive it in the spotlight of a big employee recognition event, while others would be horrified of a public display.  Likewise, some employees prefer money, while others may enjoy some time off. 
 
To be effective at recognizing your employees, you need to spend some time to get to know them as individuals. Recognition that is not given appropriately can have an adverse effect and demotivate the employee.
 
Diverse
 
Recognition does not have to be costly. It can take on a variety of forms, such as a “thank you” e-mail, quick hand-written note, verbal acknowledgement, and more formalized awards. It can happen at the individual or group level.  The bottom line is that employees need to feel that their contributions towards the goals of the organization are acknowledged and appreciated.[6]
 
Managers and supervisors need to be aware of the great work their employees are doing and demonstrate ongoing appreciation for their contributions and successes. Recognition comes naturally to some, but is not as easy for others. If you find yourself in the latter group, you can intentionally develop a mindset of praise.
 
At first, some may need to actually add reminders to their calendars to recognize and praise employees. However, as they intentionally practice recognition and positive feedback, it will become part of who they are as leaders. With this new mindset of praise, they will be able to foster a motivating work environment.
 
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[1] Krüger, J. & Rootman, C. (2010). How do small business managers influence employee satisfaction and commitment?  Acta Commercii,10(1). pp. 59 – 72.
Retrieved from http://www.actacommercii.co.za/index.php/acta/article/viewFile/114/114. Creative Commons License.
 
[2] Krüger & Rootman, 2010.
 
[3] Jessen, J.T. (2010).  Job satisfaction and social rewards in the social services.  Journal of Comparative Social Work, 5(1), pp. 1 – 18.  Retrieved from:  http://journal.uia.no/index.php/JCSW/article/view/215/150. Creative Commons License.
 
[4] Skudiene, V., Everhart, D. D., Slepikaite, K., & Reardon, J. (2013).  Front-line employees’ recognition and empowerment effect on retail bank customers’ perceived value. Journal of Service Science 6(1), pp. 105 – 116.  DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.19030/jss.v6i1.8241.   Creative Commons License.
 
[5] Skudiene et al., 2013.
 
[6] Krüger & Rootman, 2010.
 

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