Humans, in general, have a desire to be valued and appreciated. This is regardless of rank, status, profession, culture etc. A little appreciation can go a long way. In her 2013 Harvard Commencement speech, Oprah Winfrey captured the importance of appreciation and recognition to human beings. She said,
“I have to say that the single most important lesson I learned in 25 years talking every single day to people was that there’s a common denominator in our human experience. The common denominator that I found in every single interview is we want to be validated. We want to be understood. I’ve done over 35,000 interviews in my career. And as soon as that camera shuts off, everyone always turns to me and inevitably, in their own way, asks this question: “Was that OK?” I heard it from President Bush. I heard it from President Obama. I’ve heard it from heroes and from housewives. I’ve heard it from victims and perpetrators of crimes. I even heard it from Beyoncé, in all of her Beyoncéness. We all want to know one thing: “Was that OK?” “Did you hear me?” “Do you see me?” “Did what I say mean anything to you?”
Appreciation is similar to recognition but has an important distinction. In the article “Why Employees Need Both Recognition and Appreciation” Mike Robbins describes recognition as “giving positive feedback based on results or performance”. He then goes on to distinguish it from appreciation by stating that appreciation “is about acknowledging a person’s inherent value. The point isn’t their accomplishments. It’s their worth as a colleague and a human being.”
This desire to be appreciated and recognised extends to the working class too. Employees long to feel that the effort they put into their work is noticed and valued. This can, in turn, increase the level of productivity and motivate them to produce their best work. Recognition is integral in creating a psychologically safe environment, where employees feel that it’s acceptable to offer feedback, make mistakes, and share contrary opinions. By rewarding strategic risks through recognition, teams can reinforce creative and innovative behaviour without feelings of insecurity or embarrassment. Being recognized releases the flow of oxytocin, the chemical our bodies create when we bond with others and feel loved. The TINYpulse Employee Engagement and Organizational Culture Report found that 58% of the happiest employees will recognise and encourage their peers’ success when given tools to make it easy. With that in mind, organizations are increasingly adopting and rethinking recognition programs. They can improve employee engagement, reduce turnover, increase productivity, boost morale, and build purpose when used correctly.
A Glassdoor study, “Employers to Retain Half of Their Employees Longer If Bosses Showed More Appreciation”, found that four in five employees (81%) felt encouraged to work even harder when their boss appreciated them and their efforts.
A different study conducted by Emergenetics International, titled “The Psychological Effects of Workplace Appreciation & Gratitude” revealed that a sense of gratitude appreciation contributes to improved wellbeing, less depression and fewer sick leave days. This shows the importance of appreciating your employees regularly.
Employees that are recognised and appreciated tend to become engaged. A Gallup study showed that an engaged workforce makes it a point of turning up to work. Highly engaged business units registered 41% lower absenteeism. Highly engaged employees were found to have a 28% reduction in inventory loss and a 40% reduction in quality deficiencies. It was also found that engaged employees are more mindful of their surroundings. Working organizations with commitment ratings in the top 25% achieve a 70% reduction in occupational health accidents.
The following strategies will aid in appreciating and recognising employees.
Employers should be clear about what behaviours or actions they would like to see from recognition programs and the impact of recognition on business objectives. Whether you are starting a new employee recognition program or updating an existing one, challenge your team to answer the following questions:
What types of behaviours will be rewarded? Reference your business objectives and decide which behaviours to incentivise, and remember that effective recognition is tied to organizational values. Reward deliverables completed on time if lateness is a challenge, and applaud cross-departmental collaboration if your organization is stuck working in silos.
How should the desired behaviour be rewarded? It’s important to know your team and reward behaviour accordingly – everyone prefers certain languages of appreciation over others. In general, praise should be public and can be a great learning opportunity for the whole team. Tying that praise to a tangible reward or experience can remind employees of their achievements long after praise is given.
How often should recognition occur? Effective praise is frequent, so it is important to regularly recognize your team. Giving recognition on the spot is a good habit, and reiterating that praise during team meetings, especially for special achievements, can amplify the effects of recognition. Who should recognition come from? Recognition is traditionally given top-down by managers, but peer-to-peer and 360-degree recognition is even more effective.
Many employers assume that employees always want money instead of non-tangible rewards, but research suggests that’s not true. Research by Deloitte, for example, identified two different types of recognition- praise and emblematic recognition and token and monetary rewards. They found that both types of recognition are important to employees, as this approach helps to constantly and frequently reinforce desired employee behaviours.
Engage your employees to better understand the types of rewards they are most interested in. Once you have drafted ideas for potential rewards, it’s easy to get employee preferences by sending a survey and asking everyone to rank the options. Giving employees a say in rewards redemption can increase their investment in the program and make recognition even more enjoyable.
When introducing a new system or approach, it’s important that communication around the roll-out is clear and the implementation is as painless as possible. Any team participating in a new program should be clued in on that program’s purpose, how to use it, and when it will take effect.
Beyond measures of productivity and performance, employers can use recognition as a catalyst for widespread positive organizational change by engaging employees, connecting teams, and fostering a culture of appreciation
Nyasha Mukechi is a Business Analytics Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt.) Ltd; a management and human resources consulting firm.
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