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Employee Recognition ProgramsWhat are they – hint, it’s not about prizes, plaques or parking spaces

Everyone wants to be appreciated. Showing children how important they are is instinctive to most parents. In university or army life, achievements are often honored and applauded. In the workplace however, where the average person spends almost 50% of their waking life, recognition is often few and far between. Showing appreciation to employees does not always come naturally to companies and managers, who often view the need to give constant feedback as some psychobabble chore or HR fluff. An HR practitioner, wishing to get buy in for an employee recognition program, will often get confused looks from managers recoiling at the thought of cliché “employee of the month” plaques or gold watches to retiring clerks.

Hence, to get buy in and build a successful employee recognition program it’s important to first define what this term means, and what it does not and explain the value of these programs.

So what’s all this appreciation about and what’s it all good for?

In his famous book “How to make friends and influence people” Dale Carnegie said “There is one longing – almost as deep, almost as imperious, as the desire for food or sleep – which is seldom gratified. It is what Freud calls ‘the desire to be great.’ It is what Dewey calls ‘the desire to be important.” Employee recognition programs are all about condoning positive behaviors and showing employees you appreciate their importance and that they have a chance at being great. A research conducted by Deloitte in 2012 showed employees in companies with recognition programs are 31% less likely to churn . Furthermore, these employees are more likely to display higher productivity, feel more committed to their job and tend to collaborate better with their colleagues.

Recognition programs are not about luring employees to sign on with snacks and gym passes or about honoring veterans for simply sticking around long enough. When designing an employee appreciation program it is important to remember that your aim is eventually promoting positive behavior and motivating employees to adopt desired work processes. Hence appreciation should be linked to the behaviors and processes you are hoping said employees will adopt.

What should you focus on?

Recognize achievements and what leads to them

Are you trying to get employees to answer calls more efficiently? Reward them on completing training programs and showing a good understanding of the company product. Are employees not collaborating enough? Recognize workers who add sections to the company FAQ or contribute content to onboarding manuals.
Whatever you do, make sure to keep two things in mind – First, rewards are not about entitlement, rank or seniority. They’re about achieving desired goals and displaying desired behaviors. Second, don’t just reward achievements. Reward the activities that breed them. Rewarding a sales agent just because he closed more deals won’t necessarily get the other agents to sell more. However, rewarding a successful sales agent for conducting perfect research before calling clients or mentoring fellow sales agents is more likely to get the entire team’s results up.

Build a culture of recognition

Make sure recognition is frequent and easy to provide. The idea of showing appreciation publicly can seem cringe worthy to many people. Hence, it is easy to delay it or forget it altogether. Several platforms are available today that can make showing appreciation easy and convenient and will help you and your colleagues provide feedback and show recognition without needing to make too much fuss. Gamification platforms, for example, are great for providing recognition via low-key social messaging or un-flashy virtual kudos. Also try to show recognition as much and as often as possible. It doesn’t cost anything to give the occasional pat on the back and waiting for some big ceremony once a year to give out rewards is a sure fire way of making employees disengaged throughout the year right up to when it becomes relevant. Click here to read more about motivation and engagement.

Recognition from colleagues is stronger than recognition by managers

Employees will often consider recognition provided by managers to be tainted, subjective and linked more to kissing up that to owning up. When your peers, who work with you shoulder to shoulder promote you and recognize your achievements, it is held at high regard. This is another aspect of recognition that can be gamified. For example by enabling employees to allot Karma points to their peers or offering them a chance to nominate colleagues for rewards you are likely to both engage the workforce more in the process and make sure that the recognition you give is well appreciated by its recipients. This gamification approach provides social proof to recognition – making more people partake in it.

Link recognition to company/employee goals

Recognition should not be attached to random things like who has the tidiest desk or who brings bagels in the morning. You should make sure to set your goals prior to building your employee recognition program and make sure the rewards and accolades you are giving are in line with those goals and the company targets.

Make heroes & role models

Everyone remembers a childhood hero who they once looked up to and hoped to resemble. We remember them for their actions and their mythology. Stories about successful employees and their achievements are much more likely to be remembered than the occasional bonus or award. When you show recognition make the most of it. Post about the story in the company blog. Use the story in the company business cases and onboarding manuals and make the story part of your company culture. This will not only cater to the employee’s need for recognition but also instill in other employees a sense of something to aspire to.
Read more about how managers can create inspiration and improve employee performance.

Now that we have the basics, How to get started?

To get started with implementing an employee recognition program, first conceptualize your goals for the program. build the criteria and theme for recognition together management to make sure it is relevant to their targets.

Involve employees in the planning process. Don’t dump your idea of recognition and force irrelevant prizes down the company throat (some employees might not consider Barbra Streisand concert tickets as a motivating prize). Ask employees what they want and how they would like to be appreciated.

Create transparent guidelines on how and why people should be recognized and make it easy for employees to understand what they need to do to qualify platforms like Gameffective can help employees keep tabs on their progress and make it easy for them to visualize how they’re doing compared to their peers and their own personal goals.

Click here to learn more about GameEffective and how it works to inspire employees and help them keep their eye on the prize.
Engage managers in the recognition process. Are your managers not showing enough recognition and not engaging enough with your program? Get them onboard by showing them recognition for showing recognition. You can gamify recognition activities for managers also, not just lower tier employees and let them track and benchmark their performance so they see when and where they too can improve.

However you decide to set up your employee recognition program, remember that prizes and rewards are not a substitute for feedback. Focus on your company goals, mix recognition strategies and make sure that your employees engage with your program and are actively and voluntarily participating.

We appreciate you taking the time to read this article.

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