Do your employees understand when it’s appropriate to send recognition? Companies often struggle with establishing clear employee expectations for giving recognition and as a result, recognition is either too frequent or not frequent enough. If recognition occurs too often, it can lose its effectiveness. For example, recognizing employees for simply showing up to work on time sets a low precedent for receiving recognition — a gesture that should be awarded to high performers and exceptional work.
However, if too infrequent, recognition loses its effectiveness as well. Some businesses reserve recognition for an annual Employee of the Year Award, and the lack of recognition throughout the rest of the year quickly causes employees to lose motivation.
A recent survey from SHRM states that “The reward or recognition should be delivered as close as possible to the time of the desired behavior to strengthen the link between the employee’s action and the result to the organization.” If recognition is only happening once a year, employees are left feeling under-appreciated and confused about what behavior is worth praise and what behavior is simply expected of them in the workplace.
So, why are so many businesses having trouble setting employee expectations for giving recognition? Many companies struggle to understand when to send recognition, how to link recognition to their core values, and how to clearly communicate guidelines for recognition. Let’s explore all of these elements so you can set your employee recognition program up for success.
What makes recognition effective?
According to a recent Gallup survey, Employee Recognition: Low Cost, High Impact, 28% of employees said that the most memorable recognition comes from managers, reinforcing the importance of manager-to-peer recognition. The next most impactful recognition comes from a high-level leader or CEO (24%), followed by the manager’s manager (12%), a customer (10%), and peers (9%).
We can see the value in manager-to-peer recognition in the data, but let’s take it one step further. What exactly makes for a meaningful and memorable recognition?
Managers, take note: the most impactful types of recognition have three key components: they are timely, specific, and unique. Let’s break down what exactly these three components mean:
Timely recognition is recognition sent shortly (almost immediately) after you see a behavior worth recognizing. This type of recognition should occur the most frequently, and it’s critical to keeping your team engaged. For example, if one of your coworkers or employees has dedicated weeks of time to a big project and presented it to your C-Suite with outstanding results, send a recognition as soon as the presentation is over.
SHRM agrees — their in-depth article, “Managing Employee Recognition Programs,” states, “Although some organizations designate a specific day or week for employee recognition, recognizing employees in real time rather than waiting for a future event is considered the better practice.”
Effective recognition should be specific and cover the details of what exactly an individual did to warrant receiving it. Generic recognitions that feature pre-written verbiage are far less likely to have a lasting impact on an employee because they don’t speak directly to behavior you want to see again. Meghan Biro put it best in her Forbes article, “5 Ways Leaders Rock Employee Recognition,” by saying, “Recognition should match effort and results, or it loses meaning.”
Unique to the Individual’s Needs
Recognition should be curated at an individual level for the highest impact. There are plenty of ways to make recognition unique, including writing a meaningful and personal message or including a reward you know your employee will enjoy.
Additionally, be mindful of public vs. private recognitions and make sure these preferences are tailored to your employees’ unique needs. Some employees prefer to be recognized in private, as opposed to publicly where their recognition is visible company-wide. Be sure to keep this in mind when recognizing so your recognitions can have maximum impact.
Some employees prefer to be recognized in public. Private recognitions will have little impact on them because these employees are motivated by their peers seeing their achievements. Be sure to recognize these employees publicly, through a recognition platform on a public social feed, in person, or during a meeting.
The Impact of Giving Recognition
Receiving recognition has a positive impact on employees, which we’ve thoroughly covered in other posts. But what about giving recognition? What impact does this have on employee morale, connectedness, and camaraderie?
With the abrupt shift to remote work, prosocial behavior is needed more than ever in the workplace. Prosocial behavior is voluntary behavior intended to benefit another person or society. Prosocial behavior can include volunteering, donating, assisting in an emergency or simply sharing, whether or not a person expects reciprocity. According to ResearchGate, this attitude in the workplace generates more teamwork, more productivity, and more communication between teams.
The Impact of COVID-19
With the onset of COVID-19, remote workforces are more prominent than ever, which means employees are feeling more detached and isolated from their coworkers. Prosocial behavior can be encouraged through sending recognition, a key way to unite employees in a time of isolation.
The impact of giving recognition can be felt throughout organizations affected by COVID-19. As of October 2020, Gallup reported that 33% of US employees are working remotely full-time. With newly-remote employees facing more isolation than ever before, companies have seen an increased need for building a culture of recognition.
Fond customer Exeter Finance has felt the impact of COVID-19 on their company culture. Lareese Pike, Manager of Administrative Services at Exeter, has seen an increased need for recognition: “In light of recent events,” says Pike, “our employees have been able to adapt and acclimate with the times, along with the Fond platform. Our employees see the value of recognition at a time like this, and we’re constantly working with the Fond team to make sure our program is set up for success in these unprecedented times.” Exeter Finance has seen a 90% adoption rate on the Fond platform, and the company sends over 5,000 recognitions a month — recognitions which have become critical to maintaining morale and company culture throughout COVID-19.
According to the Human Resource Executive, 64% of employees say recognition and appreciation is more important while working remotely, yet only 26% of employees say their company has implemented new ways to reward and recognize them since the beginning of the pandemic. Additionally, many employees are struggling to achieve a work-life balance working from home as companies handle layoffs and remaining employees face longer hours and more responsibilities.
Rewards and recognition programs are becoming increasingly essential for companies looking to combat these feelings of loneliness, isolation, and disorientation mid-pandemic. A study by the International Review of Social Psychology found that prosocial behavior strongly impacted employees’ commitment to their jobs and effectiveness in their roles. Encouraging prosocial behavior can help employees who are used to seeing their peers every day at the office feel connected to their workplace.
Setting Employee Expectations for Giving Recognition
So, now that we have the basics of successful recognition in place, it’s time to answer the real question: when should employees give recognition?
Successful recognition programs are aligned with your company’s mission, values, vision, and goals. If employees can’t draw a clear connection between what management says is important and what behaviors are rewarded at work, your recognition program will be confusing. Employees need to understand the rationale behind your recognition program and should see a direct correlation between your company’s core values and reasons for recognizing. Employees should expect every recognition they send and receive to be tied to your organizational core values.
Additionally, your recognition program will fail if employees feel like their work doesn’t align with the type of recognition they receive. If their work is trivialized, recognized insincerely, or given rewards that are not consistent with their achievements, your program won’t have the impact you want. Employees should expect to receive recognition that matches the amount and quality of work they have achieved.
Let’s establish some common guidelines for recognition. These are the most common five reasons to recognize across the modern workforce:
1. Core Values Alignment
When you see a colleague demonstrating behavior aligned with your company’s core values, be sure to highlight that employee’s outstanding work. Reinforcing core values can lead to a stronger company culture and a more successful recognition program.
2. Exceptional Work
If you see a coworker who has done an exceptional job on one or more projects, this is behavior worth recognizing. Not only will they appreciate the kind words, but this recognition will encourage others to do the same.
3. Career Advancement
When an employee has achieved a new level of personal development (i.e. finishing a class or workshop and earning a new certification), this is an optimal time to celebrate their success. This is especially relevant if a colleague is promoted.
4. Improved Efficiency
If a coworker or employee has offered a suggestion that improves the effectiveness of the office (or the organization as a whole), recognize this behavior. Operational efficiency is a backbone of your company’s success, and encouraging employees to constantly strive for improvement is key.
A team that works together thrives together. When you witness great work from a cohesive team that works together to accomplish a project successfully, encourage this behavior by recognizing it.
Use these reasons to recognize as guidelines for when employees should expect to receive recognition and as a cue for them to send recognition as well.
Next: How Frequently to Recognize
The short answer: According to Business Insider, employees should receive recognition at least once a week to maintain employee motivation. In a world of social media and the 24-hour news cycle, people are accustomed to timely information and real-time responses to that information.
A study by the Human Resources Department at Southern Methodist University showed that waiting more than a week to recognize an employee for outstanding work is too long. Gallup surveys back this: studies on employee engagement found that most of the time, recognition for good work has a shelf life of just one week before the effects begin to wear off.
Now, let’s discuss the longer answer.
Every company has unique goals, needs, and core values, which means it will have different reasons for recognizing and recognition program objectives. With this in mind, a “magic number” that dictates how often employees should recognize and be recognized simply doesn’t exist. However, providing them with the tools to understand when to send recognition is much more valuable. By providing employee expectations for giving recognition, you can establish how frequently to recognize depending on your company’s individual needs.
How Setting Clear Employee Expectations for Giving Recognition Will Help Your Company
The need for recognition is stronger than ever, and now is the time to encourage employees to participate in your recognition program to create a sense of community. This is particularly pressing for newly-remote employees wondering what the future holds and how to connect with other coworkers during a time of isolation.
By providing clear guidelines for when to give recognition, you empower your employees to participate in your rewards and recognition program no matter where they’re located. Remember to set employee expectations around recognizing others for:
- Exhibiting behaviors aligned with your company’s core values
- Performing outstanding work
- Career advancement and major achievements
- Improving operational efficiency
- Working together as a team
Knowing when to recognize is the first step to an effective program. With these guidelines, there should be no question of what behaviors warrant a recognition, and employee expectations for recognition will be clearly established.
Erin Nelson is a Digital Marketing Manager at Fond with over six years of B2B SaaS marketing experience. Erin has authored dozens of articles on employee rewards and recognition and frequently researches new trends in R&R. In their spare time, you can find them playing music, reading about socioeconomic and gender-based politics, and listening to true crime podcasts.