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3 ways to help your employees be recognised

Aaron Abrook
Sun Aug 15 2021
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Note: recognising employees is motivational and empowering, however if people are not adequately compensated this advice will be seen as cheap and hollow. These tips assume that the employee is already being paid in line with their expectations.

It's 2021 and being recognised still seems to be a lost art in many leaders. I still see it as generic or lacking reasonable specificity for the employee to reflect or celebrate. It is not aligned to how the employee likes to be recognised for their work or, worse yet, it's delivered in a back-handed manner where the employee is praised but then followed up with something dismissing, demoralising the recipient.

Today, let's talk about recognition and how leaders can better support their teams. Or, take these tips and celebrate your peers! Recognition should never just be from leadership.

Why is recognition important?

So let’s start at the beginning, why should we recognise people? Does it make a meaningful difference? Well, yes! There are a few key ways it helps improve the business:

  • Let’s look at retention - If your employees aren’t recognised appropriately they are twice as likely to to look for a new job within the next year. Right now, during the “Great Attrition” it is more important than ever!
  • An employee who is recognised is more productive by about 7% compared to when not recognised. A small "Thank you" is enough to get a boost! When only 1 in 3 think they’re appropriately recognised there is potential for this to yield much higher productivity.
  • Surfacing and celebrating with others creates a positive culture where people want to work. If people want to work, they’re motivated to perform.
  • Recognition is also a strong source of feedback, helping employees align to the business direction.

So with a few solid reasons to recognise employees, here’s a couple of strategies that will help.

1. During 1-on-1s

A 1-on-1 is a space where employees can surface their concerns, create alignment, and receive additional feedback. You’re busy like everyone is but this is the time to take the opportunity and share what you’ve seen and how their work is appreciated.

If you’re a manager that is not in the direct line of work this becomes a bit harder but is even more important as impact should spread. Before the 1-on-1 starts be sure to ask their immediate peers for something they found meaningful and return it to the employee. As it's recognition be sure to attribute it to the team members you spoke with!

As an additional initiative, before the 1-on-1 is over be sure to find out how others in the team are performing and what is appreciated. This topic becomes a great source of team dynamics and recognition that you can surface either directly or through others. This really helps in tip 2

2. Through someone else in your circle of influence

Everyone has an immediate group they engage with and are hopefully receiving regular praise for how they’re contributing. What’s often more impactful is to receive feedback from outside of the immediate team. Knowing that we’re visible to other employees, that we’re appreciated from those we do not regularly engage with, highlights the individual impact that each of us bring. And the people with the more responsibility in the organisation the more lasting and defining the feedback is.

To help surface this there are 2 approaches:

  • the person who we would like to provide this feedback is aware and just needs a nudge. Everyone is busy but a quick "Hey, can you let X know that you really loved when they did Y?" goes a long way.
  • secondly, we can capture results that would be useful to the person we want to share recognition with and then ask if they can shout-out. This is where feedback for peers in 1-on-1s is helpful. Quick aside, my most memorable feedback personally was when I, as an engineer, was invited to speak with a Deputy Executive and my manager surfaced the work I did right then and there. The Deputy was thrilled.

It’s a small thing, takes a little preparation or reminder, but helps make a big difference.

Don’t restrict this just to people within the business, if there’s a customer who has been impacted by the work of the employee, provide that feedback as well! Serving the customer gives us purpose, so celebrate and derive recognition that aligns to this purpose.

3. In public environments to share the appreciation

The final recommendation is to broadcast impact. 

Make an announcement at all-hands, use the daily standups, team activities, public communication channels viewed by many, just any way to surface to a broad audience that may not realise the work that is being delivered.

In a healthy organisation, public appraisal is often met with further praise and appreciation from others as everyone realises the work that is being delivered. 

I will add a small caveat with this approach, the same as when using employee of the month, if it’s up to peers to praise then those already visible will be made more visible. Don’t forget everyone is contributing to the business success so help surface the invisible as well.

Extra. Recognise employees how they prefer to receive it

The key point to always keep in mind is to be specific with the feedback being provided, individualise it to the recipient, and to be genuine as we can all tell when someone is not being honest with us.

Once you have those down be sure to find out how they prefer to be recognised. Everyone likes to feel valued differently so be sure to discuss how best to deliver the news, but don’t restrict it to only the way they think as it's not often that many people receive any form of recognition. Good news is always well received, no matter how it’s delivered.

So ditch the employee of the month, the zero-sum or restrictive habits of older recognition practices and build the culture of recognition you want in your organisation.

Additional Reading

Gartner covers this topic incredibly well, so for more read Employee Recognition: Low Cost, High Impact