Employee recognition

How Frequent Staff Appreciation Improves Engagement and Performance

George Dickson
August 19, 2015
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Have you ever done something a particular way, even if that way isn't the most efficient, because that's the way you've always done it? We all have.

Whether we're attached to tradition or habit, we continue doing what's comfortable.

This kind of behavior is often harmless at home, but in a business context, there's no room for costly, inefficient practices. Despite overwhelming evidence demonstrating the benefits of frequent staff praise and recognition, many organizations continue to neglect day-to-day wins and opt only to recognize accomplishments like tenure.

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What makes recognition effective? 

Years of service awards are insufficient. A landmark study on employee recognition found that tenure-based rewards programs have virtually no impact on organizational performance—and yet they account for 87% of all employee recognition programs.

Why is that? 🤔

Companies commonly spend between 1-2% of payroll on employee recognition products like trophies, plaques, gold watches, and pins—stuff traditionally awarded to employees for their years of service. That's a lot of money to throw at an ineffective employee appreciation program.

If you're not convinced that these types of programs are ineffective, consider this:

42% of employees don't even know about their employer's recognition program. 😨

So, a company recognizes employees for five, ten, or 20 years of service, the program adds practically no value while costing a small fortune, and a large percentage of employees don't even know that the rewards program even exists? That's not a sound methodology.

At the bare minimum, employees need to be aware of your recognition program in order for it to be effective. So how do you build one?

The most effective staff recognition programs facilitate frequent recognition that's tied to desirable behaviors, goals, culture, and personal accomplishments—not some arbitrary milestone.

In order to be effective and culturally impactful, employee recognition should be:

  • Specific: Recognition should be given to a specific employee or employees for a specific reason. It's much more meaningful to be recognized for successfully resolving a customer's problem than being nominated for or having your name picked out of a hat for an "Employee of the Month" honor. 
  • Frequent: Recognition should be given whenever you notice an accomplishment or behavior worthy of praise, not just on work anniversaries or Employee Appreciation Day.
  • Timely: Recognition should be given soon after the praise-worthy accomplishment or behavior occurs before its impact (and your memory of the specifics!) has time to fade.
  • Visible: The rule of thumb is “praise in public and reprimand in private.” When public praise is the norm in a workplace, it contributes to a culture of recognition for all employees.
  • Inclusive: Employee of the Month programs are inherently exclusive and can be demotivating, as a result. Instead of celebrating one person's work, inclusive recognition helps everyone gets credit and praise for their contributions.
  • Values-based: When you share positive feedback, consider how a person's contribution lines up with your company values. If your company culture is truly based on a shared set of values, reinforcing those values through praise should be a deep-rooted habit.

Here are six specific employee recognition messages for reference that illustrate the points above.  

Let's look more closely at the frequency component of employee recognition.

Why is recognition frequency so important?

A Bersin & Associates Research report, "Making Recognition and Rewards Matter: Five Practices to Drive Better Business Results," looked at recognition programs and frequency and found that 71% of highly engaged employees work in organizations that recognize employees at least once per month.

Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to happen enough. Our friends at Officevibe wanted to better understand the relationship between recognition frequency, one of the most challenging metrics for most organizations, and other aspects of employee engagement.

By analyzing their pulse survey platform’s network averages, they found that out of 120 engagement questions, respondents rated recognition as highly meaningful (placing it in the 10 highest scoring questions), yet the frequency at which they received recognition was troubling (in the 10 lowest scoring questions).

That's a huge opportunity for most organizations.

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Engaged Employees: The Chicken or the Egg?

Do engaged employees seek great companies or do great company cultures produce engaged employees? 🐓🥚

Companies that are highly effective at integrating technology into their recognition programs are three times more likely to report strong business results. Recognition technologies make it easier for employees to recognize each others' contributions.

Organizations that implemented recognition programs targeted at improving employee engagement reported a 31% reduction in voluntary turnover.

In a September 2021 McKinsey research study of employees in Australia, Canada, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States, 54% of employees cited not feeling valued by their organizations as a reason for quitting.

The takeaway? Frequent recognition translates into engaged employees, stronger business results, and lower turnover.

How frequent is frequent enough? While there's something to be said for annual banquets and quarterly celebrations, yearly and quarterly recognition is not frequent enough to be highly effective.

You can certainly continue recognizing your staff for achieving yearly and quarterly goals, but if you want to improve engagement, performance, and retention, you'd be wise to dish out praise on a monthly, weekly, and even daily basis.

Strategies for implementing frequent staff recognition

Frequent staff appreciation is easier and less expensive than you may realize. Below are three simple and inexpensive strategies to implement frequent staff recognition into your company's culture.

Get our full list of staff appreciation ideas over here!

1. Start meetings with a quick congratulations or thanks

If you're holding staff meetings frequently (as you should!), use them as an opportunity to recognize individuals and teams for their recent accomplishments. Try to focus on different accomplishments so that the same superstars aren't being singled out to the exclusion of others.

2. Encourage your staff to recognize their peers

Forbes found that employees feel that recognition from their peers is more meaningful than when it came from the top because peers know what they're doing on a day-to-day basis. Sixty-five percent of the workers we polled in early 2022 believe they’d be more likely to stay at a job with an unappreciative manager if their coworkers and peers still recognized their work.

Encouraging your employees to recognize one another can be as simple as putting up a bulletin board for shoutouts and "kudos."

3. Set yourself a reminder (and encourage your team to do the same)

Is your calendar packed? Is your to-do list never-ending? You're not alone. "I'm too busy" is a common justification for not recognizing employees regularly enough. The best way to solve this problem is to make staff appreciation a habit. If you have a daily recurring task set up in Asana or a weekly reminder on your calendar, you'll be less likely to forget and recognition will become part of your normal routines. 

4. Deploy a peer-to-peer recognition system

Peer-to-peer recognition software and systems make it easy for employees to recognize other employees frequently. Peer-to-peer recognition programs create a sense of camaraderie, which further drives employee engagement.

Finding the right recognition program to support your company's current needs and future goals will take some effort, but the juice is absolutely worth the squeeze! 93% of Bonusly users say the program improved employee engagement at their organizations.

Download our free performance management template that includes:

👉 Directions on how to use the template.
🗒️ A proven structure for effective and productive performance review conversations.
✅ Fillable form fields to record job responsibilities and manager/employee competency ratings.
📄 Customizable Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel templates to fit your needs.
📘 Additional resources to help you improve your performance management practices. 

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