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Genuine Appreciation and Recognition:
The Fuel to Employee Engagement

An ecstatic woman celebrating her achievements and a "Great Job" comic-like text next to her.
Hacking HR Team

Posted on November 27, 2023

Employee turnover is expensive, and according to Gallup, replacing an employee can range from one-half to two times the employee's annual salary. With unemployment rates at historic lows, retention is more critical than ever. While compensation certainly contributes, money alone is insufficient. Employees, especially millennials and Gen Z, increasingly prioritize purpose, growth, and appreciation.

Appreciation boosts morale, loyalty, and performance far more than institutions realize. Wise leaders recognize that authentic appreciation and recognition are invaluable for attracting, engaging, and retaining today's talent.

What Employees Truly Want

The data is precise: appreciation matters. Another study by O.C. Tanner found that 79% of employees who feel underappreciated are actively disengaged. Appreciation inherently motivates and fulfills. However, employees often report that their employers' recognition practices, not being created equally, need improvement: generic programs and disingenuous praise ring hollow. Employees see right through them.

What do meaningful practices look like? There are two core components:

1. Authenticity

Employees desire genuine, personalized appreciation - not platitudes, trophies, or points. Leaders must recognize excellence based on what employees value.

2. Timeliness

The impact of recognition is highest when provided immediately. Only let weeks or months pass after acknowledging achievements.

With those pillars in mind, let's explore proven tactics to show employees their contributions matter.

Reflection Question: How does your current recognition practice align with the authentic and timely appreciation that employees crave? Are there gaps you can identify in your approach?

Leveraging Technology in Recognition Programs

Technology plays a pivotal role in enhancing and streamlining recognition practices. Integrating technology into your recognition programs can make the process more efficient and impactful.

Critical Aspects of Technology Integration:

  • Digital Recognition Platforms: use platforms that allow for real-time recognition and feedback. These tools can make acknowledging efforts more immediate and accessible, especially in remote or hybrid work environments.

  • Data-Driven Insights: Leverage data analytics to understand recognition patterns, employee preferences, and the impact of recognition on performance and morale. This data can help tailor recognition programs to be more effective and meaningful.

  • Integrating Recognition with Professional Development: Link recognition systems with professional development opportunities. For example, recognized achievements can translate into opportunities for training, mentoring, or new project assignments. This approach aligns recognition with career growth and personal development.

  • Social Recognition Features: Encourage a culture of appreciation by incorporating social features, such as the ability to like, comment, or share recognitions within the organization. It fosters a sense of community and amplifies positive feedback.

Reflection Question: In what ways could technology streamline and enhance recognition in your organization? Are you fully leveraging digital tools to recognize and appreciate your employees?

Personalized Peer Recognition

Empowering peers to recognize each other is a simple, scalable way to promote appreciation. Digital peer-to-peer recognition platforms make it easy to share timely praise and rewards. Compared to manager-only programs, they see 3x higher participation rates.

Effective peer programs have three attributes:

  • Values-based - Align recognitions with company values. It gives more meaning and direction to praise.

  • Instant feedback - Enable employees to recognize achievements as they happen via mobile. It boosts participation.

  • Rewards - Let employees redeem points earned for experiential rewards or charitable donations. Redemption fuels engagement.

Reflection Question: How effectively are peer recognition programs utilized in your company? Do they align with your organizational values and provide meaningful rewards?

Manager Appreciation

While peer recognition provides frequency, manager recognition carries a particular weight. Employees inherently value praise from authority figures.

Managers should provide appreciation in three forms:

  • Public recognition - Celebrate wins and milestones in team meetings or newsletters. It amplifies impact.

  • Handwritten notes - A handwritten note highlighting an employee's contributions makes praise far more personal and meaningful.

  • 1:1 conversations - Verbally recognizing excellence during 1:1s makes employees feel genuinely seen and valued. Remember to underestimate the power of spoken appreciation.

Reflection Question: Reflect on the last time you acknowledged a team member's contribution. How can you make manager appreciation more impactful and frequent?

Thoughtful Gestures

Small gestures that show care and respect can deeply enrich the employee experience.

For example:

  • Recognizing work anniversaries with personalized cards or gifts

  • Celebrating birthdays with team experiences or gifts

  • Checking in after employees return from vacation

  • Accommodating essential family events or commitments

  • Providing support during challenging personal times

These thoughtful touches require minimal effort but go a long way in making employees feel appreciated as whole people - not just workers.

Reflection Question: What minor yet meaningful gestures could you implement to show genuine appreciation towards your employees? How can these gestures be personalized?

Modeling Gratitude

Leaders set the tone for appreciation. By modeling gratitude in their interactions, they implicitly grant permission for others to do the same.

Ways for leaders to embody gratitude:

  • Start meetings by acknowledging team members' contributions since the last meeting.

  • Make recognition and appreciation of standing agenda items in team meetings/huddles.

  • Verbally thank employees who support you or collaborate on projects.

  • Write handwritten thank you notes to team members.

  • Celebrate and elevate examples of peer-to-peer appreciation.

The more leaders authentically model gratitude, the more it becomes part of the cultural fabric.

  • Reflection Question: How do you model gratitude and appreciation daily as a leader? What changes could enhance this practice?

Recognition as a Journey, Not Just a Destination

It's crucial to view recognition not as a onetime event but as a continuous journey that contributes to an employee's overall experience and growth within the company.

Strategies for a Continuous Recognition Journey:

  • Regular Check-ins and Feedback Loops: Incorporate appreciation and recognition into regular performance check-ins. This ongoing dialogue ensures that recognition is an annual and consistent part of the employee experience.

  • Career Milestones: Celebrate not just immediate achievements but also long-term career milestones. Acknowledging an employee's journey with the company reinforces their sense of belonging and accomplishment.

  • Personal Development Opportunities: Link recognition to unique development opportunities. Employees should feel that their recognized efforts contribute to their growth within the organization.

  • Feedback and Adaptation: Regularly solicit input from employees on the recognition process. Understand what works and what doesn't, and be willing to adapt practices to meet developing needs and preferences.

  • Reflection Question: How can you transform employee recognition into a continuous journey rather than an occasional event in your organization?

The Takeaway

The impact of authentic appreciation and recognition in the workplace is undeniable. Employees who feel genuinely valued become more engaged, fulfilled, loyal, and productive. Yet, many leaders fail to make recognition an integral part of their culture; caught up in the day-to-day rush of business, showing appreciation slips through the cracks. The costs of this neglect are actual - disengagement, stagnation, and turnover arise when employees feel their contributions go unseen.

That's why building a culture of appreciation must become a top priority. Leaders should implement ongoing practices for peer-to-peer recognition, provide timely feedback, offer thoughtful gestures, and model gratitude. 

The investment required is minor compared to the rewards. Employees who feel consistently recognized deliver higher performance, creativity, and commitment over the long term. Cultivating a culture where recognition is abundant and authentic is essential to attracting and retaining top talent, and it's also a must for any business to thrive.


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