The value to both businesses and employees of recognition in the workplace has become increasingly more prevalent over the last few decades with more smaller companies, in particular, putting the creation of a culture of appreciation at the heart of their people strategy. 

In fact, research from SHRM has found that around 80% of organisations they polled said they did have some form of employee recognition programme in place. 

However, simply having a recognition initiative doesn’t guarantee cultural and organisational performance results, and some businesses, despite great intentions, can see uptake and usage in a programme stutter. 

So what are some of the reasons why an employee recognition initiative might be failing? Here are five key causes of underperformance:

A stand-alone initiative

The most successful workplace initiatives designed to change behaviour, attitudes or indeed working practices are fully integrated with the day to day running of a business. For example, a project scheduling app may integrate with email or a sales system with a CRM platform. 

And the same is true of employee recognition programmes. When an initiative designed to increase the frequency and quality of gratitude-giving in a workplace is stand-alone and exists in isolation of all other operational platforms, it massively increases the likelihood of that platform becoming underused. That’s because when the program is fully integrated with what employees (and managers) use to work every day – their task scheduling, communication and chat tools – recognition is always visible and becomes part of the daily conversation. 

Complicated or manual processes

However much you implore employees to use a new piece of software or system, if it’s complicated, non-user-friendly or even at a very basic level, it doesn’t look nice, you’re going to struggle to get that day-to-day buy-in that you want your programme to have. 

Removing the manual processes involved in recognition is also critical for long-term engagement in the initiative, especially for managers who want a solution that makes their lives easier and gratitude-giving fast, not a return to days of thank-you notes or written nominations. 

No manager buy-in

Many modern online recognition programmes widely adopted by organisations include a strong social element and harness the power of peer-to-peer recognition. And whilst this social and peer approach is fantastic for supercharging activity and creating organic, positive feedback loops, these programmes still require the buy-in from managers to make sure they’re fully effective. 

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, whilst receiving praise and thanks from colleagues is, of course, powerful for employees, staff still report that some of the most important words of affirmation they’ll receive in the workplace are from their higher-ups. 

And secondly, manager buy-in shows staff the ropes of how recognition can be given – and for what behaviours, too. Team leaders and line-managers who fully engage with a recognition initiative are also showing their direct reports that the programme is here to stay and, to put it bluntly, there’s no excuse for not getting involved. 

Internal comms

Internal communications play a really important role when it comes to the launch of a new workplace initiative, and the same is absolutely true of a recognition initiative too. Ensuring that employees are aware of a new programme, how it will benefit them and also getting a guided tour / some quick training on how it works sets some level of anticipation as well as expectation. 

And launching a recognition programme should be celebrated as a company. It’s an entirely positive action that a business can take as a means of improving the culture of the workplace, and it should be promoted as such. 

Irregular formal usage 

A slightly different issue to being a stand-alone initiative, irregular formal usage really taps into how a recognition programme is used by an organisation beyond the day-to-day activities within the platform. 

Is the programme a gimmick? Or can your company show that giving and receiving recognition has a wider value beyond being a nice thing to do?

There are a couple of great examples of how making recognition count for more than showing appreciation can work. First, a recognition programme that basis itself on the core principles of an organisation helps ensure that gratitude given and received is linked to a wider purpose. And secondly, taking all the great things happening within the platform and including them within more formal employee reviews or even as part of company award ceremonies will show that recognition is a cornerstone of the cultural vision for the business – and something to be engaged with and celebrated.

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