As we all confront soaring bills and global uncertainty, employees need to be seen, heard, and recognised more than ever to feel secure and stay focused in their jobs. 

But according to our 2021 survey into how employees feel about work, nearly one in five (19%) of UK respondents said their managers and/or companies were ‘horrible’ at recognising their effort while  thirty-four percent merely feel the recognition level they get is ‘okay’.

To say the least—this is short-sighted. Eighty-one percent of respondents we spoke to fully agreed with the statement, “When I receive recognition, it motivates me to work harder.” There’s a direct link between workplace recognition and raised workplace productivity.

So, what’s going on here? Recognising staff seems like an easy enough way for managers to raise engagement and team morale, right?

Most business leaders I meet have nothing but the best intentions when it comes to recognition. I find that the real issue is that many struggle to communicate recognition effectively in an organic, self-sustaining way.

However, in the new hybrid office, where many people now work remotely and at home, we need that culture more than ever. When your people aren’t in every day, recognising the small, but important day-to-day triumphs can easily get overlooked. But as human beings, these little things mean a lot. There’s a boatload of research to show we Brits don’t go to work just for the pay: being trusted to carry out a job to a high level comes in as a priority higher than salary alone.

So, we need to get recognition happening. In my experience working with clients of all shapes and sizes, five communications strategies have emerged that really help organisations move the needle here:

1. Take the ‘friction’ out of social recognition

People are much more likely to do things when you make them fast and easy – recognition is no different. Social recognition is the foundation of any successful employee recognition program and is also the best way to communicate recognition throughout an organisation. Social recognition can take many forms–everything from a quick ‘thank you!’ email after a meeting to a profile of a stalwart celebrating 20 years of service written in the company newsletter. Companies that invest in social recognition are more likely to see improved stock prices, NPS scores, and even individual employee performance. But, if team members can’t express appreciation when and in the way they prefer, or if they don’t see anyone else doing it, any recognition support initiative you’re planning will struggle to get off the ground.

So, head this one off by making sharing social recognition as simple and engaging as possible. Even better, add in ways to comment on, ‘like’, or award reward points to others’ recognitions. Studies have shown that recognition boosts the giver’s morale at least as much as it does the receiver’s, so everybody benefits.

 2. Make recognition tangible

 Who doesn’t like a tangible reward, right? But tactics like an employee of the month bonus might not resonate beyond the person getting it. A more effective approach is to enable team members to reward each other. Some employee recognition platforms now offer points-based reward systems, with team members awarded a certain number points each month that they can then use to recognise those who go above the call of duty. Recipients can redeem the points for a wide variety of items, experiences, and other rewards that they find meaningful.

3. Connect recognition to your company values

 To really make mutual recognition sustainable, it must become part of your day-to-day culture. Employees will buy into a recognition drive when they see that it’s another way that the company practices what it preaches. They’re also more likely to repeat actions they’re recognised for. Encourage one and all to show appreciation when they notice behaviour that lines up with your company’s values. And of course, that only deepens the very culture you want to see flourish.

One way to do this is to hook into events like the recent Employee Appreciation Day to promote company-aligned recognition campaigns. Two of our customers, Dojo and JT designed content including program adverts, announcements and digital displays. They also ran prize draws for employees to win reward points in exchange for showing appreciation to colleagues. Both companies grew the number of recognitions given by more than 150%. Another customer, Rayner, is offering employees the choice of winning reward points, or a wine tasting experience. You don’t have to follow one template but tailor programs that fit your company’s values, culture and employee preferences.

4. Embrace ALL the feedback (then act)

Any change – even a positive one like recognition – will invariably attract some negative feedback. As uncomfortable as it can be, it’s better to confront it head on than back away. Indeed, airing a long-simmering grievance or two is better for everyone involved. Signal you’re open to this by clearly opening a communication bridge between management and the rest of the team. One proven channel is an employee engagement platform that offers convenient but anonymous ways for employees to voice thoughts and concerns. Remember to act on any feedback quickly, as the longer issues fester, their greater potential negative impact.

5. Lead from the top

Your top executives need to be your most vocal advocates of new employee recognition programs. You may need to coach some on how to do that, and provide talking points and other resources to make it easier. It won’t come naturally to all your senior leaders, so do be empathetic and supportive… as this is what will get you recognised too!

We undoubtedly live in incredibly challenging times. Against that backdrop, work should be a place where people feel secure, appreciated, and able to focus on positive outcomes. Companies that communicate well and embed recognition into their cultures are much better positioned to do just that.