It’s no secret that recognition is a great way to ensure employees feel valued at work. After all, who doesn’t like receiving praise for a job well done? Recognition can come in many forms, from a simple “thank you” to more tangible rewards, and creating a culture of mutual recognition and gratitude ensures employee engagement and retention in the long term.

What many employers don’t know, however, is that it is possible to get recognition wrong – with serious consequences for employee experience and wellbeing. That’s why Workhuman teamed up with Gallup to survey more than 12,000 employees across the UK, Europe, and the US to find the perfect recipe for successful employee recognition. Here are some of our findings.

The importance of equity

A recognition programme can either reflect the diversity of your organisation, or highlight unconscious biases. When employees see that recognition is inequitable this can naturally feel unfair, and therefore damage their employee experience – particularly for those who feel they are receiving less recognition. Workhuman’s and Gallup’s global survey found that only a quarter of employees strongly agree that recognition is given equitably within their organisation – and the majority of employees noted that they are not receiving equal amounts of recognition as their peers with similar performance levels.

While high-quality recognition improves feelings of belonging for all employees, it may be particularly impactful for Black and Hispanic employees. The survey showed that only 19% of Black employees and 21% of Hispanic employees strongly agree that they receive a similar amount of recognition as other team members, compared to 28% of White employees. These employees are also less likely to strongly agree that the recognition they receive is authentic, and black employees in particular are less likely to strongly agree that they get the right amount of recognition.

In light of these findings, companies should make sure to include an authentic and equitable recognition programme as part of their DE&I strategy. One way to ensure equity in this area is through public recognition. Rather than private recognition, which is usually a one-to-one exchange, public displays reinforce employees’ place and value in the organisation for everyone to see. As well as improving employees’ feeling of belonging, this may also encourage those who are shyer about giving recognition to do so more regularly. And the more frequently recognition is given, the more likely a strong culture of mutual and gratitude and respect will flourish.

Personalised, not generalised

As individual human beings, employees will naturally have different ideas on what constitutes the “right” amount of recognition, as well as different preferences on how and where they receive it. Though this may seem like an insurmountable challenge, there is a simple solution: ask your employees what works best for them. At the moment, only 10% of employees strongly agree that they have been asked by someone at their organisation how they like to be recognised, so this is clearly a much-needed starting point.

Workhuman’s and Gallup’s survey also sheds a light on some other key considerations when it comes to recognition. For example, the majority of employees surveyed (64%) said that they prefer a mixture of both public and private recognition, over one or the other, so make sure both options are available within your programme. Employees also say they want recognition from peers just as much or more than from managers and leaders. This is where a peer-to-peer recognition programme, which allows everyone to recognise and be recognised by across an organisation, comes in handy.

Organisations that provide a variety of outlets for recognition and offer the flexibility to personalise it will ensure it has a positive impact for all employees, no matter their individual preferences.

Work with your culture

Having a recognition programme is a good start, and making sure it’s both equitable and flexible is even better. But for lasting impact, leaders must look to company culture. A culture of recognition is one in which gratitude, praise, and appreciation are freely and regularly given, across all corners of the company. It’s a culture that enables and encourages everyone to take part and celebrate each other’s’ achievements.

Most organisations still have some way to go with this. While 36% of employees report having a recognition programme at their organisation, only 19% strongly agree that recognition is fully embedded in their company’s culture. And yet, employees who strongly agree that the recognition they receive is authentic are six times as likely to feel connected to their organisation’s culture. So, recognition and culture are inherently linked whether companies act on it or not.

There are several ways companies can embed recognition into their culture. One approach is to explicitly link your recognition programme to your company’s values. When employees have to actively think about and choose which company value they are recognising a colleague for, this naturally leads to a deeper understanding of those values – and this will create a much more consistent and connected culture as a result. Public recognition is also an effective culture-booster. Only 11% of those who say recognition is mostly private strongly agree that their organisation has a strong culture of recognition, whilst those who receive mostly public recognition are the most likely to report having a solid culture of recognition (37%).

Organisations that take the time to consider these different factors will ultimately be able to build a successful recognition programme that works for all employees and reflects their own company culture and values – and this is a sure-fire way to recruit and retain top talent in the face of the ongoing ‘Great Resignation’.