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How recognition can build a strong and meaningful connection with employees


Regardless of industry, geography or company size, for a business to succeed, connection is absolutely key. As research professor and author Brené Brown says, “Connection is the energy that is created between people when they are seen, heard and valued.”

But, according to new research from global employee engagement company Reward Gateway, the UK workforce is facing a breakdown of this connection between employee and employer.

Our research found that 44% of UK employers believe that their employees are completely informed about the values of their organisation. However, only 23% of UK employees feel completely informed about the values of the organisation they work for.

The above research demonstrates a gap in the perception of how informed employees are with company values. It also shows that regardless of who answered the question, employers or employees, there is a significant number of employees who lack the information to understand and engage with these values, and then make the critical connection to the company and their business.

But what can be done about it? We’ve found, and I’ve personally seen over my 20+ years as an HR professional, that recognition is a vital element when building the connection between employee and employer.

Through continuous recognition, which recognises employees for demonstrating company values, a positive and welcoming company culture can be built. And, in turn, this culture can create an environment in which a connection can be nurtured.

Many companies are still not recognising their employees in this way. Over 40% of employees do not agree that their employer recognises them when they demonstrate the values that their company cares about. Therefore more needs to be done to improve recognition and create a positive culture that builds the connection between employees and the business.

With that said, here are six ways to use recognition to build a connection:

1. Broaden your recognition programme to include behaviours based on your values

As shown above, many companies still don’t recognise employees based on alignment with company values. If you want to create this connection and drive business results, this needs to change.

It’s not hard to persuade a CFO to fund a results-based recognition programme, especially if it could impact the success of the business. Although praising employees when they achieve goals is important, you’ll actually get more long-term success if you reward the behaviours based on your values, as well as the outcomes that contribute to these results.

A long-term recognition programme can be as bad as a partner only saying they love you once a year… would you stay with a partner who did that?

Linking behaviours and values to your recognition programmes will not only help create that positive culture for a connection to flourish, but it will also create higher engagement and better retention rates among employees.

2. Make recognition specific

When an employee is recognised, they should know exactly what for. It’s important to be specific not only so the employee knows what they did right, or what good looks like, but also because if it’s not specific employees may not feel the recognition is sincere.

Instead of having employees play ‘guess what?’, take the mystery out of recognition by being more specific in your recognition programme.

3. Give recognition on a timely and continuous basis

To maintain the positive effects of your recognition efforts, recognition should be given on both a timely and a continuous basis. In our previous study last year, we found that over half of UK workers would prefer to be publicly thanked by their managers as and when they do good work, rather than recognised in a single annual event.

It is no surprise that workers want recognition in a timely manner. The longer that you wait to recognise someone, the more watered down that message becomes, negatively impacting the effect of that recognition.

80% of employees think that this recognition should happen on a continuous basis. Forcing employees to wait for an event where you could be recognised for your work can be disheartening, and can prevent them from feeling like the valued team member that they are.

A long-term recognition programme can be as bad as a partner only saying they love you once a year… would you stay with a partner who did that?

4. Encourage everyone to take part

Peer-to-peer recognition is also really important and a key part of building a positive culture of continuous recognition. While acknowledgement and thanks that comes from the top can feel great, having everyone recognise good work can make an even greater impact.

A peer can see what an employee is doing on a daily basis, and can see all the work that is being put in to get the desired result. Being recognised for this work from a peer can be more meaningful for employees, in comparison to recognition from managers which can often come across as a performance review.

The best moment of the Olympics is seeing the winners on the podium, when an athlete’s hours of work finally pays off and they have their time to shine, being recognised by their peers and onlookers. 

Recognition from peers can be seen as ‘an organic expression of gratitude’, as renowned American researcher Shawn Achor says, which creates a more positive impact.

Additionally, encouraging everyone to take part can help prevent some employees feeling left out. Exclusion in the workplace can be detrimental to cultivating a welcoming culture and bolstering the connections throughout the office. Those who feel excluded can feel threatened and distrusting of others, especially managers and senior staff.

Implementing recognition between peers can be as simple as encouraging employees to use eCards, or incorporating a dedicated communication channel for ad hoc peer-to-peer shout outs and praises.

However, recognition is not something you can force employees and managers to do, unless they believe in it. You need to spend time working with your managers and employees to get them to believe in the recognition programme, answer the ‘what’s in it for me?’ question, and handle any other issues that arise.

5. Create a balanced recognition programme

Like all things in life, everything must be done in balance, and your recognition programme is no exception. It’s important not to count on one plan to meet all your recognition aims, as the saying goes: don’t put all your eggs into one basket.

As mentioned previously, having a mix of manager recognition and peer-to-peer recognition is important and can positively impact your business and culture. Alongside this, you need to balance the rewards given, so not everyone is given a cash prize (or other financial incentives), so it can appeal to everyone in the workforce.

The variety and balance in your programme will mean that everyone can be recognised in a way that suits and engages them.

As mentioned previously, exclusion can be adverse to building a positive work culture and creating connections with your employees. But having a programme that accommodates everyone can combat that and really demonstrate that you care about the diverse needs of your workforce.

6. Put employees on a podium

The best moment of the Olympics is seeing the winners on the podium, when an athlete’s hours of work finally pays off and they have their time to shine, being recognised by their peers and onlookers. You should do the same for your employees, and provide them with their podium moment.

While you may not need to bring an actual podium into the office, providing employees with the moment of complete recognition can be hugely beneficial. Not only will you be recognising these employees, you can also provide an example of what great looks like for other employees, and create a motivator.

Putting a face to what good looks like makes the process feel more human and enables that connection that we’re all looking to achieve with our workforce.

The benefits of a strongly connected workforce are huge, but nurturing a connection between employers and employees is a long process. Using the above steps to implement a stronger recognition programme can help that process.

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