How Recognition Improves Employee Engagement and Company Culture


Feeling the need to be useful is basic human nature. People need to be recognized for a job well done. They want the satisfaction of knowing that they accomplished something that was meaningful to their team and beyond. In addition, they need those rewards to motivate them to stay engaged. 

Recognition is the key to building connections at the office, says Allyson Tom, Vice President of People and Culture at Blueboard. Recently, Tom participated in a fireside chat that was part of the HR Exchange Network’s Talent Exchange Live 2021 online event. She offered her best advice on how to use a system of recognition to inspire employees, increase retention, and motivate teams. 

WATCH: Fireside Chat – Recognition: The Key to Building Connection 

Nearly 70% of the session’s participants said they strongly agree that an employee’s connection is a critical part of the overall success of their organization. But more than 46% of partipants said they were neutral on the subject of whether their organization was effective at fostering employee connection. About 27% said they didn’t think their organization was effective at creating connections. Part of the problem, says Tom, is the fact that people rarely talk directly about recognition programs or making connections. 

“I think the idea of employee connection is not something we talk about,” says Tom. “But I think that it is something that is folded into conversations about employee engagement and especially when we start talking about things like retention and really wanting to develop and grow our top talent.”

Employee Engagement Should Be Top of Mind

Recruiting and retention are the biggest challenges for people leaders, according to the Work Trend Index, which Tom cited during her presentation. After all, 41% of employees are considering leaving their current employer this year, and 46% said they would likely exit because they can work remotely. The cost of replacing an employee is worth six to nine months of their salary. 

“The things that are keeping me up at night are all of the questions about retention and this idea of the Great Resignation that we keep hearing about over and over again,” says Tom. 

The other top problems facing HR leaders are recruiting, DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) strategies, and emlpoyee engagement, especially as it relates to hybrid work. Together these challenges have forced organizations to adapt and become more intentional about building their culture, says Tom. 

Help Stop Burnout

Everyone is under tremendous stress. As a result, burnout is another challenge that Tom feels is a top priority for people leaders. More than half of employees are feeling overworked, according to the Work Trend Index. One in five respondents of that survey said their employer doesn’t care about their work-life balance. And 39% of respondents said they feel exhausted.

Tom pointed out that Gen Z employees are more susceptible to burnout with 61% of them expressing this feeling versus 54% of the others. Companies with younger staff must address their concerns accordingly. 

Many HR leaders tend to see all these challenges, focus on one problem, and hope the others will work themselves out. But Tom suggests taking a holistic approach. 

“Creating connection with employees will help you address all of the challenges,” she says. “It won’t be a silver bullet, but it will help you incrementally improve and make progress in so many of the areas, not just one.” 

Some ways that Tom suggests you can engage employees include: 

  • Ensuring managers have the skills to support their employees
  • Creating opportunities for individual contributors to continue to develop their skillset 
  • Demonstrating how an individual’s work contributes to the overall success of the organization
  • Building the culture of gratitude by recognizing and appreciating employee achievements

Why Start with Recognition?

Tom admits that some people might find it strange to begin employee engagement strategies with recognition. But she argues that 69% of employees are more likely to stay at a company if they receive more recognition, according to HR Technologist 2020: 6 Statistics That Confirm Employee Recognition and Retention Are Related. Besides, recognition and rewards are readily available to most. 

“It can sometimes be really daunting to think about rolling out an entire learning and development program or a full-blown leadership program. That also takes a lot of resources and likely a lot of planning. It can be difficult to start on those areas,” says Tom. “Recognition is something that every people leader or organization has in some form or another. It’s just about expanding upon those programs and making sure the impact and intention of those programs are coming through.”

Recognition helps to foster a culture of belonging and inclusion. It doesn’t require many resources to recognize someone for outstanding work. Of course, there are more elaborate ways to reward employees.

For example, the Trade Desk, a Blueboard client, uses Blueboard spot rewards to recognize employees who are living their values and demonstrating generosity and a full heart. They give them the chance to have incredible experiences related to their passions. They share their stories with the team, and it builds excitement. Then, others want to win and live out their own story, says Tom. 

But recognition can be as simple as making a habit of applauding little and big successes at meetings or writing thank you emails to your team. Tom warns that the biggest mistake is to sit idly by and never take any action. 

“Just start somewhere,” says Tom, “and know that you are bringing value to your team.” 

Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich for Pexels

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