Do you ever feel confused about what employee recognition is really all about?
I want to help you get unstuck – in fact, I want you to think about recognition in a completely different way. But first, let’s do a quick dive into to the world of employee recognition. Then, I promise to give you a perspective on recognition you might not have considered before.
How Do You Define Employee Recognition?
Let’s look at some of the common definitions professional associations provide to leaders, managers and employees about employee recognition. Recognition Professionals International (RPI) is a professional association providing education and insights on employee recognition for recognition practitioners, managers, and industry vendors and providers. They define recognition as the “after-the-fact appreciation for desired behavior, effort, or result that supports goals and values.”
This seems pretty good, for the most part.
The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), which helps HR professionals manage and serve people at work, calls employee recognition “an acknowledgment of employee achievement”. At the same time, SHRM states recognition can be either public or private and can involve either monetary reward or nonmonetary reward.
Confused yet? When you begin to couple the word recognition with rewards the definition of recognition starts to get blurry. But wait…there’s more!
The Incentive Marketing Association (IMA), which “leads incentive professionals and the corporate community as the premier educator and information source in the incentive marketplace” naturally has a more reward-focused viewpoint. Their definition of recognition is based solely on incentives, namely, “something, such as the expectation of reward, which induces action, or motivates effort.” Is this a slippery slope to creating problems or what?
Now let’s move on to WorldatWork, the global human resources association focused on compensation, benefits, work-life and integrated total rewards. In their membership association glossary, “total rewards” is defined as “monetary and non-monetary returns provided to employees in exchange for their time, talents, efforts and results.”
What about extrinsic vs. intrinsic rewards?
WorldatWork describes extrinsic rewards as “work-related rewards received for performance that has value measurable in monetary or financial terms.” They describe intrinsic rewards (which I know they wanted to say is recognition, but don’t) as “associated with the job itself, such as the opportunity to perform meaningful work, complete cycles of work, see finished products, experience variety, receive professional development training, enjoy good relations with co-workers and supervisors and receive feedback on work results.”
Just to further mix things up, comp and ben folks call recognition “intrinsic rewards”. What’s a person to do?
After describing these varying (and confusing) viewpoints, I’m almost ready to share with you a different way to think about recognition. Let me preface my statement by saying that when you give people recognition you don’t have to give them a reward. But when you give a reward you must always accompany it with recognition.
Still following? Let’s continue…
Measuring Employee Engagement: Are You Asking The Right Questions?
I help organizations decouple the recognition and rewards conundrum so they can start giving real recognition the right way at work. Once recognition is clearly and simply defined then you have the means to measure it.
You also have to know what you are measuring when you ask questions on an employee engagement survey. Otherwise, you might end up with questions like, “Do you feel recognized and rewarded for doing good work?” (There’s that reward word again!).
One way is to avoid two-pronged questions and focus on one specific issue instead – in this case, feeling recognized. Many surveys will ask questions like, “Do you feel valued and appreciated for the contributions you make on the job?” People want to know they are valued and making a difference with their work. Or surveys might dig deeper on the frequency of recognition received like, “How often do you receive recognition for your work from a supervisor?”
Gallup’s famous Q12 Survey uses short and sweet statements like “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.” You’ll see all kinds of variations on that one.
Yet, with all these engagement surveys, over so many years of conducting them, somehow employee recognition continues to score poorly in many organizations. Perhaps there is a better way to think about recognition.
For a long time, I defined “real” recognition as any thought, word or deed toward making someone feel appreciated for who they are and recognized for what they do. But we can appreciate others without requiring them to produce anything or move the dial on some performance metric. We can simply appreciate people for their talents, attributes, ethnic background, family and life experience, personal interests, skills, hobbies and abilities.
And how often should we recognize individual efforts? Too many employees tell me they only get “recognized” when a project is completed and the task is done – even if that takes weeks or months complete. When we ignore collaborative effort and do not provide regular recognition throughout the project, it can be hurtful and impact employee morale, motivation, and productivity.
Finally, think about this. Engagement survey questions often ask how employees “feel” but are leaders, managers and supervisors putting authentic “feeling” when they recognize their employees?
Real Recognition Is An Emotional Investment
Real Recognition is not only “an after-the-fact appreciation” nor is it just “an acknowledgment of employee achievement.” And it does not have to be anything “tangible or reward-like in nature.”
Recognition is the transfer of emotions and feelings from one person to another.
Whether it is a verbal or written expression of acknowledgment, praise or recognition, it should be done with real feelings and authenticity or else it becomes rote and mechanical. People can feel the difference. When a token of appreciation is given, an emotional investment is made to find the right kind of gift that speaks volumes beyond what words could do.
You know you are being appreciated with genuineness when a person sits down with you and asks how you are really doing.
A colleague stops doing their own work to help you with a challenging work task. They are valuing the work you do and demonstrating empathy and compassion for your situation. They recognized your needs and acted on their feelings to help you. You know you are being appreciated with genuineness when a person sits down with you and asks how you are really doing. Then you truly feel their love and their concern.
From now on, I’ll be looking at recognition through a completely different lens. When I recognize someone, I will stop and think: How can I best transfer the positive feelings inside me and convey those emotions to another person so they can feel them inside too?
Recognition is a low cost, high impact way to improve overall employee morale and contribute to a positive workplace culture. I hope you’ll take some time to reflect on this new definition of recognition when you are engaging with your team.