Employees think workplace recognition gestures are empty

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It’s why annual Christmas parties to toast the year’s achievements and splashing out on company branded merch have become customary in many workplaces. 

Businesses may even have a little something up their sleeve for Employee Appreciation Day today.

But as it turns out, businesses may be wasting both their time and money because many workers view these gestures as empty. 

The HR specialist O.C. Tanner interviewed over 36,000 employees and executives across 20 countries including the U.K, the U.S. and China for its Global Culture Report—and it found that 43% of employees globally think the recognition they receive at work feels like an empty gesture and is not meaningful. 

What’s more, over a third reported receiving recognition in an uncomfortable way.

Yet the research also shows that when employees feel recognized and valued their sense of belonging increases, as does their likelihood of wanting to stay at the company for another year. 

“The majority of Global leaders are realizing the importance of appreciating their people”, says O.C. Tanner’s European managing director Robert Ordever, but “recognizing staff in a way that’s impersonal and inauthentic can have the opposite effect to what was intended, causing employees to feel invisible and dejected.”

Recognize staff from the off-set

Employee appreciation is most effective when it’s delivered in timely, personal, and meaningful ways.

With less than half of the employees surveyed reporting an onboarding experience that was more than just a day of orientation and a folder of benefits, the report recommends employers show recognition for their talent from day one. 

“Instead of handing out a water bottle or t-shirt and zipping through the company history, consider creating a curated, integrated recognition experience for new employees,” the report adds. 

This could look like a “welcome to the company” card signed by peers followed by an all-expensed team lunch with sufficient time set aside to socialize.

Most importantly, recognition can’t be a one-off tick-boxing exercise; The report stresses that showing appreciation for workers must be embedded in a company’s culture.

Integrate appreciation into the company culture

“The holy grail of recognition is to have it integrated into everyday workplace culture so that the natural response to someone going ‘above and beyond’ is to recognize them,” Ordever insists. “Organizations with highly integrated recognition regularly display great work. They also enjoy high levels of engagement, low attrition, and 80% fewer cases of burnout.”

The research also reveals that integrated recognition increases the odds of a positive employee experience and a thriving workplace culture by 391% and 646%, respectively.

Leaders can sing their staff’s praises for their everyday efforts and major achievements by including verbal recognition as part of weekly meetings, throwing a celebratory bash that highlights workers’ accomplishments that year, and splashing out on gift cards for career milestones.

“For recognition to come across as genuine and meaningful, it can’t be an afterthought but must be given with intent, with the recognition giver shining a light on the individual’s achievements. Giving appreciation publicly in front of leaders and peers also elevates the moment, making it truly memorable,” Ordever adds.

In the long-term, the more ways an organization gives its people to recognize each other, the more frequently recognition will happen. And the more frequently it happens, the more it becomes an integrated and natural part of the employee experience. 

Don’t forget management

While employee appreciation tools and events are often geared towards new hires and young talent, the report highlights that even those in management need to feel recognized.

Specifically mid and entry-level leaders are 33% and 47% less likely to feel appreciated, respectively, compared to senior leaders. They also don’t have as much access to resources and support as senior leaders do.

It means that those stepping into leadership for the first time can be easily consumed by the weight of the responsibility of their new role. 

“Leaders are employees, too. They need to feel valued, appreciated, and supported like everyone else,” the report adds, while highlighting that appreciation reduces leaders’ anxiety by 67% and stress by 52%. 

Finally, throwing money at the problem won’t suffice; the report warns businesses that increased compensation doesn’t prevent or lessen the burnout managers may be experiencing, in the same way that genuine recognition can. 

Instead, it recommends senior leaders spontaneously praise managers and deliberately thank them more often. 

“While compensation and incentives often create competition among leaders, appreciation connects and strengthens the relationships leaders have with their teams, their own leaders, and the organization,” the report adds.

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