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Leadership Five ways to build a culture of year-round employee recognition

Paul Burrin is vice-president of Sage People at Sage

There’s a reason for the saying, “a little thank you goes a long way.” The value of recognizing employees for work well done can never be underestimated. Consider it in your own working life – being thanked for work you’ve done simply makes you feel good about yourself and your profession.

Sage People’s research found that being valued and recognized for contributions in the workplace are important to 66 per cent of 3,500 workers we polled across Canada, the United States and Britain. Not only does recognition go a long way in boosting individual employees’ morale, it can also have a significant impact on the bottom line.

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Canadian employers are recognizing the inherent value that recognition programs bring to businesses, as well as the critical part they play in increasing productivity and driving critical employee recruitment and retention programs. In fact, almost 90 per cent of Canadian organizations have some type of formal rewards and recognition program in place, according to a recent Conference Board of Canada report.

While most organizations understand the value of recognition programs, most struggle to understand what kind of appreciation employees want.

Here are our top tips for personalizing recognition programs to deliver greater value to each employee.

1. Understand what kind of appreciation employees want

Take the time to get to know your employees and what makes them tick. The types of recognition employees highlight as being the most memorable are:

  • public recognition or acknowledgment via an award, certificate or commendation;
  • private recognition from a boss, peer or customer;
  • receiving or obtaining a high level of achievement through evaluations or reviews;
  • promotion or increase in scope of work or responsibility to show trust;
  • monetary award such as a trip, prize or pay increase.

Ultimately, one employee may respond well to a verbal shout-out in the office, another may prefer private one-to-one praise, whereas someone else may feel better being rewarded via written results-driven feedback.

2. Provide instant gratification

Recognition needs to be immediate, or as close to the achievement occurring as possible. This will reinforce the behaviour you as an employer want to encourage.

Waiting for midyear and year-end reviews will be too late, and even monthly recognition is too infrequent for most organizations. On-the-spot rewards or weekly recognitions will have a higher success rate at boosting employee productivity and engagement.

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3. Link it to company values

Recognition programs tied to organizational values outperform other programs on every level, according to the annual employee recognition survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Its results showed that companies with values-based recognition schemes were more likely to deliver a strong return on investment, instill and reinforce corporate values and maintain a strong employer brand.

4. Make recognition inclusive and open to all

Recognition should be available for all employees. The exclusion of any employee or group of employees may devalue the program and result in it being deemed a biased program. You should also think about what work you are rewarding – is it output- and results-driven, or effort-focused?

Recognition may go a lot further if the person receiving it has made greater strides than others in their efforts, even if they’re not the team’s highest revenue generator. Who knows – with the right kind of recognition and encouragement, they could be in six months’ time.

5. Don’t skimp on spending

According to the Conference Board of Canada, almost 90 per cent of responding organizations have some type of formal rewards and recognition program in place. In 2016, Canadian organizations spent an average of $139 for every full-time employee on rewards and recognition.

This doesn’t necessarily have to mean a bonus or a higher salary; maybe it could be new technology investments, or funding that employees can spend on a team-building activity. Think about how this investment can continue to drive engagement.

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It should be Employee Appreciation Day every day

Friday, March 1 marked Employee Appreciation Day in Canada and the United States – a single day dedicated to strengthening the bond between employer and employee. Companies that get recognition right don’t just show their employees they value them on Employee Appreciation Day – they do this all year round.

Organizations need to let their employees know how valued and important they are to success – in actions as well as in words. This is reflected in how their employees feel about the company, the output of their work and ultimately – business performance.

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