The most successful businesses recognise that the more gratitude that’s given to a company, the better it performs. People are, after all, your most valuable resource, and while some firms dangle remuneration and benefits as a carrot for meeting goals, it’s also important to look beyond monetary rewards when showing recognition for a job well done.

Employee recognition has long been a cornerstone of effective management, yet this is an art few have mastered. Proper staff appreciation looks beyond the numbers to value the people behind this success. As such, the organisations worth working for are always re-evaluating how they reward their employees.

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Unfortunately, the larger the company grows, the more this becomes a challenge, as sizeable workforces mean less attention is paid at an individual level. Hence, leaders must constantly rethink the way they keep their employees engaged and fulfilled, at the same time as supporting the organisation’s goals and core values.

Here’s how you can build an infrastructure around recognition, and use it to bolster employer branding and company culture, as well as preserve a more productive workforce.

What is employee recognition, and why does it matter?

Employee recognition is a way of supporting your staff to let them know that their work and contributions are being appreciated. It’s the act of publicly acknowledging them for who they are and what they do, which in turn makes the workplace feel more inclusive and human.

It’s part of human nature to desire positive affirmation, and many employees are thirsty for success. Staff are instilled with a sense of purpose when they know they’ve made a positive impact on both your business and the team, and as a result, they’re less likely to seek out other job opportunities outside the organisation. In the long run, this translates to higher employee retention and better employer branding — often key factors of consideration for top talent in the market.

In fact, out of 1,500 respondents polled by SurveyMonkey and Bonusly, 63% of those who were “always” or “usually” recognised said they were “very unlikely” to job hunt in the next three to six months. By contrast, only 11% of those who are “never” or “rarely” recognised would say the same.

The study said 43% of the unrecognised group are “extremely likely” to seek work elsewhere – but only 9% of the happier cohort would. Out of all respondents, 82% stated that they were happier when they were recognised at work, which drives up motivation and productivity by several notches, creating a positive company culture and effective workforce.

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Tips for creating a meaningful employee recognition program

1. Be specific

Recognition is always more meaningful when tied to a specific accomplishment as opposed to a generic compliment — be it hitting a sales goal or finally achieving a career breakthrough. Being specific also makes it easier for employees to relate the recognition to their work. This approach encourages them to repeat the successful behaviours while acting as motivation to match, or even better, their performance thereafter.

2. Be creative

In order to reap the benefits of a culture infused with gratitude, re-think what it means to show appreciation in the workplace. A successful recognition program doesn’t always have to involve cash, which in most cases will only temporarily boost morale. Younger employees are hungrier for career growth. They want to be rewarded with new opportunities to grow and develop additional skill sets — whether it’s through classes, business trips or networking events.

According to Margaret Graziano, an organisational culture architect, 80% of the working population doesn’t see money as a lever that leads to engagement or incentivisation. Instead, 40% of these people want other kinds of workplace recompense such as educational opportunities, rewarding and challenging projects, or a feeling of advancement. The other 40% want to feel emotionally connected to the mission and service of the organisation, as well as to the clients they serve.

3. Be timely

In the same way, that old news is far less relevant, giving recognition months after the work has been done isn’t nearly as meaningful as when it is given promptly. Late appreciation can even be seen as contrived – or even a last-minute attempt to win back employee trust. Make employee recognition a conscious priority and have formal systems in place so that you won’t miss a timely opportunity to recognise your employees’ achievements.

Related: How the best companies are attracting the talent they want

Does employee recognition improve employee engagement?

According to Gallup, only one in three workers surveyed has strongly agreed that they received recognition or praise for doing good work in the past seven days. It’s also common for employees to feel that their efforts are ignored by their managers, and those who do not feel adequately recognised are twice as likely to quit in the next year.

With this mindset, it’s hard for employees not only to feel motivated but also to gain a sense of accomplishment and value in their hard work. Apple, for example, is one such company that has understood and recognised the efforts of its workforce as integral to the company’s success over the years. The Cupertino-based firm has offered perks such as extended, paid holidays during Thanksgiving following a very successful year. But it has also thoughtfully customised the reward based on location and job role, by offering workers in different parts of the world the same paid time off during an equivalent holiday.

Google, meanwhile, has created the ‘gThanks’ program, in which employees can give recognition to their co-workers for a job well done. This recognition program goes even further by allowing staff to nominate each other through the peer-bonuses program, whereby colleagues can receive a bonus of US$175. There’s even a so-called “Wall of Happy”, where staff can place thank-you notes and emails that spotlight the hard work and achievements of their peers, in order to thank and motivate others. With these types of initiatives, it’s little surprise that Apple and Google have been consistently ranked highly in Fortune’s “Best Companies to Work For” list, as well as in Glassdoor’s “Best Places to Work” list every year.

As one of the key drivers for productivity, employer branding and ultimately retention, employee recognition should be an integral part of a company’s HR strategy. The direct link between appreciation and rewards shouldn’t be ignored. A survey by Achievers found that 44% of respondents who were planning to switch jobs cited a lack of recognition as the number one reason, while 69% said that a better recognition program would encourage them to stay.

Implementing the right management tools to keep track of performance and highlight exceptional work will give your employees the extra push they need to stay motivated — even more so during mentally trying times like these.

Interested in learning more? Download our Talent Trends 2021 report here.

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