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Get Creative with your Employee Recognition Program and Watch Employee Engagement Soar

By Stephanie A. Miller, Director, Associate Relations U.S., Lowe's Companies, Inc.

Stephanie A. Miller, Director, Associate Relations U.S., Lowe's Companies, Inc.

Employee recognition programs have a positive impact on employee workplace happiness. Strong recognition programs result in less voluntary resignations, increased productivity, a strong employment brand, and adds humanity to the work environment. According to an Office vibe study, the number one reason most American workers leave their jobs is because they don’t feel appreciated. Hence, it is worth investing time in building a strong employee recognition program or retooling your existing program to avoid the high costs of employee turnover and cultivate an engaged and motivated workplace. 

"Be creative when building or enhancing employee recognition programs"

The purpose of this article is to offer recognition program ideas and the keys to a successful program. Before moving into program ideas, however, let’s review the science behind employee recognition programs. The reason showing employees appreciation is so important is due to the physiological impact it has on individuals. When someone is recognized for a job well done, the brain releases a chemical called dopamine. The release of dopamine supports energy & motivation, promotes focus & mental clarity, and improves mood & stress response. 

But the rush of dopamine following recognition wears off quickly – and employees constantly crave recognition because of the post-dopamine release of “good feelings.” Employees want to perform well, so when they are recognized for their good work, the likelihood of doing more good work is much higher.

Recognition Program Ideas

Employees seek their managers’ approval – and managers need to show them that they notice their hard work. Acts of recognition can be small and spontaneous or extravagant and generous. The following includes some reminders on tried and true program suggestions while others are less conventional, yet ideas worth exploring. Whatever the components of your organization’s recognition program, the key is to find the right combination of ideas that employees will find exciting and meaningful. 

Use Social Media: Post recognition on the Company’s social media accounts. Celebrating employees through social medial helps executives reach their employees, encourages peer-to-peer acknowledgment (i.e., comments, retweets/re-posts, etc.), and can be an effective tool to boost morale. Word of caution: not everyone loves the public limelight – be careful using social media to celebrate individuals unless you are certain that they will welcome the attention.

Shout Outs at Meetings: A manager’s discussion of the specifics of their employee’s job well done at meetings can be a great way to celebrate employee achievements. However, just as with using social media, be sure that your employees are comfortable receiving public praise.

Monday Morning Gratitude: At the start of each week, managers can tell the team what they’re grateful for. Be specific and encourage your team to add their thoughts on what they, too, are grateful for.

Recognize High Performers as “Gurus:” Recognizing high performers as “experts” means they’ve been designated to teach newer team members. Ensure that they have the aptitude to teach and train as not everyone can transfer their knowledge to others.

Managers Should Be Knowledgeable Admirers: Managers should be specific when thanking/complimenting their employees. Being specific shows employees that their managers get what they’re doing helps the company.

Daily Thoughtfulness: Managers should use a personal touch when thanking/complimenting employees – this means using handwritten notes. Do small things like allowing employees to occasionally leave early, take them to lunch, etc. Small celebrations are just as meaningful to employees as more elaborate rewards.

Peer-to-Peer Recognition: Employees like to be recognized by their peers – sometimes more than by their managers. The reason peer recognition can be so powerful is because co workers are doing and understand the work. Additionally, according to SHRM, 41% of organizations that use peer-driven recognition have seen an increase in customer satisfaction. Most often, peer-to-peer recognition is demonstrated through gratitude of one another. When a culture of gratitude is fostered, employees seem happier and are more likely to help each other.

Keys to a Successful Program

Having great ideas for a recognition program is only half of the equation – ensuring the program is executed properly by frequently leveraging the recognition program, encouraging participation, and communicating A LOT about the program is key to its success.

In sum, effective recognition programs are imperative to boosting employee engagement. Be creative when building or enhancing employee recognition programs – and focusing on recognizing frequently, encouraging participation, and communicating often will help ensure successful implementation.

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