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Key Recognition Trends Driving Employee Engagement

By Steve Pepper, SHRM-CP, PHR, Director of Human Resources, Hebrew SeniorLife (HSL), Harvard Medical School Affiliate

Steve Pepper, SHRM-CP, PHR, Director of Human Resources, Hebrew SeniorLife (HSL), Harvard Medical School Affiliate

The adage, “It costs less to retain a good employee than to recruit a new one,” is truer than ever before. The 3.7 percent U.S. unemployment rate has made talent acquisition hypercompetitive; as leading organizations apply a full-court press in recruitment, they are also re-imagining their employee engagement strategies to improve retention. An essential element of employee engagement and retention is recognition, and there are several high tech and high touch recognition trends on the horizon.

A recent Gallup survey states 34 percent of U.S. workers are engaged, a six point increase over the last 10 years. Why it matters: Numerous studies have shown a correlation between levels of employee engagement and overall organizational performance. One such study published in the International Journal of Business Management, states, “Research indicates that the more engaged employees are, the more likely their employer is to exceed the industry average in its revenue growth. Employee engagement is found to be higher in double-digit growth companies.”

"An essential element of employee engagement and retention is recognition, and there are several high tech and high touch recognition trends on the horizon"

Recent surveys also see a growing trend between employee recognition, satisfaction, retention, and engagement. Approximately 68 percent of human resource professionals polled in a Society of Human Resource Management survey state that employee recognition has a positive impact on retention; 56 percent said such programs also help with recruitment.

While facts abound connecting recognition, retention, engagement, and the bottom line, let’s discuss some innovative trends and considerations that organizations incorporate into their employee recognition and retention strategies today:

• Living the company culture and values. Successful recognition programs are a manifestation of organizational values and beliefs. Organizations with engaged workforces make values-based recognition the centerpiece of their everyday culture.

• Alignment between the external and internal brand. Organizations are increasingly aware that alignment of their “external face” and “internal face” is critical in employee engagement. They are consistently looking for ways to ensure their recognition programs integrate successfully into one unified brand.

• In-the-moment recognition. Modern recognition programs are nimble, incorporating real-time feedback and larger, coordinated efforts. A simple “thank-you” in the moment goes a long way towards employee satisfaction and engagement. Recognition storytelling at the start of meetings can foster stronger teamwork and increase productivity. High touch moments such as these that ladder-up into more structured cross-organization recognition and rewards programs can drive an organization’s employee engagement.

• 360 degree participation. Leading organizations foster an environment of recognition throughout all levels internally and externally. While innovative peer-to-peer programs are on the rise, 360 degree recognition programs include customer and partner nominations and feedback. Expect to see both high-tech and low-tech methods of celebrating these recommendations and rewards. For example, a culinary organization may want to introduce an award for outstanding staffers identified online by patrons sitting tableside or a health care manager or patient may want to nominate a nurse in a third party recognition event.

Last, but not least, ask what matters. Increasingly, recognition programs are not one-size-fits-all. Sometimes a little personalization can make a major impact. For example, a cultural belief at Harvard Medical School affiliate Hebrew SeniorLife is “Ask What Matters.” In honoring our first 50-year employee and establishing the protocol for golden anniversaries to follow, we asked our first honoree what mattered most in celebrating his achievement. His response, “I’d like to go to Disney World,” and thus a new tradition began.

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