“Why should I recognize employees when they’re just doing their jobs?”
Roy Saunderson, president and founder of Rideau Recognition Solutions’ Recognition Management Institute hears managers ask that question all too often. But, as he observes in his article, “Training Managers to Give Employee Recognition” for the APA Center for Organizational Excellence:

“The contractual work agreement is not the sole reward; there is a psychological, emotional and purposeful recognition-based piece that many of us long for.”

The Society for Human Resource Management outlines the objective of employee recognition this way,

“The goal of employee recognition is to show appreciation for an employee’s achievement and motivate employees to continue with good performance and loyalty to company. Successful employee recognition will help the organization to retain key employees and keep employees happy along the way.”

Employee Recognition in Action

City Of St. Petersburg, Fla., Sunken Gardens. Service #1 award to St. Pete Fire & Rescue group.

Why the Disconnect?
Saunderson cites a WorldatWork Trends in Employee Recognition survey that reports nearly 9 in 10 responding organizations have recognition programs in place. Yet of nearly 4 million employees surveyed in a Gallup Organization “Q12” survey, 65% perceived that they’d received no recognition at all on the job the previous year.
Recognition contributes to the success of a business, to its survival, really. That’s why it’s critical that managers learn how to recognize their employees and show their gratitude often. They also need to learn why giving recognition and rewards is important and how it benefits them, their employees, and their companies.
That knowledge may not come naturally, especially for supervisors or managers promoted from within because of their technical skills and potential rather than their management experience.
Educate Managers About Employee Recognition: the Whys and Hows
Employees need to learn the whys and hows behind recognition programs, and managers need to be prepared to reinforce that learning and lead by example.  It’s up to leaders to model the recognition behaviors expected from managers and set expectations.
Leaders who understand the power of recognition walk the talk by thanking managers publicly in meetings for a job well done or a team going above and beyond, as well as sending personal handwritten thank you notes when deserved.  It’s a lot easier for managers to share recognition with reports when they benefit themselves and understand the value of it.
Leadership commitment and modeling is critical for creating a culture of appreciation.  Saunderson reminds us research identifies two key factors that are mostly likely to get in the way of organizational success:

  1. Lack of involvement by upper level management.
  2. Lack of on-the-job reinforcement of the learning.

Educate Employees and Reinforce the Learning
Saunderson offers a list of things leaders should do with managers as part of recognition training:

  • Meet with the potential learners to set expectations for applying the learning upon employees’ return so they can see how recognition can make an impact from day one.
  • Maximize managers’ accountability and enlist social reinforcement of peers if possible. Giving recognition may not be easy for everyone so allowing for partnering with other managers for role-playing and support can help.
  • Offer mentorship opportunities. Encourage new managers or managers new to recognition activities an opportunity to learn from more experienced managers.
  • Write a learning contract with expectations of both the learner and the manager.
  • Encourage and recognize your hard-working learners. Make sure they know their efforts are vital to building a successful workplace.
  • Expect a report upon return—schedule follow-up meetings before managers even attend training.  Schedule follow-up on an agreed to basis over the year to ensure skills are successfully taking root and used.

Design Employee Recognition Programs Thoughtfully
Of course, the design of your employee recognition program is important too. A quick reminder from SHRM suggests the following:

  • Offer employee reward options.
  • Identify what’s meaningful to your employees.
  • Keep employee recognition fresh.
  • Recognize all levels of employees.
  • Make sure recognition is given consistently.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Keep it adaptable.
  • Make it timely.

It’s up to leaders to help managers make recognition-giving become a way of life—a part of the culture—and not just another program-of-the-month scenario, Saunderson emphasizes.
For more on fostering a lasting culture of compassion, appreciation and happiness in your workplace, download our FREE Guide to Winning with Workplace Gratitude.
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