What Employees Want (Besides Money)

This Friday marks National Employee Appreciation Day, a time for celebrating the efforts of those individuals who serve as the foundation for some of America’s greatest success stories. However, this seemingly positive day of celebration begs the question: Is a one-day tip of the hat really enough?

According to newly-released data from global employee recognition firm Globoforce, a whopping 40 percent of workers say they were not recognized in the past year. Eric Mosley, Founder and CEO of Globoforce and author of The Power of Thanks, is looking to change this.

“I do look at Employee Appreciation Day with a bit of disdain because it’s like having common decency day,” notes Mosley. It should be something we practice as part of our daily lives, not a once a year event. That said, it is a good excuse to remind ourselves of the power of appreciation and why it is often an underappreciated element of business success.

We all inherently understand the value of appreciation, explains Mosley. The challenge is how do you help your managers and employees deliberately and consistently use appreciation to release the discretionary energy of your people and allow for higher engagement and creativity. There is no doubt tremendous power in appreciating employees through recognition.

The command and control model of old corporate America has long been demonstrated to be a failing proposition, yet too many companies still rely on it. Mosley explains that we have to move from the narrow-minded thinking of solely rewarding the top 10 percent to also recognizing the middle 80 percent of people who make it work day-in and day-out. These are the people at the heart of your organization doing great things every day, yet largely go unnoticed.

The fact is 60 years of research in psychology has demonstrated that “when human beings are energized they do their best work.” The data around recognition and business performance has proliferated over the last 10 years to the point it can no longer be ignored. It’s undeniable when you look at companies like Apple, Google and Facebook that a culture of listening and recognition has become a major differentiator in driving break out results. Mosley points out these aren’t unproven Silicon Valley start-ups with cute stories and quirky offices. These are the biggest most valuable companies in the world, and they are leading the way in how we need to value and recognize employees at all levels.

When it comes to developing a culture of recognition, Mosley shared some tips for getting started:

Ingrain Real-time Recognition into the Culture

Corporate recognition programs have existed for decades, but far too often they have been disconnected from the day-to-day business. The idea is to move from a manager giving his favorite employee an award every year to a peer-to-peer model where recognition is crowdsourced and done in real time using digital technology. Mosley believes “the work itself should be what inspires recognition, which means there needs to be the opportunity for that recognition to come from peers on an ad-hoc basis.”

With the proliferation of digital mobile technology the frequency and volume of communication and opportunity for recognition has grown exponentially. Instant feedback without the friction of bureaucracy is now a reality. The key is to harness this power and ingrain it in the culture of the business. Mosley explains that when you can pull out your smartphone and use an app to send a quick thank you or shout out to a colleague while waiting for the elevator you are going to get much greater participation.

Another key factor to ingraining recognition into the culture is rethinking how it’s funded. Mosley strongly believes recognition should be a part of the organization’s compensation strategy and should be funded as a percent of payroll. This is a fundamental mind shift for HR, but an important one because recognition can’t be viewed as a nice-to-have option.

Train Everyone

There are a multitude of techniques for spotting and recognizing positive contributions. What matters is that it’s done in a timely and authentic manner where the employee genuinely feels recognized and is energized by the act. This is why it’s about more than just training your managers, it’s about training everyone. Both in the onboarding process and as part of an ongoing program you want to make sure to consistently teach your people how to spot recognition moments, use localized and meaningful rewards, and connect recognition to the brand and culture. The idea is to teach your people to recognize good performance and authentically demonstrate appreciation for how that performance makes a positive impact in a way that sustains it over the long haul. Ultimately, it’s about moving to a culture of recognition, which is shared and embraced by everyone.

Communicate and Market

According to Mosley, any major change in how an organization operates must be effectively marketed and promoted across the organization. He sees it as an opportunity to engage the organization in the importance of recognition and empower employees at all levels to be a part of the change.  

The marketing effort doesn’t necessarily have to be long-term, just long enough for the concept to take hold in the culture. In a study conducted by Stanford Business School in collaboration with Mosley’s team the researchers found that if you can get 5 to 8 percent of the workforce recognized every week for about six weeks the program will become self-perpetuating. Mosley asserts that once you have hit critical mass you can then scale back on marketing and focus more on continual tweaking to customize it to what is best for your office.