The Great Recognition: 5 tips to foster employee value & engagement

By Chris Swan, Managing Director, TRANSEARCH USA

‘Should I stay or should I go?’ Music fans will know this as the iconic title of a hit song by English punk rock band The Clash.

For employees the world over, it’s the existential question about work today. Indeed, a massive global survey of over 30,000 Microsoft employees found more than 40% of their workers are thinking of quitting.

While numerous experts have cited this trend as part of the Great Resignation, we believe a key group of people is being ignored; the folks who are staying. While they continue to plug away, they are still very much at risk of leaving in the absence of being authentically valued and engaged. They are also more likely to burn out because they’re picking up the slack left by the droves who quit.

Research by Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Ashley V. Whillans found, quite disturbingly, that more than 80% of American employees do not feel recognized at work. Moreover, more than 50% of people who hand in their letters of resignation say they hit the road because they don’t feel valued by their organization, according to a McKinsey study.

What does all this point us to? As noted in Forbes by author and business leader Brian Fielkow, we need to refocus and shine the spotlight on the bootstrappers who are staying - “We should instead talk about the ‘Great Recognition.’ Recognition that highly engaged employees are less likely to leave.”

Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace Report found that international employee engagement levels are 20%, an extremely low rate when you consider what engaged and disengaged workers mean for businesses:

  • Highly engaged teams are 14% to 18% more productive than low engagement teams
  • Disengaged teams see turnover rates 18% to 43% higher than highly engaged teams

So what can we do to foster enduring and meaningful employee engagement, recognition and show people they are truly valued? Here are 5 key tips:

1. Conduct ‘why do you stay’ interviews?

One of the most common practices in HR is the exit interview - asking an employee who quit why they chose to leave and having a fulsome discussion about it. But in the context we’re in today, with record numbers of workers heading for the exits - or thinking about it - why not take a more preventative approach and ask people why they stay? Stay or retention interviews are conversations designed to unearth what are the pull factors that keep an employee. They empower employees to share their concerns and appreciation for what’s working. They arm workers with a voice they otherwise might not have. That becomes a tool of engagement, recognition, and value. It also sheds light on what large groups of employees find engaging/disengaging at work, which can help companies enhance employee outreach, ultimately leading to greater retention.

2. Plant the seeds people need to grow

Harvey Firestone, the founder of Firestone Tires, once said “the growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.” It’s implicit that people are looking for growth opportunities in their roles. And we know growth opportunities are a major driver of employee engagement. Workers are looking to be challenged. They look to progress and achieve. Companies must collaborate with team members to map out their career plans. Career development needs to be an ongoing conversation, with goal-setting sessions and check-ins to see where people are in realizing their aspirations.

Planting the seeds of growth is also a win for the company, as it ensures employee ambitions are aligned with the organization’s strategic aims. Plus, workers see the merits in being part of a team where they gain new experience and build skills. And remember, the best teams have great coaches, so make sure managers have the tools they need to motivate and positively push people to keep advancing.

3. Foster belonging

Following the disruption and chaos caused by the pandemic, combined with the strife of labor shortages, soaring inflation, and geopolitical instability, people are craving certainty. One of the top places they look to for that is through a sense of belonging at work. According to a Qualtrics study of nearly 12,000 workers, only 20% of employees who feel they don’t belong are engaged versus 91% of those who feel they do. People who feel like they belong are almost three times as likely to have a greater sense of well-being.

Belonging or fitting in is very much a core human need. At work, managers can nurture a solid sense of belonging amongst staff by creating a climate of trust, listening to employee perspectives, and supporting their people through constant change. As Qualtrics scientist Thivia Mogan notes, “treating employees with respect, taking action on their feedback, and recognizing their contributionsare ways to show employees that they matter.”

4. Give constructive feedback

What better way to show an employee they are valued and that you care about their development than by supplying constructive, meaningful feedback. Research from author Christine Porath shows organizations with a higher level of feedback report 63% higher engagement and 79% higher job satisfaction. The fact people who receive more feedback are 1.2 times more likely to stay at a company should be particularly compelling in today's talent-scarce environment.

As members of a team help one another improve through feedback, they create a feedback loop - each person receives and gives useful feedback. The more this happens, the stronger connections between team members are cemented. What evolves is a culture where team members have a direct stake in their own development and the company’s future. The workplace becomes a safe, protected space, where members can grow stronger.

5. Establish a robust recognition program

In the simplest terms, being appreciated feels really good. Whether it’s a big reward, a thank you note, a gift card, or a full-fledged game leaderboard showcasing individual accomplishments, having a robust recognition program helps validate people. In 2015, LinkedIn launched Bravo!, a recognition and rewards program where peers recognize a colleague for their contributions and for living the organization’s core values. To say the least, the undertaking has been a massive success, with a 96% retention rate for all employees who receive 4+ Bravo! awards.

Values-based recognition is powerful because it encourages employees to work towards a common vision. For example, when people are recognized for living a shared company value, like LinkedIn’s value of ‘inspiring excellence,’ it reinforces that value and serves to embed it in the organization’s culture. In this way, the recognition becomes more meaningful because it’s part of the bedrock of the company. And be sure to recognize regularly. Data shows when team members are recognized regularly, it leads to more engaged employees, stronger business results, and lower turnover. Moreover, 71%of highly engaged employees work in organizations that recognize employees at least once per month.

Bottom line: Show people you value their contributions, cultivate a culture where they truly belong, and arm them with the tools they need to advance and you are far more likely to reap the benefits of a Great Recognition, instead of a Great Resignation.

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