The psychology of workplace recognition

Research has found that recognition in the workplace has a huge impact on employee engagement, retention, motivation, and satisfaction, as well as on feelings of trust and belonging in the workplace. It also effects how employees view their role and their work, with those who have experienced recognition and reward feeling more appreciated and happier in the workplace, feeling prouder of their work, having stronger employee relationships, and having more favourable attitudes towards their company. It’s quite clear that workplace appreciation and gratitude can have a host of beneficial impacts for the workplace – so what are the psychological mechanisms that are in play when it comes to the positive impacts of employee recognition? And what can companies do to ensure that their workforce feels valued and recognised?

The impact of gratitude

One of the most important factors involved in the beneficial impacts of workplace recognition is gratitude, and the psychological effects that gratitude has on us. When we are shown appreciation and gratitude, the hypothalamus area of the brain is activated, and the neurotransmitter dopamine is released – this neurotransmitter is often known as the “reward” neurotransmitter, as it feels good, and it results in us repeating the actions that result in its release. Therefore, when we are shown gratitude, in engages our brain in a virtuous cycle, that makes us re-engage in those behaviours which elicit gratitude and release dopamine.

These dopamine boosts not only feel good, but they also improve sleep habits, increase metabolism, and reduce stress. Therefore, workplace recognition is going to have a beneficial impact on employee well-being and health, which will in turn have positive knock-on effects in terms of employee engagement and motivation.

Furthermore, showing recognition and appreciation to colleagues encourages more social and prosocial interaction. So when employees are shown gratitude in the workplace, they are more likely to spread their positive feelings with their peers, through altruistic and helpful acts – and as acts of kindness in the workplace have been shown to increase work performance and productivity, this is another example of the potential positive impact of implementing a culture of recognition and appreciation in an organisation.

Increasing workplace recognition

Despite the well-established positive effects of workplace recognition, the American Psychological Association (APA) found that only 51% of working Americans felt valued by their employers, while 36% reported receiving no form of recognition in the past 12 months. So it would appear that many employers are not taking advantage of the benefits that workplace recognition and reward can deliver – but there are some simple steps that can be taken, in order to improve employee recognition, and to make it a priority in the workplace:

  • Make it personal: there are many different ways in which a employee can be rewarded for their hard work, but the most important thing is that the employee is shown gratitude for their individual contribution – there is a big difference between a company-wide email of appreciation sent to everyone involved in a project, compared to an individually-tailored card, email, note, or meeting, outlining the specific role that an individual has played in achieving a positive outcome for the organisation.
  • Facilitate peer-to-peer recognition: acknowledgements from colleagues can be just as valued, if not more valued, than recognition from management. Peer-to-peer recognition programmes can be introduced, which encourage co-workers to demonstrate gratitude and appreciation towards one another – perhaps through one-on-one meetings, group sessions, or feedback forms.
  • Do some research and investigation: not all of your workforce will value the same types of recognition. You can learn about what the individual preferences of your employees are through surveys and meetings, and you can therefore find out what types of incentives might motivate the different individuals in the organisation.
  • Build recognition skills: familiarise yourself with the characteristics of effective recognition and how to apply them, by talking to HR experts, CEOs, or organisational psychologists – get to know the different types of effective rewards, and how best to implement them in the workplace.
  • Make it fun: aside from the more standard incentives and rewards, such as gift cards and bonuses, employees will also appreciate more creative and fun methods of recognition, which don’t have to involve much expense. A rotating trophy or plaque for the best team-player, a fun day out for a whole team, or the renting of a karaoke machine/chocolate fountain are some fun examples, which will demonstrate to employees that time and consideration has gone into making sure that they are acknowledged and shown appreciation.

 

Guest Author: Counseling Psychologist, Dr. Jennifer Fennel

 

Sources:

https://www.slideshare.net/globoforce/the-psychology-of-recognition-at-work

https://www.emergenetics.com/blog/workplace-appreciation-gratitude/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/prefrontal-nudity/201211/the-grateful-brain

https://chiefexecutive.net/psychology-employee-recognition/

http://www.hrmonline.com.au/section/strategic-hr/10-ways-improve-employee-recognition/

Recognition “Trumps” Rewards

As employees, we love to be appreciated. Even those of us who love our job for what it is, we still like to get that pat on the back every so often to acknowledge that we’re doing it well. The World Health Organisation says that this recognition is “one of the most important factors which increases motivation and satisfaction”. Studies repeatedly show that praise and feedback have a greater impact on employee performance than pay-by-performance incentives, yet a 2015 study published by Achievers found that 57% of employees surveyed didn’t feel as though their progress at work had been recognised. In an increasingly competitive market, establishing a progressive culture and strong employer brand is vital to attracting and retaining talent. According to Forbes, companies which scored in the top 20% for building a “recognition-rich culture” had a 31% lower voluntary turnover rate than those who didn’t. On the other side of this, a lack of recognition will reduce productivity, diminish performance and negatively impact employee engagement.

Historically, manager-to-peer recognition has been considered the most impactful, however, with changing corporate dynamics and a more cross-functional workforce, it is now considered that peer-to-peer recognition has a greater effect on employee performance. That’s not to say organisations should choose one over the other; any good recognition and rewards (R&R) software will facilitate multiple options, as well as a host of other features to help organisations enhance their culture. Here are the top six features you should keep an eye out for in an R&R software:

Top R&R features and why they matter

1. Setting Company Values & Behaviours

Is the most important one! It’s the primary feature which allows employers to strategically support the ethos and values of their organisation. Enhancing culture is a fundamental function of workplace recognition programmes, but without an ability to define company values, the benefit is almost obsolete. Not all R&R providers offer this feature, so it is worth taking the time to research who does and how it works.

2. Employee-to-Employee Recognition

Even though there is significant research to indicate that peer-to-peer recognition has a positive impact on performance, this capability is lacking from most R&R software on the market. Facilitating peers to thank one another creates a culture of teamwork.

3. Manager-to-Employee Recognition

A fundamental feature, and one which comes as an industry standard. Allowing managers to recognise positive contribution for specific tasks and projects improves moral and supports the work culture of progressive companies.

4. Rewards

Not all providers offer a reward facility, and only a handful offer peer-to-peer rewards. Rewarding is a great feature, but be sure the software you choose includes ‘manager controls’, so reward values are set by management and approved by team leaders. This control does not come as standard from most providers but is important to maintain fair play. We’ve all heard horror stories around this type of feature so take the time to understand how the reward process works. Be sure to also check what rewards will be available; there’s no point having a reward catalogue that doesn’t appeal to your employees.

5. Social feed

Making employee recognitions (and rewards) visible company-wide reinforces the associated psychological benefits. A handful of providers offer this; some can even facilitate liking and commenting to encourage further peer-to-peer interaction.

6. Analytics

Any R&R software worth its salt should make the lives of HR managers easier by facilitating comprehensive reporting and analytics. Company-wide data and team drill downs should help employers to see trends and identify values or behaviours which are not being supported by employee contribution and provide vital data for improved talent management.

The list goes on. Your R&R program could also include niceties such as being company branded, mobile optimised, or cloud hosted, and with varying designs and user experiences. Take the time to research which suppliers offer the most comprehensive solution!

To find out about Wrkit Recognition & Rewards speak to our team today – info@wrkit.com

Author – Peter Jenkinson, Director of Business Development, Wrkit.