What Managers Need to Know About Employee Recognition

A Psychometrics survey reported that 58% of employees say that recognition is a motivating driver and would inspire them to produce great work. That’s a clear business case for employee recognition programs, but these are not always easy to execute, especially when everyone wants to be recognized differently. Surveys or research may indicate that there are differences in generational workers about what they want to be recognized for and how they want to receive it, but when you get to the core of an individual, there are some simple things that we want when it comes to being recognized as an employee. Managers, here’s what I want you to consider the next time you deliver employee recognition:

Make It Feel Authentic. Whether it’s written or verbal, I want my manager’s message to be genuine. It doesn’t have to be overly dramatic or exaggerated, just authentic. I’ve seen and heard recognition delivered in a contrived way. I’m sure the message had good intentions, but when it lacks authenticity, it feels forced—like my manager had to do it. I’d much rather not be recognized if it’s not genuine.

Be Specific and Tell Me Why. I think a lot of us have received the “Way to go; good job!” or “Thanks for being awesome!” kudos from a manager. I’ve heard it myself, and I don’t understand it. I don’t know what I did that was considered a good job, or what I did that made me awesome. When I’m told I’m doing a good job or that I’m awesome, I want to know exactly what it is that’s making an impression on my manager so that I can do it again or emphasize it more. Managers give appreciation to employees with shallow comments like these, and it tells us nothing specific about what we’re doing well and why you appreciate it. As your employee, tell me specifically what I’m doing or why you appreciate what I’m doing because I will be motivated to do it again.

I Like Being Recognized by Others. I don’t need or want recognition to come from my manager always. Employees like and appreciate hearing from peers, and especially from others who they don’t usually work with—it’s powerful, and it feels validating.

Know How to Recognize Me. I’ve seen recognition with a lack of consideration to the individual. I had a co-worker who didn’t like to receive fanfare and public recognition. At a regional meeting, the vice president called him up to the stage in front of an audience of hundreds of managers and publicly recognized him for an (agreeably) amazing operational performance. It was so uncomfortable to watch. Everyone could feel the same level of awkwardness that his body language showed. Even if the excitement or fanfare of recognition comes from a good place, understand what makes your employee feel recognized, not embarrassed.

Recognize Appropriately to Scale. Recognition should align with efforts and results. As an employee, I want my manager to recognize the work and impact I’ve made on others and to the business. I care about what my contributions are to the greater project and company. I want to know when my efforts were meaningful, helpful, and added value to a greater goal. Help me understand how my efforts contributed to the result.

Don’t Dilute Recognition through Technology. Employee recognition should evoke an emotion, yet sometimes this is lost with the use of technology. I saw a co-worker receive a great shout-out on an employee recognition application, but because she was fairly new to the company, she didn’t know about this application and didn’t see this recognition. Managers need to realize that despite these technologies that enhance socializing recognition, we still want to feel something. Employees still want the warm and fuzzies that can’t be communicated through technology.

The act of recognition has good intentions. However, there’s an art to deliver meaningful recognition to an employee. Awards, swag, bonuses, and paid time off can be motivating when it matches your company culture and adds value to the business or employees. Companies and managers are looking for ways to make employee recognition programs motivating and creative for their staff. But managers, take time to know how your employee wants to be recognized. The act of recognition should evoke a positive emotion. When my manager recognizes me, I would like it in a way that’s meaningful or inspiring to me. I want them to know me well enough to know how I want to receive it.

As a manager, do you really know how your employee wants to be recognized?

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