Thanking someone for a job well done can go a long way
Companies that are really serious about recognition programmes generally commit around 1% of payroll costs to fund them. Photograph: Getty Images
Social recognition is powerful stuff. It can improve productivity and staff retention, ignite employees’ intrinsic motivation and make people happier, better engaged and more creative.
It’s effective because humans need to be appreciated, and something as simple as being thanked for a job well done can go a long way.
In many workplaces, however, appreciation is thin on the ground. When taken to extremes it can lead to a toxic environment where absenteeism is rife, people are disillusioned and the whole organisation is sluggish and dissatisfied.
Patting someone on the back within a small team is easy enough. Doing so in an organisation with hundreds or even thousands of employees is more complicated, and this is where formal social recognition programmes fit in.
Eric Mosley is the co-founder of Irish-American software company Globoforce, which is a significant player and innovator in the international recognition industry. The company was established in 1999, and employs 500 people between here and the US. Over four million employees in 150 countries are currently using its recognition programmes.
“We’re in the ‘thank you’ business,” Mosley says. “We help companies to give recognition and to express gratitude to employees. Both the giver and the receiver are enriched and ‘lifted’ by the process, and this in turn generates a positive, can do working environment.”
The “touchy feely” bit of peer-to-peer or manager to employee appreciation is germane on the human level, Mosley says, but, recognising that hard bitten managers might struggle to park their cynicism, his company has developed a system that measures recognition in a way that can be used to improve corporate performance.
“By tying recognition to a company’s goals and values, a programme can achieve double-digit increases in employee engagement, for example,” he says. Globoforce started out as a corporate gift-giving service. Today it is quite a different business with a string of Fortune 500 companies on its client list.
“A number of megatrends happened that transformed our business model,” says Mosley. “Social media emerged and quickly proved how powerful crowds can be. Workplace practices changed, and people began working more in teams and less as individuals. Thirdly, technology has created speed, and we can do things – like rewarding people – in real time rather than waiting until the end of the year.”
To succeed recognition programmes need a budget, buy-in from the top and time devoted to “selling” them to employees and teaching them how to use them. Most programmes are set up by HR departments, and benefit from being given their own name/brand.
Airline Jet Blue’s programme (created by Globoforce) is called Lift, and its aim is to “reinforce our values among our 22,000 crew members while also showing them how much we appreciate that they are inspiring humanity one action at a time”, says the company’s executive vice-president for people Michael Elliott.
“Unless companies take a professional approach a programme will work for about 48 hours and then die a death,” says Mosley whose company’s clients include Intuit, Symantec, Proctor & Gamble, Cisco and Amgen.
“It needs to be web-based and frictionless to use online or with a mobile app. These programmes can also act as a communications channel within an organisation, and are a great way for managers (who approve the recognition transactions) to see what’s happening within their teams. In our experience,even the most cynical managers loosen up when they see how these programmes can change people’s behaviour and attitudes.”
Recognition typically brings tangible rewards often in the form of points that can be redeemed against all sorts of things from flights and dining out to shopping vouchers. Each recognition is logged, and can be retrieved by managers in search of employee insights.
This is where the investment really pays off, Mosley says. “It instantly shows where the gratitude in a company or a team goes and who are the key people that ensure the work gets done. It’s a source of informal power, and managers would do well to know who these people are and to make every effort to keep them.”
Asked why tangible rewards are key, Mosley says “they elevate gratitude and give it a level of importance whereas constant ‘free’ recognition quickly becomes meaningless”.
Companies that are really serious about recognition programmes generally commit around 1 per cent of payroll costs to fund them.
“It’s a big part of their budget but there is real pay back,” Mosley says. “We have worked with LinkedIn and they experienced a 96 per cent retention rate among staff who had received four or more awards in a year.”
Eaton Corporation, an Irish-headquartered energy management company with 95,000 employees worldwide, is also a Globoforce client. Its recognition programme is called E-Star.
“Eaton saw rapid adoption of E-Star with 68 per cent of employees participating in the first six months, 82 per cent participation in year one, and 82 per cent rates year after year thereafter,” Mosley says. “The data from their platform shows that employees who receive recognition are two times less likely to leave the company.
“We have also worked with the US operations of the InterContinental Hotels Group, and they found that a 5 per cent rise in employee engagement is the equivalent of 70 [US] cents of increased revenue per available hotel room per night,” Mosley adds. “This means a 200-bed hotel could make more than $50,000 in additional revenue a year by improving staff engagement.”
Globoforce will host its third WorkHuman HR conference between April 1st and April 5th in Austin, Texas. Keynote speakers will include Tarana Burke, founder of the Me-Too movement, and Andrew Shatté, chief science officer of meQuilibrium, who says rewiring our brains is the secret to success in the face of unrelenting change.
Previously published in The Irish Times.
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