What Employees Really Want—and 4 Ways to Deliver it

one recent study reveals some disturbing findings about employee recognition.
March 02, 2012

How can you keep employees engaged, satisfied and loyal to your business? These questions are more important than ever in today’s challenging economy. Few small businesses can afford to lose a key employee to the competition, or to spend valuable time searching for, interviewing and training replacement workers.

With employees feeling stultified by the lack of advancement opportunities and vanishing salary increases that accompanied the Great Recession, you might think offering them more money—higher salaries, raises or bonuses—is key to keeping your staff happy. You’d be wrong.

What employees really want is recognition. The most recent Globoforce Work Mood Tracker, which surveyed employed U.S. workers to determine how recognition affects their engagement at work, has some disturbing findings:

More than one-third (39 percent) of workers don’t feel appreciated at work, and more than half (52 percent) aren’t satisfied with how much recognition they receive. Even worse, 17 percent of employees say they have never been recognized for their on-the-job efforts.

Why should you care if your employees don’t feel appreciated? Well, those who feel unappreciated are much more likely to look for new jobs. In fact, the study reports only 37 percent of job seekers feel appreciated by their current employers. In contrast, 75 percent of American workers who are not seeking new employment say they feel appreciated in their current jobs.

But even when employees have one foot out the door, showing a little appreciation can do wonders. A whopping 77 percent of employees who were dissatisfied with their employers and looking for new jobs say they’d work harder if their efforts were better recognized.

Recognition can also make a good thing better: 65 percent of those who were happy with their employers and not seeking new jobs say more recognition would motivate them to work even harder.

Clearly, employee recognition is a win-win situation. What are some ways to make recognition work?

Do it all year long. While 39 percent of employees report getting constructive feedback and praise throughout the year, 31 percent say they receive such feedback only at their annual reviews or other pre-scheduled performance review dates. Call out good work whenever you see it—don’t wait until review time.

Avoid favoritism. Employees believe their managers play favorites or only recognize their own peers, while ignoring others outside their inner circle. Even employers who are passionate about recognition can get stuck in this trap. Think beyond the “usual suspects” when it comes to recognizing good performances.

Be inclusive. Recognition programs fail when only managers are calling the shots. Broaden the circle by enabling (and encouraging) employees at all levels to give each other recognition.

Value employees as people. It’s easy to reward people for reaching goals such as surpassing sales quotas. Make an effort to recognize and reward less measurable behaviors, such as supporting fellow employees, finding solutions to conflicts and disagreements, or being optimistic and positive. After all, such “people skills” play a large part of creating a harmonious—and more productive workplace.

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