How Employee Recognition Can Improve Engagement

Posted by Gary Purcell on Jul 17, 2018
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Employee Engagement is the discretionary effort an employee puts towards furthering the goals of the company. High employee engagement correlates with a host of competitive advantages for businesses.

So what does Employee Recognition, and in particular, structured recognition & reward programmes, offer for increasing employee engagement?

1. Recognition as a Motivator
Firstly, recognition can be a key motivator in any company. In fact, the Mazars External Employee Motivation Survey 2017 showed that Praise & Recognition is the 2nd biggest motivator for Irish employees-


On average, 7- 10 recognition moments per year has been shown to halve the chances of employee voluntarily leaving – ie it doubles employee loyalty to the organisation.

And the great thing about praise is that it doesn’t have to cost anything! The issue for an organisation is ensuring praise and recognition is practiced constantly and consistently throughout the company, especially at management level. That’s where structured recognition programmes come in.

Employees Value Manager Recognition Most
In a recent Gallup workplace survey, employees were asked to recall who gave them their most meaningful and memorable recognition. The data revealed the most memorable recognition comes most often from an employee's manager (28%), followed by a high-level leader or CEO (24%), and the manager's manager (12%).

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Some managers are naturally brilliant at positive re-enforcement and support, but "a growing body of literature is documenting an attention bias toward negative information," wrote four American researchers in 2002. "Our attention is automatically drawn to negative information more strongly than it is automatically drawn to positive information." 

So it should not be surprising that the majority of managers and companies are quicker to swat down a problem than they are to praise exemplary performance. In a fast-paced business, there are always problems.

Without a conscious effort, or structured recognition programme, to maintain positive recognition, the negative events will continually jump in line before the positive ones.

And it is manager recognition programmes that are the most popular types of reward programme run by Allgo for Irish clients. Why? Because often managers hold the key to employee engagement. After all, employees join companies but they leave managers.

A good example of this is the Irish Distillers Barrelmen Rewards programme, a Peer-2-Peer programme where every peer-nominated reward is presented in person by the recipient’s line manager.

"The most memorable recognition comes most often from an employee's manager (28%), followed by a high-level leader or CEO (24%), and the manager's manager (12%)".

Cultural Alignment
If an employee is fully engaged, they will invest extra effort in furthering the company’s goals. It is a lot easier for employees to further those goals if they know what the goals are and actually agree with them!

This is where it really helps if employees and the company are culturally aligned – if they value and want the same things. “Employees who say the company’s values are “known and understood” are 30 times more likely to be fully engaged” (Don MacPherson, CEO of Modern Surveys).

However, only 22.2% of companies believe that ALL their employees actually KNOW their organisational values, according to a Corporate Reward’s survey in 2013.

Peer-recognition programmes have proven highly successful at both highlighting company core values & behaviours, and also embedding them in employees’ daily work practices. Typically these programmes enable employees and/or managers to instantly recognise and reward a co-worker for any action that displays a specific core value and behaviour.

Peer recognition deepens company culture because it systematically captures moments of company values in action and recognises employees who act out these values in their work. This positively reinforces the knowledge and understanding of the company’s core values, and encourages the absorption of those values into the culture of the company.

It’s Good to Give
They say teaching is the best way of learning. And it’s the same with peer recognition - a colleague who recognises others 
for demonstrating core values, themselves become more engaged with those values.

So empowering employees to recognise and reward can actually have a double effect in animating a company’s values & behaviours.

The Drugs Do Work
Neuroscientists believe that the ventral striatum and the nearby nucleus accumbens together form a key centre for processing rewards and that a neurotransmitter called dopamine is what activates them. Studies have shown that dopamine hitting the ventral striatum is part of the mechanism behind enjoying good tastes and smells, receiving money, and even seeing a pretty face. The brain craves a surge of dopamine.

"At a purely chemical level," reported Time magazine, "every experience humans find enjoyable – whether listening to music, embracing a lover or savouring chocolate -- amounts to little more than an explosion of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, as exhilarating and ephemeral as a firecracker."

Recognition and praise also triggers a dopamine response in humans.

However, there are at least two reasons why a culture of recognition is rare. First, some of the deepest human emotions are essentially selfish. We are better wired to receive praise than to give it. We feel our own hunger more than we empathise with others around us.¹⁶

Second, while the ventral striatum seems to be programmed to respond to positive events, other parts of the brain are even more vigilant for negative news. Biologists believe that this is a survival instinct. For our distant ancestors in the woods and ourselves on the highway, failing to see something good is disappointing; failing to see something bad could be fatal.¹⁶

The lesson is that any programme that encourages those dopamine-firecrackers recognition moments, can have a powerful influence on employee engagement at work.

Best Practice Needs a System. And Measurement
The advantage of a structured reward & recognition programme is that not only does it ensure that recognition is done, it enables it to be measured. It channels the goals, metrics and recognition itself through a single platform, generating rich data to monitor and analyse the programmes. And it also makes compliance – tax and regulatory – easier to manage.

And reward & recognition programmes fulfil an important role in assisting managers meet the expectations of today’s employees for constant feedback, frequent recognition, and instant rewards.

The number of logins to the programme website, the number of peer rewards nominated, the frequency of recognition moments, the number of social interactions, thank-you’s sent and awards approved are all useful measures of the success of a programme from an engagement perspective.

Recognition Is a Double Edged Sword 
As well as being the 2nd biggest motivator among Ireland’s workers, lack of Recognition & Praise is the 2nd biggest demotivating factor.

In fact, one of the constant recurring themes we find in talking to HR Professionals is how many high-performing employees feel their work is not adequately acknowledged by their immediate boss, and by extension the company. It is as if their bosses are too pre-occupied with managing the less productive staff, and the consistent performers are sort of forgotten about, or perhaps even taken for granted. Taken for granted that is until they leave.

So, this lack of low-level, regular recognition from the manager, actually ends up leading to de-motivation and disengagement from good staff! This is why structured, systematic reward & recognition programmes can be deployed to even out the praise.

In Conclusion
Recognition, especially when it comes from your direct manager is a significant motivator for employees. Recognition and praise triggers a powerful dopamine reaction in people, and interestingly, peer-recognition does this both for the employee giving the reward AND for the employee receiving the award! 

Structured recognition programmes, especially peer-recognition and social recognition, can help align employees and the company culturally and can significantly increase employee loyalty

However, recognition is a double edge sword, as a lack of recognition, or just uneven ad hoc recognition in a company can be a serious de-motivator for good employees.

Read more: 8 Ways to Increase Employee Engagement>

If you would like to talk to Allgo about putting in place an employee recognition programme to engage you staff, don't hesitate to  contact us today.

Download the eBook
In the latest eBook from Allgo, we look in detail at employee engagement - what is is, what it does, how to measure it, and how to improve it in your organisation. Download it for free today by clicking the Download Now button below.

Employee Engagement eBook

Download our expert eBook:
The HR Guide to Employee Engagement

High Employee Engagement is the holy grail of HR and is a significant factor in overall company performance. This definitive guide shows you:

  • Current Stats on Employee Engagement
  • How to Measure Engagement
  • 8 Ways to Increase Employee Engagement
  • How Recognition Can Improve Engagement
  • 10 Steps to Successful Employee Recognition=
  • How to Prove ROI on Recognition
  • 12 Pitfalls to Avoid in your Employee Reward Programme

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Tags: employee rewards, staff rewards, employee recognition, peer-2-peer recognition, employee engagement, employee motivation, recognition

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