I have always been a big advocate of the fact that it’s the quality of your recognition that makes it a big deal.
Time and time again, I have witnessed how when you put more of a personal touch into the recognition and rewards you give, the more meaningful and effective the effect will be on the recipient and on their performance.
I have summed this principle up before by saying, when you give people recognition you don’t have to give them a reward; when you give people a reward, you must always accompany it with recognition.
Now I have a social science experiment to share with you that validates this principle.
Adding Time and Effort to Rewards
Researchers Christiane Bradler from the ZEW Centre for European Economic Research Mannheim, and Susanne Neckermann from Erasmus University Rotterdam, Tinbergen Institute, continue on with their previous studies on recognition and rewards.
In a study they’ve entitled The Magic of the Personal Touch: Field Experimental Evidence on Money and Appreciation as Gifts, the researchers used field experiments using nonfinancial gifts (or rewards) along with gifts that combined financial and nonfinancial elements. They also tested out these variables against adding or withholding a component they called a “personal touch”, or a thoughtful tangible gesture.
Bradler and Neckermann measured the impact from the various test variables against reciprocity obtained from the performance of the subject recipients.
The elements used in these experiments comprised a reward (R), which was cash, and a nonfinancial gift (NFG) represented by a Thank-You card. The personal touch (PT) component to the gift was a handmade element requiring a significant investment of time and effort.
The methodology for these field experiments consisted of subjects receiving one of the following conditions:
Experimental elements used consisted of a reward (R), which was cash, and a nonfinancial gift (NFG) represented by a Thank-You card. The personal touch (PT) component to the gift was a handmade element requiring a significant investment of time and effort.
For the first experiment, they hired workers to do a 3-hour data entry job and paid a flat wage of 25 euro. They did not know they were part of an experiment. After the workers had worked for 100 minutes, the workers randomly received a specific treatment intervention. Then the workers worked on the task for another hour and they again measured their performance.
Here’s how the treatment interventions were divided out.
1. No Gift (No R and No NFG)
2. R (= 5 euros)
3. NFG (= Thank-you card)
4. R + NFG + PT (= the money folded like a bow tie and attached to the card)
5. R + NFG (No PT)
Results showed that whether a subject received the monetary gift (or reward) of 5 euro (about US$5.50 at time of writing this article) or the thank-you card alone, there was a significant increase in the person’s performance compared to workers who did not receive a gift.
Now consider this observation.
Whether they received the monetary gift of 5 euro or the thank-you card, the size of the effect was similar.
Personal Touch Does Wonders
Here’s where we need to look at the “personal touch” variable.
When the 5 euros was combined with a thank-you card, but without the handmade element, there was no increase in performance. However, when the handmade element was added, the performance effect is nearly double the outcome achieved from the 5 euros and thank-you card alone. Remember, the handmade element in this experiment was the money folded like a bow tie and attached to the thank-you card.
Bradler and Neckermann suggest that the combination of money and gratitude only works when the giver puts personal care and effort into the “gift”, or thank-you card, in this scenario.
The researchers tested the strength and effectiveness of these findings by conducting a second experiment.
This time they sent out letters to people with a request to complete a 10-minute survey. Accompanying the letter and a survey was one of the following treatment interventions, a monetary gift, a combination of a monetary gift and a thank-you card without a personal touch, or a combination of the two with a personal touch. In this experiment the personal touch or handmade element was a hand-drawn sketch of a flower on the thank-you card.
For this experiment the outcome variable was completion and returning of the survey form.
Bradler and Neckermann again found that the impact of a combination of money and appreciation is highly sensitive to the presence of a personal touch. Of note, is the result that while the combination of a monetary gift and thank-you card with a personal touch yielded a significantly larger response rate than money alone, the combination without a personal touch, did not.
The Significance For Us
I always appreciate the amazing work and insights gained by researchers in the experimental work that they do. What we have to do is ask ourselves what the recognition significance is for us.
You’ll generate your own conclusions, I am sure. These are the few ideas that came to my mind.
1. Personal Touch. Investment of time and effort is essential when communicating recognition and thanks for work that is done.
a. We can’t all create hand drawn cards. But taking time to find the “perfect” thank-you card that fits the person, or the situation, helps show the personal touch.
b. Using the Two-Part Specificity Rule in how you speak or write the words of appreciation to someone shows thoughtful preparation.
c. Learning a person’s recognition preferences to respect their wish for public or private acknowledgement is invaluable.
d. Finding the “right” kind of gift to give to a person beyond just giving money (other research shows non-monetary rewards create better results than money) is another form of personal touch.
2. Personal Impact. Investing time and effort into the recognition you give is about fostering positive relationship strength between the giver and the receiver.
a. As a social science experiment the researchers focused on measurable performance outcomes. However, it is also important to look at the human factors of how an employee feels about the recognition.
b. What impact does adding a personal touch make to a person?
c. Start making a list with employee input on how peers and managers can demonstrate putting more time and effort into the recognition and rewards they give to people.
d. Change the questions you use in your pulse surveys or engagement surveys to measure the personal impact of recognition given with a personal touch.
Recognition Reflection: How do you show extra time and effort with the recognition you give to people?
Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.