How Much Recognition Should You Give To People?

When recognition program owners ask this kind of question, I think they are seeking a one-size-fits-all approach to recognition giving. Whether this is recognition practices of face-to-face recognition or expressing recognition through online recognition programs. 

Notice the generalized question asking about “recognition” and to “people”. Those are both very broad terms and very unrealistic.

And I am sure you are lingering to read now exactly how I will answer this question. How much recognition should you give to people? 

Quantity and Frequency of Recognition 

How much recognition you give to people and how often may very well depend on the industry you are in and the professions of your employees. 

The bottom line is that people are a bunch of persons and each individual is uniquely different. And that means different individuals prefer different kinds of recognition. 

Most organizations have formal recognition programs with earned or nominated tangible awards that only impact 1 to 3 percent of their employees annually. Many companies will have informal recognition programs and practices in place addressing 30 to 50 percent of employees. For these programs, they give the recognition and rewards on a monthly or quarterly basis. And then the most important type of recognition is the everyday recognition, which affects 80 to 100 percent of your staff and should happen on a daily or weekly basis. 

The secret is finding the right type of recognition that is right for each person. 

I have never found a group of employees, or heard employee engagement survey results that said, “Stop recognizing me so much!” I doubt you ever will, either. It appears there can never be too much recognition. We still don’t do a good job of giving recognition. 

Gallup asks their Q12 survey question, number 4, “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.” Results naturally vary according to every organization using their proprietary Q12 survey. The implication here is that recognition should at least happen weekly. 

When you consider leaders, managers, and peer interaction with employees, there should be ample positive behaviors, achievements, and results to merit recognition and rewards regularly.

A tremendous help in achieving this is having interactions with your staff to know the great things they do that merits recognition. 

Quality of Recognition

Let me take you to real-world example of an organization and see if we can narrow down on how much recognition you should give to people.

This scenario is a healthcare organization that was well aware they were not doing so well with recognition. Annual surveys on employee perceptions of how recognized employees felt showed poor scores. Interestingly, the Conference Board of Canada’s survey has long shown that healthcare and education have the lowest investment spending on recognition and rewards.

I conducted a survey to drill down further that the usual engagement survey. It’s important to gather as much detail as you can on as many recognition practices and programs as you can. So, we asked one question, for example, on how often employees received recognition through various time ranges.

Here’s what their employees told us:

  • 2 percent received Daily recognition
  • 11 percent received Weekly recognition
  • 20 percent received Quarterly recognition
  • 17 percent received Annual recognition
  • 29 percent received No recognition of any kind.

Look at how few staff they recognized on a daily or weekly basis. Even if you add in the quarterly recognition, it still adds up to only one-third of employees.

What we can easily see from this display of statistics is that in this healthcare organization definitely needed to increase daily and weekly frequency of giving recognition to staff. Another organization asking the same survey question may produce a much healthier level of recognition frequency. 

In the Bersin & Associates Research report, Making Recognition and Rewards Matter: Five Practices to Drive Better Business Results, they examined recognition programs and the frequency of recognition given. They found that 71 percent of highly engaged employees worked in organizations that recognized employees at least once a month. 

A combined research report by Quantum Workplace and BambooHR on Recognition in the Workplace found that 52 percent of employees want more recognition from their immediate manager. The key here is holding leaders accountable for recognition and setting expectation for everyone to give more and better recognition to one another. 

Are you seeing some patterns? 

I can also tell you about an interesting employee engagement survey indicator. When the average score of your key recognition questions score 65 percent or less, it is a powerful predictor that everyday recognition is the root cause and the area you need to focus on. This helps you to narrow down on the type of recognition to focus on.

Recognition and Career Tenure 

Quantum Workplace, a cloud-based employee engagement solution which assists businesses of all sizes by conducting surveys and collecting feedback, has found that recognition is a powerful driver of engagement. They ask, “If I contribute to the organization’s success, I know I will be recognized.” Their findings show recognition drives engagement sharply from Year 1 through to Year 5.  

They suggest employees typically put their organization under the microscope during that time period. Should they not feel appropriately recognized for their contributions on the job, they will look elsewhere for other career opportunities. 

Recognition as strong driver of engagement falls from Year 6 through 9, can pop up from Years 10 to 14, and drop back down again from Year 15 onward. 

Another interesting thing occurs over time with longer tenure of employees. Employees require less recognition the longer their tenure is with an organization, so long as there is a positive level of engagement with the organization and total rewards remain fair. 

Those in leadership positions and high performing employees require less recognition so long as compensation, rewards, and benefits fairly match the position and level of performance.

In Summary 

Consider what we have learned here:

1. Conduct periodic deep-dive surveys to learn more specific information on the frequency of current recognition practices and employee preference for how often they would like to be recognized.

2. Give recognition between weekly to monthly, at the very least.

3. Start correlating the recognition given to highly engaged employees to pinpoint ideal levels of recognition frequency and preferred types of recognition.

4. Identify the meaningfulness of the various recognition practices and programs for informal and formal programs that you have.

5. Find out individually during your one-on-one meetings with staff exactly how much recognition they ideally would like to receive from you, and from others. 

Recognition Reflection: Do you know how much recognition your employees would like to receive?

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