Sometimes, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because employee recognition programs and practices are such great things to instil properly in the workplace, they can solve all ills, HR woes and people problems.
Unfortunately, practicing positive recognition in the workplace and using recognition programs better and more effectively, will not solve world hunger, stop wars or bring peace and unity to the world.
That’s why I get concerned when I hear people say things like recognition can help your organization reduce absenteeism.
Recognition is typically an intangible expression of acknowledgement and valuing of an individual or team.
What you can recognize are people’s positive behaviours, their personal effort towards something or great contributions they have made.
You don’t recognize people’s genuine or chosen problems.
Here are some examples of what employee recognition cannot do.
Absenteeism is a symptom of many underlying problems. It is typically looked at as being the practice of regularly staying away from work for either legitimate or not good reasons.
Take a look at these reported causes of absenteeism: Illness or Injury + bullying + child or elder care issues + disengagement + low morale + lack of flexible hours + poor job fit = Absenteeism from Work
Recognition could be a powerful tool for reinforcing safe work practices if needed. Social reinforcement could be used to establish normative practices to stop and report people for bullying behaviors.
Otherwise, you are dealing with human resource performance issues and policies and procedures for how to positively deal with child or elder care needs, flexible work hours, etc.
My thoughts are that recognition cannot reduce absenteeism.
Recognition can possibly impact absenteeism indirectly by reinforcing the necessary behaviors that support being present and engaged on the job.
Eliminate Workplace Stress
Stress is also a symptom of a variety of things in the workplace. It is considered to be a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.
Ironically, Dr. Jean-Pierre Brun from the University of Laval, Quebec, reported in his research that a lack of recognition can be a cause of stress in the workplace.
Look at these identified causes of stress at work: Long hours + heavy workload + organizational changes + tight deadlines, etc. = Stress at Work
Do you see how recognition as a practice or using recognition programs would be hard pressed to recognize an appropriate behavior from this list?
Causes of stress listed here has a lot to do with leadership and management addressing time on the job, needed breaks, performance and productivity management, education and counselling on dealing with change and job pressures.
Within those actions and behaviors could likely be something that can be recognized.
But recognition cannot eliminate stress.
Lessen Mental Health Concerns
Perceived stress can also be exacerbated with a higher prevalence of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
Depression + anxiety + mental health diagnosis = Mental Health Issues
You can encourage and socially reinforce attendance with counsellors or employee assistance programs and other health and wellbeing offerings.
It’s nice to think recognition can do positive things in the workplace but it cannot address an inherited or acquired mental or physical health condition.
Stop Substance Abuse or Addictions
From a workplace problem these addictions or abuse of harmful substances are going to crop up with employees.
Causes for substance abuse or addiction: All of the above!! = Substance Abuse or Addiction
What you can recognize is people attending on site or off site addiction or substance abuse recovery programs or counseling. This may impact their health insurance by participating in such programs.
You can certainly recognize health and wellbeing practices such as mindfulness training, physical exercise and nutritional eating.
I hope you see what I mean by my point that recognition cannot be the magical silver bullet to solve all the problems at work.
Let’s not pretend it can.
Instead, use recognition for the great things it can do!
Question: How have you dealt with managers believing recognition can solve all their workplace dilemmas?
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.