What Do Your People Believe About Employee Recognition?

One problematic area to deal with in organizations is the beliefs people hold about employee recognition.

I have long held a three-block process model in my mind. It starts with a block on the left labeled Beliefs. A labeled a middle block called Behaviors. And a last block on the right labeled Results.

It impressed me that to get the results we desire, such as meaningful and effective recognition of employees happening, it all starts with having the right beliefs in the place first.

The Typical Negative Beliefs of Recognition

It is important to remember that there are reasons people have the beliefs that they do. 

First in line is the fact that our brains have an almost natural negativity bias that we have as humans. Since we are prone to negativity, that is going to affect our behaviors and the results we want. For example, the weather report lists the percentage of cloud versus sunshine. 

However, negativity can result from depression or insecurity. Any negative life experience can trigger negative feelings, cynicism, and sadness. And some life challenges can be work related, such as work demands, stress, pressure from bosses, etc. 

Let’s address some of the negative beliefs that some people have about employee recognition.

Belief #1: “We pay people well enough. What more do they want?” 

I have heard this response many times when doing debriefs of employee engagement surveys. It comes out when the survey statements about employee recognition score poorly. This is when leaders or managers dehumanize employees and see them as automatons. The relationship, if there is any, is purely transactional. How would you feel working for someone with this kind of attitude? 

Belief #2: “Work is not about making people feel good.” 

The transactional nature of the work relationship between an employer and employee is also clear here. The only question remaining is whether this is from senior leadership or from management. If it comes from leadership, then you will probably see low productivity and attrition increasing across the organization. If this is from a manager, then they are likely having employee concerns in their department. Research continues to show that employee experience is more positive when employees feel meaning and purpose in their work. Creating a positive work environment can help better engage your employees.

Belief #3: “It’s not my responsibility.”

This is when negative thinking has also deflected taking personal responsibility in any shape or form. While recognition is not just a top-down phenomenon, unlike it was in earlier generations, the leading and example of recognition giving still comes from above. A concern I bring up to organizational leaders about career anniversary celebrations is to make managers responsible and accountable for honoring their employees on their special day versus keeping this with HR. I hear repeated complaints that employees hear nothing from their managers. Imagine repeatedly having that experience every year! 

Belief #4: “That’s something that HR does.”

This is a holdover from the mentality that HR is party planning and blowers up of balloons. It trivializes what it takes to keep employees. It also deflects responsibility again. No, employees leave more often because of their manager than they do the organization. The “great resignation” that people are talking about is employees responding to a lack of recognition. It also a reaction to toxic culture, job insecurity, and poor handling of COVID-19. 

Belief #5: “If they want to work somewhere else, we’ll find someone else to replace them.” 

That’s a good one. Tell that idea to HR.

HR will conduct exit interviews. They will compare the results from closed and open-ended questions on employee engagement surveys. They will identify root causes. And then they will present their case that this leader or manager is the one to be working somewhere else. In a time when retention is high and talent management is challenged, organizations cannot afford to lose good people. 

Some Examples of Positive Beliefs About Recognition

In the same vein, why people have negative views on life and work, the same goes for why some leaders and managers have positive beliefs about employee recognition. They can be brought up with these beliefs or learn them over time.

Look at the following few beliefs of the many that are out there. 

Belief #1: “Recognition helps people feel valued and appreciated.” 

These leaders and managers get it! They have experienced what it feels like when recognized. They also know of recognition’s importance in the eyes of their staff. Which means they are less self-focused and put their employees first. When you treat employees right, you have a healthier and more positive work relationship. And yes, employees work harder and better for leaders who treat them the right way. 

Belief #2: “I have seen people stay long term with us because they feel recognized.” 

It may only be anecdotal for some leaders and managers. But the research shows that staff retention is better when employees feel appreciated for who they are and recognized for what they do. They want to know that their contributions to the organization are noticed and matter.

Those employee perceptions cause employees to stick around.

Belief #3: “No doubt about it. I know my employees work harder for me because I appreciate them.” 

Whether it is face-to-face recognition, acknowledging genuine effort and positive actions, or online praise and celebration of accomplishments, employees of these leaders and managers feel genuinely appreciated. Employees know their leader or manager is the same in person or using their recognition programs. Their recognition is authentic, and for the employees, it is memorable, motivational, and meaningful. And yes, they work harder and better when appreciated.

Belief #4: “I have had employees refer their family members and friends to work for us because of how they feel about the company.” 

One can never underestimate the long-term effects of a positive culture that nurtures employees. Recognition is based on the principles of respect and trust. When those principles are present and consistently practiced, you’re bound to have employees referring their family and friends to work for you. 

Belief #5: “I believe recognition starts with me and filters up, down, and all around.” 

Outstanding leaders and managers know that recognition is multidirectional and not just top-down. However, they also know that if they don’t set a positive example and own the need to give recognition, then nothing will change. This belief is essential for seeing recognition spread throughout the organization. They take ownership and full responsibility for being a Real Recognition™ giver. 

You can probably see that whichever set of beliefs dominates your organization, you will either have a hard time or an easy time to make recognition giving a way of life. 

Recognition Reflection: Do most leaders in your organization have negative or positive beliefs about employee recognition?

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