The future of work hinges on employee recognition

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Written by Muni Boga on 22 March 2022 in Features
Features

A ‘return to normal’ is not in the cards, but something more transformational could be says Muni Boga 

Working toward a return to normal, however, is just as probable and effective as hoping for a return to the good old days. The reality is that a new normal is unfolding in front of us – and there’s no shortage of opportunities for organisations that are adapting to it.

At the heart of the Great Resignation is a fundamental need that has gone largely unmet: the need for employees to go beyond simply existing in their job roles and thrive. The talent of today’s world wants to be treated well and to be recognised for their contributions. The benefits for companies that realise this and take the steps to act on this are massive in terms of employee engagement, retention, and ultimately organisational growth.  

Conversely, the organisations finding themselves bearing the brunt of the Great Resignation are often the ones offering outdated solutions to modern problems. A common one is focusing solely on compensation to solve deeper issues. When attracting talent, money is a huge part of the equation, but a strong company culture is an increasingly important choice factor. Many struggling companies overlook the importance of fostering a strong, recognition-filled work culture. Increasing compensation may be a quick fix, but if money is the primary thing keeping talent motivated, they’ll be easily lured away by better offers. But while improving company culture takes a greater commitment from leadership, it has a lasting and more substantial effect on those factors organisations worry about most today: retention and engagement. 

The old way of recognition was sporadic and top down, but a strong value-based culture seeks to make this recognition a daily habit among peers as well as managers

It’s both as complex and as simple as this: The desire for fair and robust recognition in the workplace will define the future of work during the pandemic and post-pandemic. Here’s how.

Values over money 
To help inspire employees to work toward a common goal, companies must have clear core values that employees know and care about. But it doesn’t stop there. Companies must also associate behaviours to these values, with leadership demonstrating these behaviours every day. With that in place, all employees should be given the tools and much needed support to recognise their colleagues when they see moments that exemplify these values. The old way of recognition was sporadic and top down, but a strong value-based culture seeks to make this recognition a daily habit among peers as well as managers. 

This practice not only reinforces the behaviours that move organisational goals forward, but it makes employees feel they are direct contributors to an irreplaceable company culture. 

In addition to incorporating behaviours and values in recognition, there is a slightly differ-ent connection between monetary rewards and recognition. If the recognition system is set up to be predominantly monetary, so is the employee’s motivation. Employees who feel empowered to give and receive continuous recognition in their workplace will not only feel a strengthened commitment to the organisation, but they will be incredibly difficult to poach with monetary incentives alone. Instead, they will see their everyday contributions in a far more meaningful way than they might at companies where recognition is sporadic, scarce, or nonexistent. 

Fuel intrinsic motivation through connection
Motivation can come in many forms, but employers today must learn to spot the differ-ence between intrinsic motivation and traditional motivation through rewards. Traditional incentives get people through the day, but it rarely makes them care about their work beyond a paycheck. It doesn’t motivate them enough to fully engage and innovate. It’s why a rewards-centric approach can backfire on companies where incentives can be seen as an opportunity reserved for the elite few

On the other hand, when people feel a deep connection to the company’s values and their coworkers, their inner motivation kicks in. That’s when we see creativity, innovation, and growth unfold in the organisation. The cohesiveness and connection within teams doesn’t have to be limited to small groups either. It can be shared across the organisation by creating a space for everyday recognition that can come from anyone. A robust recognition ecosystem among teammates and managers is an invaluable catalyst in promoting a culture of trust, self-confidence, and innovation.

A generational challenge that’s here to stay 
In 2021 48% of American workers actively looked for jobs. We are facing a historic challenge of retention and recruitment. The pandemic is one factor, but the causes of the talent drought go deeper than that, and the effects are not going away once we are through the worst of it. Millennials make up the majority of today’s workforce in the United States, and they are unafraid to leave a bad workplace for a better one, with 21% reporting that they switched jobs in 2021. For employers and HR leaders, retention efforts are more critical than they have ever been. Holding on to talent is not only important because it helps organisations innovate and grow, but having a constantly understaffed organisation raises the risk of employee burnout, which directly translates to a negative employee experience. 

A strategic, values-driven approach to culture increases employee engagement, happiness, and performance, but the benefits go beyond that. Word gets around about great culture at an organisation, and recruitment efforts suddenly become easier for HR. With Gen Z changing jobs 134% more now than they did in 2019, the talent pool is open – and looking for better work prospects.  

As the internal culture improves, and employees begin to feel like they are truly a part of the company, it naturally leads to an excellent client and external stakeholder experience. 

No looking back
It’s time for a new approach to recognition – one that helps organisations and employees adapt to today's reality. For companies looking to learn crucial lessons from the pandemic, rather than hoping for a return to the old ways, the path to sustained success involves investing in a recognition-centric culture where all employees feel connected and valued. In other words, embodying ‘the future of work’ is actually just answering the call of the present day. 

Muni Boga is the CEO and founder of Kudos®

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