Why Recognition at Work Matters

Recognition is a foundational part of our experience of the workplace.  Nearly 75% of companies have some kind of recognition programme in place, and yet, over 65% of employees say they haven’t felt recognised at work in the past year! 

This is both sad and concerning, because recognition matters – both emotionally and economically. In a recent study published by the Harvard Business Review, the low-cost American carrier JetBlue recorded increases in both staff retention and engagement as a result of doing a better job of recognising their employees. More broadly, close to 90% of workers in the US said they were happier at work as a result of regularly receiving recognition. This is important because research shows that happy employees are over 12% more productive than their unhappy colleagues. 

If recognition at work is vitally important, then how do we get it right?

What is Recognition?

Firstly, let’s agree what we mean by ‘Recognition’. This great article provides the following definition: 

Offering acknowledgement and praise to employees based on their behaviour and achievements

Recognition can take many forms. Feedback can be given to an individual or team, publicly or privately, by peers or senior leaders, by name or anonymously. It can be about a behaviour or an achievement. 

To achieve the best results, recognition needs to be:

  • Regular
  • Meaningful
  • Specific
  • Authentic 

In terms of positive outcomes, recognition has been shown to boost morale and productivity, improve retention (thereby reducing hiring and training costs (which have been estimated to be as high as £30,000 per employee), increase individuals’ self-confidence, and create better employee engagement. Employee recognition has also been proven to reduce the key indicators of burnout – including stress, presenteeism and absenteeism. 

Tips and Tricks

  1. When creating an employee recognition programme (ERP), make sure you understand individual needs and preferences. For example, you might embarrass an introvert by publicly calling out a great achievement in front of a big crowd. Remember, recognition is about the person being recognised, not the person doing the recognising. 
  2. If you’re at a smaller companies and/or start-up, and you don’t have much budget to play with, remember that recognition is about authentically recognising someone else’s hard work. That could be as simple as a simple greeting at the beginning and the end of the day. Or a sincere “thank you” in the form of a personal note from a senior leader. Some companies have chosen to go a more symbolic route, by giving their team MVP a soft toy to put on their desk as a token of their great work. Another classic idea is to create a ‘Wall of Fame’ in a public area, where contributions are celebrated.
  3. Whilst recognition can and should flow from peer-to-peer, 28% of employees said recognition was most memorable when it came from their manager, followed by a senior leader at 24%. 
  4. Ask for feedback! Employees will provide useful feedback on your ERP, which you can use to make them even better.

Case Study – Recognition at Equal Experts

Let’s take a look at a real-life example of an employee Recognition programme in action.

Equal Experts is a global network of technology consultants specialising in digital delivery. Comprising a network of over 2,000 expert consultants, the vast majority are independent associates, living all around the world. Equal Experts have experimented with various ways to build and maintain a culture of recognition across our diverse and dispersed network, based around two core principles set out by their CEO and co-founder Thomas Granier:

  1. Only recognise behaviour and outcomes that are consistent with our values.
  2. Be unexpected – we want to pleasantly surprise people!

Let’s take a look at three of the most successful initiatives.

1) The Anniversary Gift Programme

Each year, on the day that a person joined the Equal Experts network, they are sent a gift made from the traditional materials relating to wedding anniversaries. So, on the first anniversary, they receive a card, signed by the board (paper); on the second year they receive a tea towel (cotton); on the third year an Equal Experts-branded leather key ring, and so on. 

As Equal Experts has been trading since 2007, some of the network are now up to 14 year anniversaries, and as a majority don’t keep a close track of when exactly they joined the company, the gifts are often described as “a lovely surprise”!

A couple of things to bear in mind. For some vegan colleagues, materials such as leather aren’t appropriate, so you need to ensure you have suitable alternatives. And in such a large, global network, keeping track of all the dates, and ensuring no one gets missed out, is a complex challenge that requires both attention and dedication to get right. 

2) Posting an Anniversary Announcements on LinkedIn

Separately to the anniversary gift programme, network members are the subject of an anniversary post on LinkedIn, authored by one of the Equal Experts board.

The post isn’t generic. It’s based on recently gathered feedback from that individual’s closest colleagues. The posts tend to concentrate on personal qualities – the support and guidance they provide to others, and how they embody the company’s values.

These announcements take time to prepare and write, but they’re greatly appreciated and always spark a conversation. They’re also rare enough to feel special, and are never considered noise to be ignored by the network.

3) #SmallVictories

Publicising good news in the moment is a great way of recognising the work of individuals and teams. Equal Experts has therefore created an open channel in Slack where colleagues can post stories celebrating a positive outcome, and thanking their colleagues personally.

:boom:Congratulations to the :hmrc: HMRC Customer Insights Platform team for winning Special  Award: Pandemic Performance in the AI & Machine Learning Awards 2021:boom:

They won this one-time award for a team/company that has risen to the challenge of COVID-19, adopting new ways of working using AI and automation to survive and thrive. Thank you to all the AI superstars for HMRC :star::hmrc: and of course the entire CIP Team!!

The channel creates a public archive of notable success, so if a colleague ever has a question about a similar topic, they know who to ask. And if anyone is inadvertently missed out, the post is amended as quickly as possible to include them.

Wrapping up

The key to success – when it comes to recognition – is to find an approach that’s consistent with your organisational culture. That is to say, the main challenge when considering how to recognise your employees is to find the ideas that best suit your company and the people who work there. 

At Equal Experts, their culture of recognition has been built and sustained as a result of trying a variety of ideas that align to their core values, and reflecting on lessons learned. Ultimately you should always tailor any ERP to your own context, whilst staying true to your culture

We hope you take inspiration from the range of suggestions we’ve provided on how to better recognise your colleagues in this post – and good luck!  


If you or your CTO / technology lead would benefit from any of the services offered by the CTO Craft community, use the Contact Us button at the top or email us here and we’ll be in touch!

Subscribe to Tech Manager Weekly for a free weekly dose of tech culture, hiring, development, process and more.