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Employee recognition: Is a gap ruining engagement?


There’s a tendency to think that employee recognition is one-size-fits-all.

But the truth is, what feels like recognition to one person may be meaningless to another. And with today’s workforce listing recognition as one of the top motivators in their job satisfaction, an employee recognition gap can be detrimental to the success of your business.

With most companies offering some sort of employee incentives, why the big disconnect?

The employee recognition gap occurs when leaders are out of touch with what actually motivates the people on their teams – individually and as a group – and often leads to:

  • A disengaged workforce
  • Breakdown in productivity
  • High turnover rates
  • Low morale

People desire to have a sense of belonging at work and to know that their efforts are making a difference. They are much more engaged and productive when they feel appreciated for what they do.

Do you have an employee recognition gap?

So, how do you know if your business is suffering due to an employee recognition gap? By recognizing how your employees are performing and engaging.

Here are some telltale signs that your employees might be feeling undervalued.

  • Lack of enthusiasm: They may appear distracted and not invested in their work.
  • Social withdrawal: Their conversations are short and they avoid volunteering for team activities or projects.
  • Missed work: They come in late and leave early.
  • Negative attitude: They generally appear tired, bored and unhappy.
  • Decreased productivity: There’s a noticeable decline in the quality and quantity of their work.
  • Lack of initiative to improve: They forgo training and development opportunities.

Why employee recognition is good for business

Recognizing employees isn’t just about boosting morale – it’s also essential for good business. Neglecting recognition can lead to disengagement, low productivity and higher turnover.

In fact, a survey conducted by Gallup and Workhuman found that respondents who receive the level of recognition that matches their expectations are 56% less likely to be looking for other job opportunities and are four times more likely to be engaged.

By acknowledging and appreciating employees’ contributions and achievements, you can foster innovation, improve teamwork and enhance employer branding, ultimately leading to a more engaged and satisfied workforce. Overall, investing in employee recognition programs not only benefits individual employees but also contributes to the overall success and growth of the business.

5 tips to avoid any gaps in employee recognition

The impact an employee recognition gap can have on your business can be far-reaching. Let’s look at how it can be avoided.

1. Make it meaningful to them

The key to a successful recognition program is making it personal. While you might think you’re offering your employees great incentives, if you aren’t honed in on what makes your people tick, you might be missing the mark.

For some employees, leaving work a couple of hours early to go to their child’s ball game is the ultimate reward for a job well done. For others, it may be a trophy on their desk or a simple note of gratitude.

A good way to find out what your employees value the most is to simply ask them. Take a few minutes during team meetings or during one-on-ones to find out how they prefer to receive feedback and if they have any suggestions on how to improve employee incentives.

Another option is to send out a brief “getting to know you” survey that can be filled out and kept for future use.

Some things to include:

  • How they prefer to be recognized – in a group setting, one-on-one, in writing (rather than in person)
  • Who they would rather be recognized by – peers, manager, director
  • How often they prefer feedback and recognition – daily, weekly, monthly
  • List of their favorite things – restaurants, flowers, sports teams

2. Ask questions

Finding out how your employees feel about your current employee recognition culture can help you identify potential gaps. Asking them to agree or disagree with the statements below can reveal areas that are currently working well or that may need to be changed:

  • It is important to me to be recognized for my work.
  • I would appreciate non-monetary rewards in addition to my wages.
  • I am satisfied with my department’s current recognition program.
  • The nature of my job allows me adequate opportunity to be recognized.
  • I believe all employees should be rewarded for achievements.
  • I think employees should be rewarded for meeting specific criteria above and beyond normal duties.

By being proactive and learning what your workforce values, you are taking big steps in avoiding the unwanted consequences of an employee recognition gap.

3. Keep it real

Employees who trust their managers have more pride in their organization, and their quality of work shows it.

Therefore, it is critical that the recognition you give is authentic and you’re not just checking a box. Trust can be broken if your accolades feel forced or insincere.

4. Create a culture of caring

Your culture plays a huge role in keeping an employee recognition gap from occurring. A successful company culture reinforces your organization’s values and creates a healthy work environment where accountability and recognition go hand in hand.

For example, if integrity is one of your core company values and an employee takes credit for a successful project – without acknowledging other team members who contributed from the start – their behavior isn’t aligned with your value system and should be addressed.

5. Encourage peer-to-peer recognition

While manager recognition is important, it isn’t the only praise that matters. Peer-to-peer recognition carries a lot of weight. Validation from colleagues for a job well done brings with it an increased level of pride.

By providing a way for your employees to show their gratitude to each other, you are encouraging a positive work environment and creating motivation for teams to work well together.

Your peer-to-peer recognition plan should be in addition to the recognition that comes from your management team and be in alignment with your company values.

One of the major benefits of instituting a peer-to-peer recognition program is that it makes recognition accessible to everyone, not just those who are in highly visible positions. This creates another way for employees to be recognized and can help keep a recognition gap from occurring in your business.

6. Don’t overdo it

Just as not enough recognition can hinder your company’s success, too much of a good thing can weaken its effect and cause it to lose its meaning.

One way to keep this in check is to be sure you communicate clearly what the criteria is for receiving recognition.

Consider this example.

Andrew might think he should be rewarded for going above and beyond by working overtime, but in fact he is working extra hours because he has missed deadlines due to poor performance.

Making your expectations clear on how work is to be done will help you avoid these types of situations.

7. Know your rock stars and your superstars

Many busy managers are challenged to recognize the people who work hard behind the scenes and not just those who stand out and seek to be recognized.

People tend to fall into two different categories when it comes to performance.

  • Rock stars: the people who stay the course and work hard behind the scenes. They’re the “Steady Eddies” who typically don’t seek recognition.
  • Superstars: the employees who may have great ideas but often lack the interest or dedication to see a project through to completion.

While both types of personalities have their pros and cons, it’s important that managers stay in tune with who is a consistent contributor and give credit where credit is due. It’s easy to miss the rock stars and over-compensate the superstars. Being aware of the role each person plays will help you avoid misplaced recognition.

Summing it all up

Bottom line: An employee recognition gap can cause your employees and your business to suffer.

When you tailor your incentives to your employees’ individual interests, you‘re showing them that they matter. The end result is a workforce of engaged, high-producing teams of people dedicated to making your business the best it can be.

For more tips on being a proactive leader who motivates and engages your employees, download our free guide: The Insperity guide to leadership and management.