There are many ways to make a workplace rewarding, but it cannot be all about the paycheck. In fact, if we don’t want our employees to be “all about the paycheck,” then our reward systems can’t be all about that one factor, either. Therefore, rewards and recognition must come in a multitude of ways, at planned and spontaneous times… and from expected and unexpected sources.
While important research is being conducted on the effects of management and supervisory rewards and recognition, the impact of peer level recognition is also being researched and documented, with researchers asking, “Which is better: recognition from peers or recognition from leaders?” The findings conclude that both are important, but they differ in a couple of important aspects.
Even though it is vitally important for leaders at every level to participate in the recognition process, employees usually report feeling much better when recognized by peers. Why? There are a couple of crucial reasons.
First, because peers know what each other are doing on a day-to-day basis, when they say “thank you,” the impact is much more meaningful because it is more specific and personal. The person receiving the recognition knows it is heartfelt and based on real actions and impacts. This principle also applies to direct supervisors because they work closely enough with employees to know the specifics of their actions.
In contrast, what often happens with executive level recognition is that the “thank you” is perfunctory or vague. The employee doesn’t know if the executive is really aware of what they did and its impact on the organization, or if the leader is just reading a “script” that offers lip service for a vague “job well done.” Therefore, this type of recognition from leaders has less impact than the real “thank you’s” they receive from those who appreciate the actual act.
This situation can be corrected by combining the findings of Daniel Kahneman, Gallup and other researchers that demonstrate the importance of leader recognition with other researchers’ findings that illuminate the impact of peer or direct supervisor recognition that focuses on the specific strengths and actions of employees. When these two findings are analyzed together, it is clear that when managers and executives do thank employees, it must be for specific accomplishments about which the executive has fairly detailed knowledge.
To state it more succinctly: if you can’t say something specific and meaningful, don’t say
anything at all.
The big “ah-ha” is that recognition from executives can be much more meaningful if done right because it is heartfelt. But it is also much more meaningful for another important reason. Because it is so unusual for detailed employee actions to come to the attention of high-level executives who have much “bigger issues” to think about on a daily basis, it means that much more when busy executives take the time and effort to personally thank an individual employee for a particular effort. Employees feel more valued and important to the success of the organization because their actions were worthy of being brought to the attention of a highly-ranked executive.
An added benefit is that this can have a tremendous “ripple” effect of gratitude and engagement. Once meaningful recognition is received by an executive, any aware employee must realize that their actions were brought to the executive’s attention by someone else. If the executive was sensitive enough to let the employee know who told them about it (usually the employee’s supervisor or manager), the employee feels gratitude toward the person responsible for bringing it to the executive’s attention. This selfless act of recognition strengthens the bond between supervisor and employee, further increasing engagement and loyalty.
How do you handle rewards and recognition in your organization? Do you freely offer praise, and encourage workers to give spontaneous peer recognition to each other? Do executives take the time to find out what’s really going on and then offer true, heartfelt gratitude for outstanding employee actions?
If not, take a look at how you can foster a culture that is more forthcoming with recognition. If so, keep it up and actually look for ways to ramp it up to the level of WOW in order to create higher employee engagement and loyalty.