- Recognition is critical for employee development
- Only a third of employees strongly agree they receive equitable recognition
- Fair recognition affects employees' opinion of their organization's equity
Fair Employee Recognition Is Critical to Equitable Development
Opportunities and support to develop are fundamental needs of employees. Organizations have an ethical responsibility to ensure all employees receive what they need to grow -- professionally and personally. And as organizations prioritize diversity and inclusion, they should also prioritize more equitable paths to development. Plus, doing so promotes business success.
When it comes to equitable development, it is obvious for leaders to address tangible targets (e.g., equity in pay, promotion rates, and representation in leadership and senior management). These targets have hard numbers to compare and monitor, so setting goals and tracking change is straightforward.
Tangible targets lay an important foundation, but equitable development also requires intangible drivers -- like motivation, inspiration and confidence -- that propel employees forward and liberate them to grow. Equity requires mentors, advocates and champions who identify the potential in people, provide guidance and open doors.
Employers also need to take ownership for driving development -- and it's as simple as this: Recognize employees for who they are and the work they do.
Recognition provides positive reinforcement that encourages growth. It gives employees the empowerment that comes with knowing they are valued and appreciated for their unique abilities and the psychological safety to stretch and learn. Recognizing employees builds their reputations -- it can determine who gets opportunities for key experiences and assignments, who gets positive annual reviews, and, ultimately, who gets promoted.
Recognition Drives Development
A recent study of more than 7,600 U.S. employees conducted by Gallup in partnership with Workhuman identified that employee recognition is critical to employees' perception that they have support and a clear path for development.
This research indicated that the degree to which employees perceive recognition to be equitably distributed is one of the five fundamental pillars of strategic recognition. However, the study also revealed that there are lingering inequities -- including inequities by race and ethnicity -- in how employees are recognized at work.
Gallup's Center on Black Voices conducted a recent survey of nearly 9,000 working adults in the U.S. that corroborates that disparities in recognition exist and affect the development and career opportunities for U.S. workers.
Recognition Isn't "Fair"
Overall, only 32% of employees strongly agree that they receive fair and equitable recognition at work. This means that most employees in the U.S. see favoritism, inequality or even downright discrimination in how recognition is doled out in their organization.
Notably, White employees are more likely to strongly agree (34%) they receive fair and equitable recognition than are Black (30%) and Hispanic (27%) employees.
These differences are greater than the differences between genders within each race, suggesting that race and ethnicity influence how employees experience recognition at work. It also means that not all men and women are similarly experiencing recognition.
Fair Recognition Is a Prerequisite to Employee Development
Recognition changes employees' perceptions of their development and the role their organization plays in supporting it. In fact, employees who strongly agree that they receive fair and equitable recognition at work are six times as likely to strongly agree that their employer is committed to building everyone's strengths.
They are also seven times as likely to strongly agree they have adequate opportunities for advancement and nearly eight times as likely to strongly agree they have a clear plan for development.
Most employees in the U.S. see favoritism, inequality or even downright discrimination in how recognition is doled out in their organization.
Recognition from leaders, managers and peers guides employees' performance, increases their discretionary effort and fuels their development. Organizations that know this simple secret build top talent organically by giving employees the support they need to grow and achieve.
These effects of fair recognition are even greater for women and employees who are members of race/ethnic minorities, making recognition practices a critical component of efforts to address equity in development. For example, Black employees who strongly agree that they receive fair and equitable recognition are seven times as likely to strongly agree that their employer is committed to building strengths, while women and Hispanic employees who strongly agree that recognition is fair are nine times as likely to strongly agree that they have a clear plan for development
Fair Recognition Reflects Equity in Advancement Opportunities
The presence (or absence) of fairness in recognition also radiates through employees' overall perceptions of development and advancement at their company.
Employees who strongly agree that they receive fair recognition are five times as likely to perceive equal access to opportunities for advancement in general and six times as likely to strongly agree when it comes from positions of senior leadership. They are also nearly eight times as likely to strongly agree that promotion decisions are fair.
In fact, it's not just about development. Perceptions of fair recognition are highly related to perceptions of the overall fairness of the organization. When employees can strongly agree that they receive fair and equitable recognition, they are six times as likely to strongly agree that their organization is fair to everyone.
For some groups of employees, fair recognition is especially important to their perceptions of fairness in their organization. For example, women, Black employees and Hispanic employees are nearly seven times as likely to strongly agree that their organization is fair to everyone when they strongly agree that they receive fair and equitable recognition.
And here is the silver bullet: By and large, the impacts of fair recognition appear to be just as great or greater for women and minorities -- the very groups most commonly at the center and impetus of initiatives for more equitable development.
Perceptions of fair recognition are highly related to perceptions of the overall fairness of the organization.
Recognition makes employees feel valued, supported and empowered to grow. It is the secret to how the best companies attract and build a culture of top talent.
It doesn't take a radical initiative. Every manager can do it day by day, with every "thank you" and "good work," every shoutout and (virtual) pat on the back. Simple gestures often speak loudest.
But managers should take note: Employees are deeply attuned to fairness in the workplace. They calibrate the recognition they receive with their own contributions and their perceptions of their coworkers' contributions and recognition. When the calculation comes up short, it shows up in their work and wellbeing.
Employees' perceptions of recognition are a critical indicator of how equitable development initiatives actually are. In a sense, fair recognition is the backbone of fair access to opportunity. It has real, tangible impacts -- for employees personally and for their company. In fact, employees who strongly agree that they receive fair and equitable recognition are four times as likely to be engaged and four times as likely to strongly agree they feel like a valued member of their team.
Make recognition a valuable part of your organizational culture.
Employees are constantly gauging the fairness in the recognition they receive. Leaders can help move the needle in the right direction by taking three simple steps:
- Upskill managers. Train managers on the importance and impacts of recognition and best practices for providing authentic, meaningful recognition. Workhuman and Gallup recently found that about three-quarters of managers do not receive this kind of guidance, but it is critical to setting managers up for success.
- Invest in recognition. Create outlets -- and time -- for managers to provide recognition to their team members, and encourage them to give recognition too. If managers are giving lopsided recognition, they are likely not doing so maliciously -- they can address oversights by setting the expectation for fairness and creating opportunities to spread praise around. Recognition programs, platforms or dedicated minutes in the meeting agenda can go a long way.
- Use career mapping. Take the mystery out of employees' career trajectory by creating clear paths for career growth that provide a structure for ongoing conversations about development. This can help employees feel confident in their path forward and give managers a framework for constructive recognition that encourages accountability and consistency.