- Recognition boosts employee engagement, wellbeing and belonging
- For recognition to matter, employees must perceive it as authentic
- There are 5 reasons employers should focus on authentic recognition
Employees want -- and need -- to be recognized at work for what they do and who they are. Gallup and Workhuman have uncovered many ways in which recognition boosts employees’ engagement, wellbeing, inclusion and belonging at work -- all of which may help to explain why organizations that make recognition a part of their culture also see cost-savings in retention.
But to have these effects, organizations should ensure that their employees can be confident that recognition really means something: recognition that is authentic is what really counts.
Employees perceive recognition to be authentic when it feels meaningful, heartfelt, and honest; when they see it tied to rewards, opportunities, or organizational priorities; and when they know it is earned, targeted, or selective. But not all recognition meets these standards, and workers will perceive these misguided attempts -- like self-serving praise, empty flattery or indirect compliments -- as inauthentic.
It turns out that the genuineness of the recognition says a lot to employees about their organization and their future there. This is why giving authentic recognition is a simple and effective way to inspire trust and equity in your organization each day -- and one that happens to be free.
A recent survey of more than 10,000 working adults uncovered five reasons employers need to take authenticity seriously when it comes to employee recognition.
1. Authentic recognition is a matter of respect.
Employees notice when someone is patronizing or appeasing them. These types of recognition backfire, undermining employees’ trust and confidence in their workplace overall. Only 8% of employees who contend with insincere recognition (do not agree they get authentic recognition1) can still strongly agree that they are treated with respect at work.
On the other hand, employees who strongly agree that the recognition they receive is authentic are seven times as likely to report that they are treated with respect at work compared with those who do not strongly agree that the recognition they receive is authentic.
2. Authentic recognition reflects organizational culture.
When recognition is authentic, it signals to employees that words are trustworthy and have meaning, laying the foundation for an organizational culture employees see as honest and dependable.
It turns out that the genuineness of the recognition says a lot to employees about their organization and their future there.
In fact, compared with employees who do not strongly agree that the recognition they receive is authentic, employees who do strongly agree are five times as likely to strongly agree that their organization would do the right things when it comes to matters of ethics and integrity.
These employees also feel more connected to their culture: Employees who strongly agree that they get authentic recognition are four times as likely to feel connected to their organization’s culture compared with those who do not strongly agree.
3. Authentic recognition affirms employees’ value.
No matter what words are used, all recognition says the same thing to employees: You are valued. When employees strongly agree that the recognition they receive is authentic, they are seven times as likely to welcome the message by strongly agreeing that they are a valued member of their team.
Employees who strongly agree they receive recognition that is authentic are also more likely to feel valued at work in other ways and are four times as likely to strongly agree they are paid fairly for the work they do compared with employees who do not strongly agree.
4. Authentic recognition clarifies progress and performance.
Employees who receive authentic recognition are clearer on where they stand. Employees who strongly agree the recognition they get is authentic are six times as likely to report that it is clear to them how their manager views their performance.
These employees understand how they are doing or what they do best. They know their value and can more easily adjust their progress and performance based on feedback.
5. Authentic recognition inspires confidence in future opportunities.
Employees who strongly agree that the recognition they get is authentic also build confidence in the equity and transparency of opportunities for career advancement. Compared with employees who do not strongly agree that they get authentic recognition, those who do strongly agree are:
- five times as likely to strongly agree that recognition is distributed equitably according to performance
- four times as likely to strongly agree that their organization provides all employees access to reach the highest levels of the organization
- six times as likely to strongly agree that they can trust managers and leaders at their organization to make fair decisions about their development
Authenticity for All
Many organizations struggle to bring to life the ideals of equity and inclusion they aspire to. It is often because they overcomplicate solutions. They opt for expensive programs or disruptive overhauls when a more effective and sustainable approach is to improve basic communication practices.
From the five reasons mentioned above, it’s clear that how organizations recognize employees’ contributions can either make or break the employee experience.
Organizations should recognize that there can be differences in how much employees feel that they can trust the authenticity of the recognition they receive. Black women and Hispanic men and women tend to report the lowest endorsement and the highest level of skepticism. Gallup’s research indicates that improving the authenticity of employee recognition may have an even greater effect on these employees.
Employees scrutinize how their organization recognizes their contributions. They wonder what the recognition they receive says about them and their future at the organization. And they think about what it says about what their organization values and what they can expect from the company.
How organizations recognize employees’ contributions can either make or break the employee experience.
When employees receive recognition in a way that is authentic, it validates that their organization’s culture, systems, processes and people are trustworthy and fair.
Managers can make recognition authentic by following these simple rules:
1. Be genuine. While being purposefully disingenuous is not advisable, even well-intentioned managers sometimes give inauthentic recognition without realizing the damage they are doing. Recognizing employees to be polite or inclusive can actually undermine the goals of those behaviors.
2. Be clear. Include a reference to an action or output: General statements (“You are awesome!”) have less meaning and influence than targeted feedback (“This report is so thorough and insightful!”). Providing a specific reason for your recognition gives instant “face validity.”
3. Be selective. Recognizing everyone all the time for everything weakens its authenticity. Strive to regularly express gratitude and positivity in everyday interactions with employees, but reserve some recognition for special occasions or truly exemplary work.
4. Be purposeful. Tie recognition to something central to a person’s job function or mission-critical for the organization. When the basis for recognition has evident importance, it means more.
5. Be targeted. Not all employees like to receive praise in the same way. Take time to ask and align with these preferences to enhance the authenticity of the recognition, showing that you truly care.
6. Be concrete. Make sure some recognition includes something tangible: a monetary reward or gift, a new responsibility or opportunity, or a promotion or raise. When praising employees, don’t just say it, do it.
Build an authentic recognition process in your organization.
- Download Gallup and Workhuman’s latest study on the wide-ranging effect of recognition.
- Learn how meaningful feedback is a great manager’s most important habit.
- Discover how the CliftonStrengths assessment can help you recognize employees for doing what they do best.