The Unrecognizably Easy Way to Improve Employee Engagement


I was meeting with a COO a few months ago who was struggling to motivate and engage his team. With one piece of advice, he’s turned his team around. I’d like to think I offered the sage wisdom of a Tibetan monk located in the outskirts of civilization, but the truth is that I gave him the commonsense advice many leaders could use – Exponentially increase the amount of recognition you give to others.

We all know that recognition is an essential part of leading others…right? For you skeptics who need proof that offering appreciation is more than a “nice” practice, Globoforce’s WorkHuman Research Institute found that employees recognized within the last two months are more than twice as likely to believe their leader cares. Similarly, O.C. Tanner found a significant correlation between loyalty and acknowledgment with 87% of employees feeling a strong relationship with their direct manager versus the 51% who reported a lack of recognition.

In a 2015 study, 70% of employees who received some form of appreciation from their supervisor stated they are happy with their job. And this study found that new leaders can foster an immediate 31% boost in job satisfaction simply by recognizing employees who have never received appreciation from their superiors.

A study in the Journal of Financial Economics found that companies offering stock options to non-executive employees were more innovative. Plus, in an article from Positive Psychology Program, organizations implementing gratitude into their company culture experienced a greater willingness amongst the team to spread their positive feelings with others, including helping with a project and recognizing the accomplishments of other employees.

Once you understand the value of expressing recognition, the next step is doing it in an effective manner. Here are four things to consider.

Recognition programs matter. The mere presence of a recognition program can positively impact employees’ perceptions of the workplace by 35%, compared with organization that do not have a program.

Quantity matters. 82% of employees who receive appreciation more than once a month describe a strong bond with their bosses. When the occurrences dropped to less than once a month, 63% felt those strong ties.

Frequency matters. 80% of employees who were recognized for performance in the past month feel fulfilled at work. These numbers decline sharply over time: 75% are satisfied 1-2 months later, 71% after 3-5 months, 69% after 6-12 months, 51% after 1-2 years, and 42% when the recognition is more than 2 years ago.

Purpose matters. It’s not enough to recognize; we must be conscious of what we are recognizing. To promote risk taking and innovation, incentives should be tied to long term rewards—stock options, promotions, etc.

Don’t sit in your office wishing for a better culture. Start creating it by recognizing the people who work towards making you look better. Write “thanks” on a sticky note. Say “good job” at your next staff meeting. It does not need to be elaborate, just sincere and meaningful.

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