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7 Misconceptions About Employee Recognition

For some companies, the benefits of recognition are obvious. In other businesses or industries, recognition programs and practices are at risk of being eliminated. Misconceptions, like seven we’ve identified, may be at the root of the problem.

Misconception #1: Recognition is expensive.
Executives may fear that recognition will cost their business a lot of money. But that’s simply not true; although incentive programs require a firm, and often hefty, financial investment, recognition does not carry such a load. (Curious about the differences between the two? Check out this post for more!)

Recognition is not only free to give, but it also has a lasting impact rather than serving to incentivize employees at a specific moment in time. The Incentive Research Foundation revealed in a Trends report that non-cash recognition, such as appreciation expressed by a manager, is more effective than the three highest-rated financial incentives: cash bonuses, an increase in base pay and stock options.

Misconception #2: Recognition is time-consuming.
The initial decisions about how a business will approach recognition and the methods it will use can of course take time, especially if there isn’t an existing program in place. But once a plan has been outlined and implemented, very little time and effort are required to use the system.

More importantly, any time you invest in recognition pays off. A survey recently commissioned for OGO (O Great One!), found that “40% of employed Americans said they’d put more energy into their work if they were recognized more often.”

Misconception #3: Recognition demotivates employees.
This situation may be a case of whether it’s the chicken before the egg or vice versa. Do employees feel demotivated when they don’t receive recognition?

The CEO of OGO, David Novak, wrote about an experience he had while talking with a leading oncologist:

She said she’s been at the same hospital for more than 40 years. Then I asked what her employers had given her to note that amazing milestone—four decades of saving lives! With a shrug of acceptance rather than indignation, she laughed and showed me a plastic key chain that had been mailed to her.

In this case, there’s no misconception: sending a plastic key chain as recognition for decades of service was demotivating and left the recipient feeling anything but inspired or appreciated. However, when recognition is thoughtful, appropriate, and done well, it will motivate and inspire employees.

Misconception #4: Recognition is only for top-performers.
Recognition isn’t just for high-performing employees; it’s for everyone. In fact, most employees want some recognition for their efforts, and they want to feel appreciated on a regular basis. In a study conducted by the University of Southern California, the London Business School and PwC, over 40% of millennials expect recognition for their work at least once a month or more, which may seem high, but is only 10% higher than non-millennials.

In fact, a lack of timely recognition can have detrimental effects on the organization. For example, Gallup research showed that “employees who do not feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to say they’ll quit in the next year.”

Misconception #5: Recognition is for people who don’t receive a bonus.
Recognition is for both new employees and those who have been in your organization for years. Employees from every generation, level and department appreciate being recognized. One of the key findings from the TINYpulse Best Industry Ranking report was that, in the least-happy industries, 75% of employees don’t feel adequately recognized for their work.

You don’t need to limit who does and doesn’t receive recognition. In fact, the best plan is to make it an option for everyone to recognize each other, a feature which should be included in any recognition program you implement. By weaving peer-to-peer recognition into the everyday lives of your employees, you create a culture of appreciation, collaboration and shared values.

Misconception #6: Recognition is receiving a paycheck.
Some managers or executives believe the misconception that employees should just be grateful they have a job and receive a paycheck. But if you want to inspire and engage your workforce, it requires a little (not a lot) more effort. Simple efforts to demonstrate appreciation and recognize when an employee does a good job or goes beyond what’s expected can do much more than those executives realize. When people only receive a paycheck, it can leave them feeling disengaged to the point where there is no motivation to go above and beyond their daily tasks.

A Boston Consulting Group study found that getting shown appreciation for one’s job is the number one reason that employees are happy at work—it’s not their relationships with coworkers (though that runs a close second), the perks or the salary.

Misconception #7: Recognition is outdated.
There have been many (justifiable) arguments for the repeal of “Employee of the Month” and service anniversary awards, both of which are the most traditional forms of employee recognition. But recognition itself is not outdated—it may just be your method of doing it! If that’s the case, it’s time to update your program. Consider adopting an online method for sharing and celebrating moments you want to recognize, and don’t limit those to the employees who charm their managers the best or the ones who have been at the company the longest.

The bottom line is that saying “thank you” is never going to go out of style. And, at its core, that’s what recognition is about: expressing your gratitude and appreciation for someone’s contributions and really, ultimately, making someone’s day just a bit brighter.

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