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Imagine only getting words of appreciation from your friends and family on your birthday.
How would such sparse gratitude make you feel?
First off, you would certainly look forward to your birthday. You would also feel neglected the other 364 days of the year.
The desire to feel acknowledged is a basic human need. As such, most people relish getting frequent positive words of appreciation from their friends and loved ones.
The power of gratitude applies in our personal lives, but also our work life.
As a case in point, many companies have in place some variant of a recognition program. Frequently, taking the form of a Years of Service Program.
But, many leaders put these programs in place and wonder why they don’t solve their most crucial HR problems.
Formal recognition programs are a good starting point. Still, a singular recognition method cannot be applied as a universal remedy for all management issues.
Human motivation is complex. A blend of short-term and long-term needs inspires people into action.
That said, appreciation and praise is a fundamental part of the employee motivation puzzle. But, recognition comes in all shapes and sizes. These gestures are not equal—some gestures of recognition boost short-term motivation. In contrast, others are better at promoting long-term commitment. In other words, recognition is not one-size-fits-all.
Ultimately, one singular recognition program cannot solve all your people management issues. A more nuanced approach is needed.
We'll start simple — breaking down recognition methods into two main types. You will see why one sort of recognition is a good start, but not enough for capturing the full benefits of appreciation.
If you analyze the most common employee recognition strategies offered by top businesses, it becomes clear that all these methods fall neatly into two categories.
We will go over these two categories to understand why each is fundamental to driving long-term and short-term employee motivation.
Structured methods are more traditional. These programs often take a top-down approach. Meaning, managers or senior leaders offer gratitude to employees.
We label these programs “structured” as they are official and ceremonial. They are expected and happen at predictable times.
Some examples of these programs are:
Structured methods are the foundation of a culture of recognition. These predictable, ritual celebrations create a feeling of belonging.
Predictable recognition celebrations enrich company culture. As a case in point, a 2017 World at Work study showed that 85% of companies offered a length of service program.
Structured methods are excellent at addressing long-term employee needs. These recognition initiatives incentivize and sustain deeper employee motivation.
For example, celebrating work anniversaries is an important way to communicate that your business values employee dedication. In short, predictable recognition is an excellent way to provide employees direction, meaning, and purpose.
Unstructured recognition is a relatively new concept. But it’s quickly becoming a popular employee recognition method. Companies understand the importance of regular praise for employees to feel valued at work.
In these modern recognition practices, leaders intentionally create space for spontaneous gestures of appreciation.
Coworkers are encouraged to offer each other recognition. Praise is not something only managers give to employees.
Unstructured methods can take many forms; they can be inexpensive to administer or need a small budget. An example is an email recognizing the top performers of the week, a recognition channel on a chat tool, or a budget distributed to reward employees for accomplishing necessary tasks.
Some examples of these recognition programs are:
That said, technology has stepped up to help companies with this method of appreciation. In essence, digital tools help make impromptu recognition more official.
The goal is to weave appreciation into daily life. As a result, employees feel valued all year round.
A 2017 World at Work study asked organizational leaders, "What are the objectives/goals of your organization's recognition programs?"
A few of the most common responses:
Think about the current recognition methods being used in your company. Are they fulfilling your HR goals? If not, it might be time to include other recognition methods into your strategy.
Bottom line: A company cannot achieve these goals with a single type of recognition method. A mix of unstructured and structured recognition is required to meet different employee needs and achieve long-term HR goals.
Michelle is the lead content writer at Applauz. She has a Psychology background and loves to read and write about human happiness, motivation and decision-making. She loves scary movies and cooking classic Italian food.
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