It is well known that a significant proportion of employees don’t feel valued at work. The latest research by Gallup indicates that workforce engagement scores continue to hover around 24 per cent.
At the same time, there is a growing body of literature that suggests what employees yearn for are praise and recognition. According to McKinsey, receiving praise and commendation from managers was rated the top motivator for performance at 67 per cent, beating out other non-cash and financial incentives.
Meanwhile, research by Psychometrics found that 58 per cent of respondents believed the most effective way for leaders to improve engagement was by giving recognition. In fact:
• 69 per cent of employees suggest that they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better appreciated;
• 50 per cent of employees say being recognised would enhance their relationship with their manager and build greater trust, and
• those employees who didn’t feel adequately recognised are three times more likely to say they would leave in the following year.
So what is it that makes praise and recognition so important? And if we agree that leaders and managers need to become more skilled in this space, what should they start doing? Is it just a matter of saying “great job” more often?
In simple terms, praise and recognition make us feel good. They give us a sense of pride and pleasure, and increase our feelings of self-esteem. When I think back to when I was a kid and the times my teacher gave me a gold star for great work, I remember that sense of pride. I remember thinking that the effort I had put in had been worth it, because my teacher had noticed. In return, those gold stars pushed me to get more shiny stickers.
Your employees aren’t all that different. They want to be recognised for their contribution. They want their work to have meaning and purpose. When you provide praise and recognition, you acknowledge their existence and impact to the business’ growth and success.
Taking the time to stop and recognise your employees is only half the story though. Of equal importance is understanding exactly what it is that you value about their behaviour or performance. As nice as “great job” might seem, it is utterly unhelpful, because it’s too vague. It doesn't allow the recipient to appreciate what you thought was “great” so that they can replicate it moving forward. Instead, they’re left guessing.
If you want praise and recognition to be truly valuable, you need to let people know precisely what they did well and what you want them to do again. You can’t assume that they know what you mean.
Here are a couple of examples of how you can rephrase your praise and recognition to create maximum impact:
Instead of: “Thanks for your contribution over the last year, I know it has been difficult at times.”
Try: “I really appreciated you taking the lead on... and making sure we delivered it on time and within budget, particularly when the team has been under resourced. I know you have put in a lot of additional hours and I really appreciate your contribution and commitment.”
Instead of: “I thought you did a good job at facilitating.”
Try: “I was really impressed by the way you engaged everyone and asked people for their opinion by name. It helped create a sense of inclusivity."
Praise and recognition that is specific and genuine leads to greater levels of employee engagement and productivity. Take the time to observe and communicate to your employees what they did well and then watch those positive behaviours be repeated.
Christine Bau is the founder and principal of People Focused, an HR consulting firm that specialises in working with professional services to improve the performance of their people. Christine helps practices ensure they are having the right conversations with their employees. She also teams ups with organisations to ensure that they have the tools in place to maximise employee performance.