Employee Recognition—One Size Doesn’t Fit All

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Most of us know that if you don’t take the time to recognise your employees, they’ll leave. (The pandemic may have disrupted a lot of things temporarily, but at the end of the day this fact isn’t going to change.)

What’s harder is figuring out what recognition actually means to your employees, and how to tie it back to your staffing needs. That’s because recognition takes many forms: from simple praise to financial compensation, and everything in between.

With that in mind, here are four ways to improve your employee recognition efforts:

1. Acknowledge differences, and have it (their) way

When it comes to recognising your employees, many believe there are best practices to follow. While there may be some truth in that, not everyone prefers the same form of recognition. Sure, most people would welcome extra money or the occasional pat on the back — but at its heart, recognition is highly personal.

Just as not everyone enjoys the same burgers, not everyone wants to be publicly congratulated at your next all-hands meeting, and that’s okay. It’s up to you to identify preferred recognition styles. That means talking about recognition around the workplace with managers, peers and human resources (HR), as well as through conversations with each employee.

Recognition also factors into the recruiting process. Ask candidates how they prefer to be recognised when you get close to making an offer. If they don’t have an answer, offer suggestions or ask what worked for them previously. Understanding how an employee expects recognition speaks to their personality and core values: both key factors in making the right long-term hire.

2. Personalise your recognition efforts

There are many ways to personalise recognition efforts. For example, some people seek instant gratification, while others prefer it to be delayed. Younger workers might require more frequent nurturing and reassurance that they’re on the right track. More seasoned employees might feel more secure in their performance, preferring an annual reward instead of ongoing recognition.

It’s also important to remember that people and circumstances change; check in with them to ensure their needs get met throughout their tenure. Candidates have choices, employees have preferences and neither gets set in stone.

For instance, say you have a new hire who welcomes extra paid time off to go travelling. That’s a great way to show appreciation — until a few years later, when that same person settles down and starts a family. Maybe, once there’s a wee one at home, they’d rather work from home one day a week to spend more time with their family, instead of having extra annual leave.

3. Remain flexible

By acknowledging the dynamic nature of recognition, we can customise programs for individuals without sacrificing consistency. Recognition is all about the human element: We need to treat people how, when and where they want to be treated.

The “how, when and where” might even change depending on circumstances. During a high-stress time (like the one we’re in now), extra time off could be more valuable to an employee who would normally prefer a financial incentive.

Offering different experiences to different talent may seem like a tall order amidst all the other HR activities, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: accomplishing this also reflects positively on your team. At the end of the day, our job is to make employee experiences better — and the better the overall experience, the more likely they are to stay. So stay the course and build a strategy that works with you, not against you.

4. Start small

HR isn’t customer service, but it is the business of people. Recognise employees for what they bring to the table. While acknowledging all your employees’ hard work should be standard practice, you don’t need to actually reward everyone every day to make this initiative a success. Instead, start with the hardest to fill, most in-demand positions, and then work your way across the organisation. Doing this will help you learn about your current staff while supporting sourcing and recruiting efforts.

That’s how — and why — I think you had better recognise talent. By taking these steps, you’ll improve recognition efforts during a time when everybody is feeling more pressure, you’ll stand a better chance of keeping more workers around for the long haul.

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