The Employer’s Guide to Boosting Employee Retention with Recognition

One of the keys to improving employee retentjon is providing recognition at work. This article dives deep into employee recognition programs.

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When it comes to retaining talent, businesses are looking for creative solutions to keep employees motivated, engaged and on the payroll. Doggie daycare and a host of other up-and-coming perks top lists of business’ idea of what employees want and need to stay loyal to the firm.

But do you really a bring-your-beagle-to-work day? What if employees really just want recognition?

One study polled over 1,500 workers, finding more than half were considering a job move. When asked what would motivate them to stay with their employer, 69% said recognition and rewards.

Appreciation is a basic need

We were raised on recognition. Doting parents and gold stars from teachers. Once we enter the work world, that need doesn’t diminish. Yet, most employees don’t receive recognition.

We want to know our efforts are noticed. If not, 36% of employees say lack of recognition is the reason they quit their job. Attrition is costly in the best of markets. With shrinking talent pools and skills gaps the size of the Grand Canyon, employee turnover can be devastating.

Employee well-being begins with acknowledgement

Businesses are recognizing the need for and value of recognition. Annual performance reviews that look back with criticism on employee failures of the past year have given way to frequent, forward-looking meetings that applaud recent achievements and set goals for the future.

Managers should always look for a chance to applaud their staff: the carrot is as important (if not more so) than the stick. More touchpoints with employees offer opportunities to say ‘thank you’ and ‘job well done.’

But don’t assume that’s enough. A formal recognition program can go a long way to motivate and retain staff. Top performers want acknowledgement for their efforts that go above and beyond. Mid-level performers might find recognition a highly motivating factor.

How common are formal recognition programs?

A recent survey put 73% of organizations with some form of employee recognition or awards program in place. Of that group, 84% say the program helps with employee engagement.

Engagement translates directly into retention and productivity. Business cannot ignore the positive effects recognition has on staff. It’s not just a program; it’s a management practice that nets measurable impact for business.

“The carrot is as important (if not more so) than the stick.”

Recognition is evolving. Many businesses use gamified training for staff: short bursts of learning that put employees in game mode, sometimes in competition with other employees, sometimes challenged by the game itself. Workers respond positively to this type of learning because it builds on what they do in real life. Smart organizations are using the appeal of gamified processes as an opportunity to recognize employee achievement, as well.

How recognition reduces attrition

Sales reps are in constant competition with each other and with their own records. Increased earnings as their reward has been standard for sales in almost every industry: and it’s been successful. CEOs earn bonuses based on corporate performance. These workers see the direct result of their effort and work hard to achieve. They’re not looking for another job – they’re looking for another challenge.

Translating that proven motivation and rewards model across the company begins with a robust recognition program that sets achievable milestones and acknowledgements for all. Recognition and rewards programs can be created for every category of staff, from the most entry-level to the C-suite.

We hear about retail cashiers disciplined if they don’t ‘sell’ enough credit card enrollments to customers. But how often are they acknowledged for a balanced cash drawer at the end of their shift? Staff members who complete training, have perfect attendance for a month, help others when needed, or hit other milestones like anniversaries, all deserve a pat on the back and a reward.

Positive employee management is proven to directly impact attrition.  When we recognize accomplishments, even small ones, we connect with the basic need for acknowledgement and motivate to attain the next goal or task. These employees aren’t looking for another job – they’re looking for another challenge, as well.

Recognition as a retention strategy

In today’s tight job market many companies are looking for creative ways to attract talent. The signing bonus – once reserved for pro athletes – is one of the newest.

Bonuses can be tied to retention as well. Business typically reserves salary increases to an annual event – but many are moving up the calendar as a retention strategy. Planned to offer $1.00 more per hour in a year? Why not increase by 25 cents per quarter? A 6 month or one-year bonus could help new hires get further along in their tenure. Look for departments or timelines when you typically see attrition, then tie in rewards to help new hires stay onboard.

Acknowledge employees who clock in on time with badges they can earn and redeem for cash (or an afternoon off with pay) when they accumulate a reasonable amount.

Too many employees to have party every day that recognizes social milestones? Have a cake-of-the-month celebration that lists upcoming birthdays and anniversaries.

“Positive employee management is proven to directly impact attrition.”

Recognition should be ongoing. Look for achievements and milestones that can be rewarded. And it doesn’t have to be a top-down process. Encourage peer recognition. Employees notify their manager when a coworker has gone beyond the call of duty with a customer or when providing outstanding advice or assistance. Think you have a great team? Surprise them with lunch occasionally just to say thank you and job well done.

We want staff that’s mindful of the work they do, that give 100%. Recognition and rewards validate those efforts. If you’re not sure what to acknowledge, ask employees or create a recognition and rewards committee. They can tell you or uncover what motivates and how to acknowledge it.  From there you can set a rewards program that generates interest, engagement and excitement.

Leveraging recognition and rewards

What areas would you like to see improvement in staff? Are there skills gaps that need to be addressed? What behaviors would you like to see shift?

The best way to motivate staff to improve is through a recognition and reward program. You can start with a small reward for completing a training module. Then up the ante for practicing and adopting the learning. Problems with attendance can be solved with badges or redeem-ables that can be turned into cash or other rewards for employees who make a week without a call-out. You’ll often find good behavior that starts off as a reason for a reward becomes habit.

The more employees respond to rewards, the more you should offer. Keep setting the bar higher. Challenge employees to take on more learning, responsibility or other tasks. Set a timeline for completion, and then laud those who attain the goals you set. You’ll find they’re ripe for competition – so give them a chance to create goals as teams or individuals.

For staff members in a rut, developing challenges can create buzz in an otherwise mundane work day. It can be as basic as how many customers an employee served that day to as complex as how many case-files they were able to close.

Reward achievable goals

Make sure the goals are clear and attainable. Start with small challenges and build on those. The more often employees hit the mark, the more often they’ll be ready to aim for the next.  If challenges are too complex, or goals too far out of reach, they’ll not only be unattainable, they may actually demotivate staff. Keep it simple, fun and doable.

When it comes to actual rewards, what do employees want? Cash-based rewards are the top employee preference, according to some data. Gift cards, cash and certificates were identified as the top three.

If you can’t afford to give cash, you could offer things like a half day off, late start or even give up your prime parking spot for a week. There are many ways to reward employees if you get creative.

Mind your manners

You can’t go wrong with a good old fashioned “thank you.” Whether it’s acknowledging an employee got to work a few minutes early, performed a job safely, or was just plain reliable and dependable.

People appreciate appreciation. Some staff members want public recognition: others prefer a quiet pat on the back. But everyone wants some form of validation that their work and contributions are noticed and appreciated.

This article is intended only for informational purposes. It is not a substitute for legal consultation. While we attempt to keep the information covered timely and accurate, laws and regulations are subject to change.

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