HomeEmployee ExperienceEngagementEmployee EngagementFrom theory to practice: Maximizing employee engagement through meaningful recognition

From theory to practice: Maximizing employee engagement through meaningful recognition

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In my last article for HRD Connect, I wrote about how to transform managers into champions of employee recognition by helping them understand why it’s important, sharing seven superpowers and five impacts that appreciation can have. But like anything, this can only happen when HR leaders ‘do it right’. To help our busy managers understand […]

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In my last article for HRD Connect, I wrote about how to transform managers into champions of employee recognition by helping them understand why it’s important, sharing seven superpowers and five impacts that appreciation can have. But like anything, this can only happen when HR leaders ‘do it right’.

To help our busy managers understand how to do this, I’ve come up with a simple and easy-to-remember employee recognition mantra and call to action:

See it. Say it. Appreciate it!

It’s a phrase they can use repeatedly to remind them of the three key steps to take when recognizing their people to show them what I call the ‘appreciation feeling.’ Here is a high-level summary of the three steps needed to deliver that feeling.

Debra Corey: See it, say it, appreciate it! The mantra for employee recognition

See it: Look for employee recognition moments anywhere and everywhere

The first part of the mantra is ‘See it.’ This is where it all begins. In training classes, I often say that we all need to put our recognition “glasses” on. We need to actively seek out opportunities to recognize our people. You cannot appreciate the moments if you don’t see them to begin with! Here are three tips to help you do this:

  • Look for recognition in everyone. It’s important to look in all directions to find moments that are recognition-worthy in all our people. Challenge yourself to look at all the work your team are doing. Avoid missing moments or people that may be less visible, quieter, or that you may tend to overlook, by intentionally seeking them out.
  • Involve others. Another way to capture recognition moments is to involve more people! Adopt a ‘crowdsourcing’ approach to employee recognition. As the saying goes, two pairs of eyes are better than one. Having a team of eyes gives the best coverage and ensures you recognize all the outstanding work and contributions being made.
  • Challenge your people to take ownership. Finally, encourage and empower your employees to take accountability and ownership over recognition moments. This involves making sure that their manager is aware of their contributions and their recognition-worthy moments. This is especially important in the new hybrid working world when managers may not always be able to see these contributions as clearly.

Say it: Take action and make employee recognition happen

The next part of the mantra is ‘Say it.’ Say and do something once you see a moment that deserves recognition. Act. Too often I hear managers say that they’re too busy, or that they don’t have the time to do it. My response is to ask: ‘Can you risk what happens if you don’t do something? Do you have the time to pick up the pieces if you don’t recognize someone for the work they have done? What if they then fail to achieve further goals you’ve set for them, or worse, walk out the door?’

Two components need to take place in this part of the mantra:

  • Words. What are you saying to show  recognition for your people? As I’m sure you’ve seen and felt, words can have a significant impact and power. It’s important to choose them wisely and get them right. It’s also important to not underestimate how difficult it can be to select the right words, so I always encourage you to take the time to train this skill. Ensure your business leaders have the skills to use their words in the most meaningful and effective way.
  • Actions. The second component comprises the actions you take when you recognize someone. The wrong action, or reward, can deliver the wrong meaning and thus the wrong outcome. It’s important to remind your business leaders not to just throw money, gifts, or any other reward at your employees without care and thought attached to it. Otherwise, you could end up with what I call ‘the cringe-worthy disconnect’ and completely negate the positives derived from employee recognition.

Appreciate it! Deliver the ultimate appreciation feeling

‘Appreciate it!’ is about delivering the ‘appreciation feeling’ I mentioned earlier. Throughout the employee recognition process, it’s important to focus on the result that you are looking to achieve. Ensure each action you take is a step toward the goal you are trying to achieve. When you think about this feeling of being appreciated, here are four outcomes that you should be striving for from the recognition recipient.

  • Feeling valued. Feeling valued through recognition helps us feel good about ourselves. It promotes a positive sense of self-worth. A survey from the American Psychological Association found that employees who feel valued are more likely to report better physical and mental health, as well as higher levels of engagement, satisfaction, and motivation, compared to those who do not feel valued by their employers.
  • Feeling seen. Feeling seen and being noticed by others through recognition makes us feel that we’re important to others. Studies find that being seen is necessary to feel like we matter. Social psychologists Morris Rosenburg and Claire McCullough wrote that feeling noticed is “the most elementary form of mattering.”
  • Having a sense of meaning. When people receive recognition, it delivers a sense of meaning, showing us that the work we are doing is meaningful and that it’s making a difference. The Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl, said that as human beings we are motivated by a “will to meaning.”
  • Feeling connected. Finally, recognition can help us feel connected to one another, strengthening bonds and leading to stronger and more meaningful relationships. Studies have shown that social connection can lower anxiety and depression, help us regulate our emotions, lead to higher self-esteem and empathy, and even improve our immune systems.

End with an ‘exclamation’

Let me end by explaining the exclamation mark that sits at the end of ‘See it, say it, appreciate it!’ I use it to create a strong meaning, emphasis, or feeling. This is exactly what you need to encourage your business leaders to do when they recognize their people. Creating that feeling of appreciation that ends with an exclamation point will help them move to this outcome and leverage the positive powers and impacts of employee recognition.

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Debra Corey is a best-selling author, consultant, and keynote speaker. Her recent books include Appreciate it! The Playbook for Employee Recognition and See it. Say it. Appreciate it! The Manager’s Guide to Employee Recognition

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