How to Make Employee Recognition Part of a Dynamic Approach to Benefits

BY Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza | September 10, 2023

Your company may not be recognizing good work as much as it should. Forty percent of employees say they receive recognition just a few times a year—or less—according to a 2022 Gallup report. But recognition works. Employees who are recognized for their work are five times more likely to be connected to the company culture and four times more likely to be engaged.

In a From Day One panel conversation titled, “Maximizing Employee Recognition and Satisfaction with Comprehensive Benefits and More,” the speakers had a great deal to say about what kinds of recognition work—recognition of who your employees are and who they want to be, the benefits as well as policies that reward good work, and how to make a habit of reinforcing a sense of belonging on a daily basis. The panel, featuring leaders in HR and related fields, was part of From Day One’s July virtual conference on employee satisfaction, recognition, and retention.

The Sentiment Survey, But Better 

The most common way of evaluating employee satisfaction is the employee sentiment survey. As the moderator, I asked the panelists: Is this the best way to understand how your workforce feels?

Their answer was yes, when done the right way. Panelists agreed that frequency matters. Rob Catalano, chief engagement officer at employee-experience platform WorkTango, said sentiment surveys must be frequent enough to identify trends: An annual survey isn’t enough.

“If you’re only checking in once a year, no one has accountability to act or do something differently. People aren’t going to change their behaviors if you’re going to check in 365 days down the road,” he said. The period chosen for annual surveys may also fall at a point that skews results, like shortly after pay raises are handed out. Start a habit of surveying regularly, then pair that with diagnostic feedback, asking plenty of whys.

The group also recommended pairing up data about employee tenure and point-in-career to flag the types of people more or less likely to feel engaged—early career workers vs. later career workers, for example.

Creative Ways to Recognize Workers for Who They Are Inside and Outside of Work

Hospice care workers carry out an especially taxing job, and Diane Psaras, the chief HR officer at hospice care provider Vitas Healthcare, came with a long list of ways her company appreciates its employees, like writing letters of gratitude to the workers and their family members, “talking to them about the incredible work that their son, daughter, or spouse is doing at Vitas and thanking them for the support that they give that person day in and day out. That has been incredibly rewarding to the employees because they have seen that as the utmost respect, being recognized to their families,” Psaras said.

The panelists spoke in a session titled, “Maximizing Employee Recognition and Satisfaction with Comprehensive Benefits and More”  (photo by From Day One)

Vitas also instituted a program that lets peers and bosses recognize excellent work. “Since we started two years ago, we have had over 30,000 folks send in nominations and recognition for folks,” she said. 

Catalano also endorsed peer recognition since it’s often a worker’s closest peers that know the most about individual contributions, “catching people in the moment when they’re doing something that’s either living your company values or conducting the behaviors that are critical,” he said.

Perhaps the most creative form of recognition is Vitas’s podcast, which Psaras hosts. She interviews care workers at the company about their jobs: “I’m asking questions that help to give them the foundation to tell their story and tell their perspective,” Psaras said. “How they and their team have fulfilled a dying patient’s wishes by taking them skydiving. True story—that happens!”

Erald Minga, a VP of HR at digital marketing firm Media.Monks, makes a point to celebrate work anniversaries—especially important for remote workers, he said—and instituted an employee-of-the-month program. Excellent work is recognized with extra paid time off or a gift on the employee’s desk. Media.Monks also added a lifestyle savings account, from which employees can get reimbursed for perks like online therapy.

Workers deserve recognition for who they are outside of the office as well, said Jeni Mayorskaya, the founder and CEO of family-building benefits company Stork Club, especially when their values align with the company’s. “One of our [employees] is very passionate about reproductive healthcare and also very passionate about justice. She actually got additional education and a certification, and now she’s very active in our community. Recognition is very meaningful,” Mayorskaya said. “This is where people see that the company sees them as a whole person.”

In addition to evaluating engagement and satisfaction on a regular basis and rewarding recent behavior, panelists said that recognition must also be forward-looking.

Reviews tend to be just that—an accounting of the past. That’s well and good when the purpose is to recognize the good work that an employee has already done. But to Amie Major, head of talent management for Verisk Analytics, that’s only half the job. She prompts managers to ask their direct reports about who they want to be in the future.

“People think of reviews as evaluative, you’re just looking back and nobody really looks forward to it. In many cases this was happening maybe once a year, which we know is far from enough, so we made a ton of changes.” One is that managers are expected to have these conversations regularly—don’t wait for an annual review, work it into your daily interactions and one-on-ones. 

Another change is asking workers about what they want two years from now, said Major. “We prompt other conversations too, whether it’s about development, or ‘Have you asked your employee what their career goals are? Have you prioritized these employees because of a milestone or because they’re a person you’re trying to develop?’”

The changes have been a success. “We’re seeing people participating in these conversations, but it’s just more than just a review, we’re trying to get to what employees care about,” said Major. “They’re more likely to see themselves here in two years’ time, or they’re more likely to believe that they have good career opportunities. We’re trying to try to drive retention, just weave it into everyday experience.”

 

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is a freelance journalist and From Day One contributing editor who writes about work, the job market, and women’s experiences in the workplace. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Quartz, Fast Company, and Digiday’s Worklife, among others.


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