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.


How Digital Tools Give Talent Leaders More Time to Invest in Their Candidates

Innovative tools like AI not only help you get things done, but also free up time for you to reinvest in yourself. “It's important to be your authentic self. And to be your best self, you also have to take care of yourself. So if we can leverage AI and other technology tools to free up time, everyone has a choice to seek how to best reinvest that,” said Paul Phillips, global head of talent acquisition and onboarding at Avanade. That reinvestment can be taking a walk or spending more time with your kids, says Phillips, who spoke in a fireside chat at From Day One’s June virtual conference.Avanade is a joint partnership of Accenture and Microsoft focused on IT consulting of the Microsoft stack. With those credentials, “innovation is critical to our everyday business,” Phillips said. That means that job applicants must “feel and sense that they are working and operating with a leading innovator from the tech perspective.”AI is used throughout the Avanade acquisition process, beginning with writing the job ad itself. Using AI apps to craft the job description shaves 13 minutes off a task that had previously taken 15 minutes, he says. Then they use AI during the screening and evaluation process. The company does offer candidates globally the choice to opt out of the AI talent acquisition process, which about 30% do. But for the rest of the talent pool, the AI matching tool gives his team more precise matching of candidates to jobs and saves at least five days of traditional screening time.“When you multiply that by 5,000 hires, and multiply that by revenue per day, we’re talking multiples of millions of dollars that this is helping us generate on our top line growth,” Phillips said. Every applicant also has a human touch from his team, but the AI grading tool has proven to be very accurate. “It’s anywhere from two to five times more likely that anyone who is graded A or B is likely to get an offer,” Phillips said.Journalist Jeanhee Kim interviewed Paul Phillips of Avanade during the fireside chat (photo by From Day One)Technology is not the only way Avanade innovates, however. Phillips spoke about a change to the three pillars of their talent strategy. To the core talent acquisition goals of  “attract, develop and retain,” his team has added “create.”“What we meant by that was our ability to actually create a new talent workforce within the Avanade ecosystem that could ultimately enable us to overcome some shortages of skills,” Phillips said. To start, Avanade began casting a wider net that looked for markers of potential to learn new skills and be retrained. “That means that we look for talent that maybe has not interacted with the Microsoft technology set, or those that may have been a performance management consultant so they have a lot of skills,” he said. And they train them, through a program called Avanade Academy. This hiring strategy has been a huge success from a diversity perspective, says Phillips.This all started in Brazil, where they hired 200 women to train in the academy a few years ago. “Not only did we see a huge spike in our diversity hiring percentage, we actually started to see a shift in the culture and the behavior of the business,” Phillips said. “Globally, in female hiring, we are striving towards parity. We’ve doubled in the last five years, from 20%, to 40%,” he said.Casting a wider net in hiring has other implications for the agility of a company, too. There’s an estimate that 85% of the jobs needed in the next five years are currently unknown. So for companies to stay abreast, hiring teams have to look for individuals who can “learn, unlearn, relearn,” and have “agility, courage, and resilience. These are different skills that we may have in the past overlooked or not seen as important.”Phillips had some comforting parting advice for those who may be daunted by the challenge of using technology in hiring and for hiring for skills that may not have even been invented yet. “Don’t be fully focused on getting it all right on day one,” he said. “We live in a very iterative world today. People are happy with continuous progress. Despite all the technology, we’re still human at heart.”Jeanhee Kim is an independent journalist who has worked for CoinDesk, Crain’s New York Business, Money magazine and Forbes Asia.

Jeanhee Kim | July 16, 2024

Using Innovative Technology and AI to Revolutionize Hiring for Top Talent

Like many other companies, MGM Resorts has been undergoing a talent acquisition transformation over the past few years in the wake of the pandemic and the Great Resignation. “We’re enacting a strategic way for recruiters to evolve into more of an advisor role,” said Justin Fronberg, executive director of talent acquisition for MGM Resorts.Fronberg spoke during an executive panel discussion about “Using Innovative Technology and AI to Revolutionize Hiring for Top Talent,” during From Day One’s June virtual conference. “What’s been critical for us is to relieve them of the transactional aspects of the position,” he said.Fronberg told journalist and session moderator Lydia Dishman that using an AI chatbot creates efficiencies for recruiters and job candidates alike. The chatbot allows candidates to determine if an open position is something they are actually interested in without talking to a recruiter, he says.Some people have reservations about using AI in recruitment, but Jane Curran, global head of talent acquisition at JLL, reminds her team that “you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.” “The tech is here, and we are ready for automation. So why don’t we dig in and find out what works for us, leave the human parts of the job to us, and automate the boring stuff?” she said.How AI Can Broaden the Talent PoolIf used correctly, implementing AI in recruitment can also reduce bias, says Ken Oliver, vice president of corporate social responsibility at Checkr. “We can focus on things like skill-based learning and the different skill sets that the candidate may have rather than look at things like gender, race, or age, which sometimes come up in the recruitment process,” said Oliver.AI can also help expand the talent pool by looking beyond more mainstream job boards such as Indeed, says Oliver. “To get the most diverse and inclusive candidates, oftentimes you have to look in some of the most unusual places," he said, noting that this could include social media.However, AI is “only as good as what you input it with,” he said. For example, if a candidate has a legal record, there’s typically not much understanding “about what that means or what it doesn’t mean, especially when it comes to a specific role.”But with AI, “we can provide much more context around the candidate and the specific charge, the date of charge, and whether it’s relevant to the job,” Oliver said. This scope can lead companies to consider candidates that they might have traditionally overlooked, says Oliver.Using AI in the Interview ProcessAnother way organizations can ensure their workforce is diverse is to standardize the job interview process using AI. “This allows candidates of diverse backgrounds to be evaluated fairly against objective criteria that should be set at the beginning of the process, rather than try to make that up towards the end,” said Seán Delea, team manager of talent acquisition, EMEA at Greenhouse.For example, a recruiter and a hiring manager will align on a number of key attributes needed for someone to be successful in a particular role and then design an interview process to assess candidates for those attributes objectively, says Delea.“Then you can do things like use AI to help you generate some of those interview questions. This step alone is helping to reduce human bias when you’re building out the best interview process,” he said.The panelists spoke on the topic "Using Innovative Technology and AI to Revolutionize Hiring for Top Talent" (photo by From Day One)Christopher Rotolo, VP of global talent at Mitek, says technology has helped standardize the interview process and also write job descriptions. “It literally will pull out the skills and create the interview questions, the guides, the scoring sheets and everything, from soup to nuts,” he said.The AI technology Mitek uses comes with a package of possible interview questions that the hiring manager and the talent acquisition partner can tweak so “candidates aren’t hearing the same question over and over through the interview process,” Rotolo said.Some organizations use tools to automate the interview scoring process, even “inferring personality through speech patterns and tone,” Rotolo said. “And I think that will mature. We’ll all be talking about that probably three to five years from now.”Keeping the Human ElementBut even with all of these innovative AI tools, the human touch is still needed, says Curran. For example, when it’s time to promote someone, “You need to know the talent,” she said.“Who’s the top talent I should be helping make the next move? The connection, the career conversation, the prep, that’s the recruiter’s job,” said Curran.“[Candidates] want to be treated like a person rather than a number. So, we abide by the stance that AI should assist but not replace humans in the hiring process,” said Delea.Mary Pieper is a freelance writer based in Mason City, Iowa. 

Mary Pieper | July 10, 2024

Taking a Well-Considered Approach to Adopting New Technologies

Volume, timeliness, quality, and cost. These are the four key performance indicators when it comes to talent acquisition (TA), according to Tim Wesson, SVP, global talent acquisition at IQVIA. While those will likely stay the same, what keeps changing is the technology surrounding it.“We can be much more efficient and much more effective in the way we go about meeting those success criteria,” Wesson told moderator Nicole Smith of the Harvard Business Review during a fireside chat at From Day One’s June virtual conference. “I think the measurements of success can change over time,” Wesson added. “As trends evolve, like focusing on skills-based hiring or internal talent development, the success metrics may shift accordingly.” That’s why being adaptable is so key.Being adaptable is vital, especially in a time of constantly changing and evolving technology. “Whether it’s your ATS, CRM, marketing tools, assessment tools and platforms, or workforce platforms for workforce strategy, I’m amazed to see how those technologies have evolved, been enhanced, and improved.”While that’s true, with so many emerging technologies, it can be hard for those in TA to keep up with all the changes. Does it meet your needs? Does it really do what it says it’s going to do?“I stay close to industry peers, read various periodicals, and stay in touch with the vendors we do business with,” Wesson said of assessing new TA tech. The talent acquisition department especially knows that if you don’t make good hires, you can negatively impact your business in terms of costs, opportunity costs, and cultural impact. But on the flip side, getting it right leads to performance, growth, and a strong company culture.“My philosophy has always been creating a win-win situation. Our job is to understand the requirements and needs of a hiring manager and the needs of the candidates, then create that match. If we can meet the needs of both the hiring manager and the candidate, then we’ve done a really good job,” Wesson said.If TA tech can help you to accomplish that, then it’s well worth the effort in researching and implementing it into your business.Tim Wesson of IQVIA was interviewed during the virtual fireside chat Talent acquisition requires an understanding that people are human and aren’t always going to have all the skills, especially soft skills, to get the job done. That’s why it’s important to be ready and willing to teach talent so they can succeed not only in their current role, but throughout their career. “Where I see recruiters and even some TA leaders struggle is the ability to analyze data and make informed decisions, as well as critical thinking,” Wesson said. “We train our people to interpret and influence with data and make informed decisions.”They also realize that people are busy, so they help their team by setting goals. “With my team, everyone in TA has a goal where they need to invest 15 hours a year, in just their own training and development.” The company provides access to courses, and encouragement. This approach can help people adapt especially as things change and grow.Of course, with growth comes growing pains. Wesson spoke about his own career evolution, highlighting that you might not and don’t have to do everything perfectly. “One of the things that I’ve learned throughout my career is that it’s okay to fail,” he said. “I encourage my team to test what’s possible and be okay with stepping out of the box. If it doesn’t work out, learn from it, adjust, and try again.”This is especially essential as talent needs to adopt new technologies. To give talent permission to fail, Wesson says you have to build trust and show people through example that failure is a part of growth. “Building trust takes time. If I’m out there telling people it’s okay to fail and then get upset when they do, the next opportunity to test what’s possible probably won’t happen. Trust is crucial for people to feel comfortable about trying new things.”Wesson also underscored the role of empathy in leadership, as it helps people look at things from a different perspective. “Understanding that people are human beings who deal with unique situations is essential for effective leadership.”Adopting new technologies in talent acquisition requires a balanced approach. According to Wesson, combining technological advancements with human-centric leadership principles, fostering a culture of trust, encouraging critical thinking, and maintaining empathy are key to navigating the complexities of modern talent acquisition successfully.Carrie Snider is a Phoenix-based journalist and marketing copywriter.

Carrie Snider | July 08, 2024