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How Does Recognizing Employees Encourage Engagement?

Imagine visiting an office, a known high‐performing site. What does employee engagement look like? Well, while there, you notice a palpable buzz in the air. The receptionist welcomes you with an amazingly warm smile and everyone you encounter in the halls greets you in a similar fashion.

Navigating the rows of work stations, you notice that most everyone appears totally focused on their jobs, but that their focus is occasionally interrupted by laughter and healthy banter. Walking by conference rooms, you see people standing up, scribbling on flip charts, obviously in the midst of brainstorming sessions. At the end of your visit, which goes well beyond the usual 5 p.m. quitting time, you realize that hardly anyone had left — even though this was a typical 9‐to‐5 office setting.

How did they achieve it? It was explained that a few years back, a junior employee had observed to the office manager that no one in the office ever seemed to go out of their way to recognize anyone's contributions. Sure, the office wasn't performing at its current levels, but there certainly was enough positive activity to merit the occasional compliment! Yet, it wasn't happening.

“What if,” the junior employee said, “every employee was instructed to set aside a block of time to recognize others?” The employee went on to suggest that all employees be required to create a recurring Microsoft Outlook reminder for just this purpose.

They could select any window that fit their schedule, but they had to commit to recognizing someone — a colleague, subordinate, boss, client, vendor, whoever — on a weekly basis. See, this young employee understood that if people get recognized, they tend to recognize others. Suddenly, employees were being recognized more than ever before . . . and the culture was transformed.

This story can remind you how critically important recognition is to culture, performance, and yes, engagement. There is simply no reason not to recognize your employees — although there are plenty of excuses. Here are just a few:

  • “I know it's important, but I don't have time for that stuff.”

  • “I mean to do it, but I forget.”

  • “Their paycheck is their recognition.”

  • “No one recognized me when I was working my way up the ladder!”

  • “We focus on what's broken around here, not what's working.”

  • “People get embarrassed when you recognize them publicly.”

  • “It'll just turn into a popularity contest.”

  • “If I start recognizing people, I know I'll accidentally leave someone out.”

Do any of these sound familiar? Well, contrary to these statements, the vast majority of people want to be recognized. Who doesn't love a good pat on the back every now and again? Indeed, it feeds into our fundamental need as humans to feel appreciated or valued. Receiving recognition even stimulates a physiological response — namely, a little hit of dopamine, which is related to the brain's perception of pleasure (among other things).

Believe me, in all the years I've worked in business, I've never once heard an employee say “People recognize way too much around here!” In fact, in almost every company I've come across, employees are starving for recognition. This explains why most employers score quite low on recognition‐related scores when they conduct employee engagement surveys. And the problem is only going to become bigger as more and more Gen Y workers mob the workplace. As mentioned in Chapter 8, experts say that members of Gen Y need — nay, expect — to be recognized eight times per day.

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